Bru & Boegie – Freelance Mountain

Well. I can hardly believe it, but I managed to finish this Bru & Boegie short. WHAT THE HECK YO. I started out animating it around the same time I got my house, about 3 years ago, and remember sitting in a pretty dark room animating on a temporary table with my Wacom setup, recording some of the early process vids in bad lighting. Now, I finished it in a comfier space, with a bigger desk, better light in the room (though I still prefer the dark sometimes) and better Internet, so this short is a bit of a diary for me.

It started out as a simple idea – at various coffee shops around Plett I sketched a bunch of backgrounds in my sketchbook in pen, with a very loose idea of a story, and I was going to scan these in and animate over them in black and white in Toon Boom Harmony on my laptop and Cintiq – surely a simple personal project that wouldn’t require too much complexity. I recorded the voice afterwards without a script – a kind of ‘gonzo’ freestyle way of coming up with a story based on super loose ideas, all in one long 8-min take. I used Logic, but later moved over to Ableton Live. I then edited the voice down until it made some kind of sense. I did basic posing in Toon Boom Harmony (or perhaps I started with Storyboard Pro, I can’t quite remember) and timed it out to the audio. Then I got a buddy Keegan to help me animate one shot. He made it look so cool and smooth with so many inbetweens, and he gave me a better idea for the ending, so I plussed up the other shots. I recorded my brother’s mate Dan’s voice in Cape Town, recorded myself and friend Bronya in my study in Plett with a combination of a Zoom H1 mic, and a AKG D5 mic and sound card. Then another buddy Sheldon asked if the short would be colour, so I thought ‘I better make it colour’. Then I got my iPad Pro and Procreate and it became a meditative experience working over the backgrounds in colour whilst I was sitting at coffee in town, or on the couch, getting pretty experimental with techniques. I animated 2 shots on iPad using ‘Rough Animator’ and even did some 3D stuff in Blender. I hired Randy Whitlow on Fiverr to do the narrator’s voice. Then, I wanted coloured outlines for characters, which was done with a module in Toon Boom, the little side-project took more and more of my interest, and generally it seemed like the finish line got further and further away, so all I could do was sit back and enjoy the ride while learning a whole bunch of new stuff in the process, which is what I’ve been doing for the most part.

To curb the scope creep, I eventually finished animation by making a list and working through that one by one, to quantify what ‘finished’ meant. I exported shots from Toon Boom Harmony as PNG4 (PNGs with transparency) sequences, and comp’d them all together in Premiere Pro CS6 (I’m using an old Adobe suite, and purchased it before Adobe went subscription-based. It suits my needs fine). I comp’d the sequences over still images of the backgrounds in Premiere – because there aren’t too many camera moves, I just needed one background per shot. For times there were camera moves or moving backgrounds, I worked around that. The reasons for doing this are: 1) To keep the best image quality possible – rendering movies out of Toon Boom and then re-rendering those movies in Premiere can incur a loss of quality. 2) For ease of use – with image sequences, it’s possible to re-export just parts of the scene without needing to re-render whole Quicktime movies per scene, and because the images were being overwritten, the sequences would automatically update in Premiere. I’ve done tests and exporting this way preserves as much colour data as possible – actually, rendering TGA sequences from Toon Boom is better if transparency isn’t required. It also allows me to treat the background separately from the characters in post – it’s easy to add overlay layers to them in Premiere or tweak the colours without affecting the characters.

I needed to set up different ‘write’ modules in Toon Boom to export the shadows separately and set them up with their own sequences in Premiere, as those needed to have ‘blending modes’ applied in Premiere to ‘multiply’ in with the backgrounds.

Once that was done, it was tempting to ask one of the many musicians I know (especially my brother Dave aka The Kiffness who has done audio for a lot of my shorts) if they’d like to do audio as a freelance job, but because I had gone through the process of setting up drum mics and got levels right for recording, it’d have seemed like a cop-out to not do music and sfx after coming so far. So, I used Ableton Live 9 to record my drums and edit them down, added some software synths and instruments over that, started out with some free sfx online but ended up paying for a month subscription to Splice to get the rest of the foley and sfx sounds I was looking for – Splice was a great tip from my brother and allowed me to spend more time on the mix and less time searching for royalty-free sfx. I mixed on my laptop speakers as a start, then used headphones and used a little knob on my MPK Mini to quickly adjust sample volumes. I thought I’d need to send it off for mastering with compression, but after playing with, I ended up preferring my open and breezy mix.

I’ve actually started another longer Bru & Boegie short, based an idea I had probably 11 years ago, and I’m about 3/4 done with that, which funnily enough helped get this one finished.

For now, I don’t want to make the same mistake I’ve done with other shorts, that is – being so exhausted after finishing it that I don’t submit it to film festivals. I’ll submit this to a couple festivals I think, and maybe a couple other people who might enjoy it.

The freedom to do whatever is one of the benefits of personal shorts. It started out as just a nugget for an idea, didn’t require me to show a ‘vertical slice’ or anything (as useful as that can be though), it just felt good and right – I kept following the organic crumb trail to the end. Almost 100% of the energy can be put into the project without a large portion of that energy being misdirected into non-important stuff, and I’m grateful to have the capacity to do these personal projects. Still though, many times I thought this was the best thing I’ve ever made, and other times thought it was complete tripe. I ended up learning a stack of new stuff that I can use for both personal and commercial work. On many abstract levels, ‘Freelance Mountain’ is a cathartic project and unpacks some unconscious rumblings without trying to pin a tail on a donkey or be too ‘on the nose’ with any particular message. I’m pleased to be able to transform that into… something cool and (I think) lovely. Before over-intellectualizing this little bit of magic, I hope you enjoyed watching it! I’m very pleased with the result and found the process overall nourishing.

I was sure to make videos that recorded the process so here is the ‘Making Of’ playlist of videos if that kind of thing interests you:

I’ll probably make one more closing ‘making of’ vid to go over all the final processes, but didn’t want that to hold up releasing this pup. Thanks to friend James Wolfaardt and gf Kayla Archer who kept encouraging me to release this. Part of the reason I was keen to get this done is it’s been taking up so much space on my 2013 Macbook Pro’s limited hard-drive and I’ve been dancing around that by removing other projects and putting other stuff on external hard-drives, so once it’s all done and dusted I look forward to backing it all up, removing it off my local drive and making space for another Bru & Boegie project!

Thanks for reading.

Here’s a playlist for more Bru & Boegie shorts (click the little ‘hamburger icon’ top-right to see other videos in the playlist):


8Bit Pixel Animation for Vice – 8Chan Doccie

Did 2 x 8bit animated pixel inserts for a Vice documentary on 8Chan. They both appear in the first 5 mins of the documentary.

Job through Cartuna in the US. More info on Vice’s site:

For this project, I had 2 inserts, which each had voice tracks and had a running time, so I first discussed with Adam at Cartuna by email and text, my initial ideas I had from the brief. I cut my bits of video out from the rough cut of the doccie, brought them into Premiere and Toon Boom Storyboard Pro, and then started scamping the rough boards in a variety of Photoshop, Toon Boom, and Procreate on my iPad (I spend a fair amount of time at coffee shops working on my iPad if I can, to get some sun and get out my home studio a bit). Once I’d roughed out the run of each section and timed it out, and had some back and forth with Adam, I had a pretty tight idea of what I was going to do with the pixel sections. If you lay my animatic video out next to my finished animation, the timing’s pretty much exactly the same. So, that’s useful to work to, to have some kind of ‘North Star’ as I work. For the Sonic section, luckily there are resources online where people have ripped the actual sprites from videogames, so I was able to get the whole first stage and cut it up in chunks to match what I had planned in the animatic. Likewise, I built an ONLINE image to match the SEGA title screen based off a font I found online, and rebuilt the Sonic Title screen and edited Sonic to say ‘Fredrick’, and then bit by bit, analyzed a video of someone playing through the actual Sonic 1 game to rebuild the first stage, and get the timings of everything right to look just like the game. I analyzed the source footage pretty closely, saw how long certain elements stay on screen, how long some of the background animations are, figured out how the Sonic 1 camera worked (looks like the camera moves when Sonic reaches the middle of the screen) and added the rings one by one, edited the UI to say Fredrick, etc… got the parallax of the background working. I built everything in Toon Boom Harmony Premium, and amazingly, it renders pixels at the native pixel size without aliasing them. I think even Toon Boom was surprised to discover this, that it’s pretty suitable for pixel animation. I also figured out how to make a custom pixel brush in Photoshop to be able to draw pixel art in Toon Boom – again, I think the Toon Boom team were surprised this works. Anyways, I used what Sonic sprites I could, and used Pixaki, an app on the iPad, to create some of the custom pixel content. For the Gameboy section, I used Pixaki to generate almost everything. The benefit of working on an iPad is I don’t need to be stuck behind my office desk. I used Photoshop for some stuff but did what I could on the iPad and Pencil. For the Gameboy section, I found an open-source tileset that I based the levels on, and edited them quite a bit to build the levels. I think tiles were 16 x 16 pixels. The characters I created to match the look and feel, but like the Sonic section, I had the timings and layout down early on – was keen to spend decent time on the animatic to make sure I knew where I was heading with all of this. And then cleaned things up a bit for file naming and such in Photoshop, before bringing into Toon Boom Harmony to move stuff around, sequence the sprites, add a camera etc. Then, for final, I export each shot as a TGA sequence for maximum quality, piece the various shots together in Premiere Pro, and render out to final vid. I’m using an old Macbook Pro 2013 in a Henge dock, and a big Wacom Cintiq 22″ HD with an Ergotron arm, in my little home studio. I hired a British pixel artist from France, Christopher Kelsall, to work up the rough 2 more realistic shots, into pixels. He did a great job getting young Fredrick’s likeness, and we discussed using separate layers for the wide shot to get some nice multiplane parallax going with a soft camera dolly in to get a subtle 3D effect. I added some bloom to the scenes to get a soft light effect and put some twinkling dust particles in on 2 planes slowly moving up.
For the Sonic falling shot, it was one big layer of a mass of sprites pieced together from various Sonic games, and then I put a couple of those flipped vertically and horizontally at different depths, to simulate Sonic/Fredrick falling into an unknown ‘new underworld level’.
For inspirations and references, Paul Robertson, pixel artist extraordinaire, was a big influence for the more realistic 2 shots in the Gameboy piece. For the Sonic piece, I worked directly from the source material, Sonic 1 game start and Green Hill Zone 1. For the boss, it’s the Death Egg Robot from Sonic 2. I downloaded a vid and studied it to get the movements right. I wanted to make sure that if there were any big Sonic fans watching, I was doing the game justice 🙂 I never had a Game Boy, so I used a Gameboy palette for the platforming sections and looked at some reference material, though I’m familiar with the genre. I’ve been doing a fair amount of pixel work, so this kind of work is a real treat when I can get my teeth stuck into something for a couple weeks. Luckily I’m a huge Sonic fan, used to be obsessed with the game when I was young. I remember seeing Sonic 1 being demoed at a shopping center, and like a powerful drug I was immediately hooked. I had a Master System, and would often go to a local games store and ask an employee if I could swap it for a Mega-Drive/Genesis. Of course, he said no. But young me (I was probably like 10 or so) kept persisting, and one day he had a faraway look in his eye, and he said I should bring in all my Master System games, and he let me swap it for a Mega-Drive with Sonic 1. I remember that guy. What a kind man. The shop closed soon shortly afterwards. Anyways, I’ve been obsessed with Sonic ever since.
Great gig, had enough time to do all the work, this kind of thing is right up my alley, was very pleased to be contacted by Cartuna for this, the doccie came out great and I’m very familiar with Vice too, so – what a win.


GUYS! I put together a monster video that covers nearly all my current work in progress: Moosebox, Bru & Boegie, new show pitches, Dogshow with Cat, the new animated Goldfish show, and a bunch of other stuff. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting it together. Peace.


Super Mario World Overworld Theme Trap Remix

ALLO! I made a new video and used GFM’s (Goblins From Mars) rad trap remix of the Super Mario World Overworld Theme (with permission, of course). The vid is embedded above.

So far it’s clocked 100k views, which is nice.

Also, you might have seen, my site has a new look. This was partly out of necessity – my old theme, called ‘Canvas’ so kindly sponsored by WooThemes, stopped being supported, and so, with the fairly frequent updates of WordPress, it started not playing so nice with everything else. This theme is one of WordPress’ own ones, called BOOKALS jokes called ‘Twenty Nineteen’ I think. I think they do one every year. Anyways. Rock on, fam.


2019 News Q1

Hi guys. You know what? It’s time for an update. I’m getting into it, I’m focused, I’m gonna post this thing 1 times shoe shine, bruh, READ ON FOR SOME DELICIOUS INFO.

The Olympics Channel finally released this 8bit bonanza. It’s all about Kriss Akabusi. He’s a bit of a legend. This thing was more work than we imagined. Carl Douglas and Ben Rausch helped me out. We did it through Rausch Bros. Animation in the US. I directed, edited, did boards and animatic, and comp’d, and almost cried. Enjoy:

GUYS GUYS GUYS. After years of trying to get my projects into Annecy, this time, I have 2 THINGS! That’s right! When it rains it pours! The first is ‘Twende’, a group collaborative project about a pangolin who rides a boda boda motorbike taxi in a fictional East African city. We spent 6 months (!) developing this show. It’s based off an original idea that kiff San Fran couple Charlie & Regan Maas had during their travels in East Africa. Their friends at Braintrust in the UK; Sam Bank and Hélène Sifre, liked the idea, and Kayla Archer and I met Hélène at Annecy last year. We were signed on to the project, long-time friend and collaborator from Kenya, Kwame N’yongo, joined too, and we made the kiffest-looking bible. I mean, seriously. It’s rad. Anyways, it was one of 7 of almost 200 projects that got accepted to the Annecy ‘Animation du Monde’ pitch competition, so, we’re gonna be pitching this lovely show next month.

The second thing is this rad little ‘Rabbids’ animation I got involved with. Kevin Van Der Meirin from a studio called ‘Noodles’ (based between Paris and London I think) got in touch to make some kiff 8bit pixel stuff for their short they were doing for Ubisoft’s ‘Rabbids’ IP. I was like ‘ma boiz. I love it. I’m in’ so I did that. I met Kevin and his colleague and friend Hugo from Ubisoft in Annecy last year. Anyways, the finished short’s ALSO been accepted to Annecy this year, and will be screened at the closing party I believe. How kiff? SUPER KIFF.

MA FRENZ Please, listen up when I tell you this info. My ‘Pac-Man’ video that I and Carl Douglas made for Fumitake Igarashi, a musician from Japan, clocked how many? How many views? 10 MILLION VIEWS ON YOUTUBE! Well, now it’s 11 million. That is so cool, and, wow. Whaddathing. Please like, comment and subscribe please thanks:

Also – hang on, take it easy, what’s that? Our Goldfish music video for ‘We Come Together’ also clocked 10 million views?!? Whaaa! Amazing! Check it out:

Also, feel free to glance over these predictions for the South African animation scene I made in a recent issue of Callsheet. Also, who knows what they’re speaking about anymore these days? I will answer for you – nobody knows anymore. Look into your crystal ball. What do you see? My friend, you see nothing.

I used the ‘Wayback Machine’ to find old versions of websites I’d made, and long-deleted things. Here’s a random gallery for you to feast upon:

Ok, well, that’s all well and good. “What else you got?” I hear you murmur. Man, check out this run cycle of Moose I did (from that show Moosebox) for my buddy Jac Hamman’s ‘Communnity Run Cycle’:

Still want more? I used some fancy tools to make this endearing 3D animation of my brother dancing. It’s cutting edge – so sharp, don’t nick yourself:

Oh look! My 2 besties, Bru & Boegie:

And then – Nickelodeon posted the OG Moosebox pilot on their Facebook and Youtube page! The video blew up quickly on the Facebook page, which is cool. Lots of great feedback. I’m hoping the 20 new Moosebox shorts get released soon, because man – those are something, and they’re lying in wait for when none of us expect them. Like a kraken waiting in the shadows, so that someone can shout “Release the kraken!” and then 20 Moosebox shorts will fall like mana from heaven, or some such thing.

I made this little short. So, I saw UFOs twice in my life, and I figured I better make a little animation about it, in case anyone out there is searching the Internet to try and correlate their own experiences, in the hope they might find this video and go “Yes, that’s just like what I saw!” and then the world might be a better place for both of us.

Here’s an update on my Bru & Boegie short, which I wanna finish. Guys, I wanna finish this thing. But the thing is, I’m enjoying the process, and I don’t want to stress my nut off trying to finish it, so I’m putting a lot of time and care and attention into this next Bru & Boegie short, and I really am proud of it. Nobody’s given me a deadline for it, and for me it’s like a gift that keeps on giving.

I got an Ergotron arm for my Wacom Cintiq, and decided to do a little setup and review about it. I really dig it. Am using it now. It’s great.

James Wolfaardt, Kayla Archer and I did a comic jam and recorded it. Bit of an experiment, here it is:

Thank you for reading. Wow, another post eh? My site is falling apart with recent WordPress updates. The theme I’m using, ‘Canvas’ is no longer being supported. I don’t even think my comments work anymore 🙁 So, I’m thinking about finding a way to keep all my past WordPress posts, and migrate to a different platform or something. Or maybe I just need a Jetpack theme, I dunno. Suggestions welcome please.

Thank you.


‘Dogshow with Cat’ pilot clocks 1 million views

A soliloquy for Dogshow.

Back in 2016 / 2017 I was part of the Triggerfish / Disney Story Lab – an ambitious and fantastical accelerator for animated TV shows and movies. The project I pitched was a Bru & Boegie movie, and I got into the series programme. We soon ran into problems – Bru & Boegie is one of the most longstanding projects I have, and I wasn’t going to drastically change it just for a Mouse, so we changed it up to Bru & Boegie’s pets and called it ‘Dogshow with Cat’. We were included in a football shorts compilation Disney was doing, where animation teams around the world would produce animated shorts to be broadcast on TV around the same time there was a big European League Football competition on.

So, we needed to cram a new show into a rough bible of sorts, and the pilot needed to be football themed. Dogshow is not about football at all, but we somehow managed to Venn diagram / Frankenstein Bru & Boegie vibes, a Dog and a Cat in underpants, a Karoo setting and football together (!) into a short, all with a view of making this a longer-running series. We made the pilot at Triggerfish and hired some people working by proxy. With such high stakes, very little time and a guerrilla crew that were trying their best to figure out a good 2D pipeline while the show was being developed (instead of handing it over to a dedicated studio that knows their 2D pipeline), we finished the short. Costs were overblown, but it was done.

The short performed better online than all the other shorts from around the world. It recently clocked 1 million views, and to be honest I feel a bit bad until a commercial video I’ve been paid to do clocks at least 1 million views. It’s kind of like a ‘ok, the litmus test is in, we did something decent’.

One of my favourite parts about the pilot is the backgrounds. I worked with Philipe Rios on the environment. Philipe is super skilled, and I’ve luckily found some of the production and pre-production work we did on the show backed up on an external drive. Feeling like the show was a little too low-energy (it inherited that from Bru & Boegie), and always wanting to have done a band show (the messages I kept getting were ‘I really need to make sure I love the show I’m doing’), I changed almost the whole thing up last minute to change it into a band show. Still, a lot of the early work is great, and here’s an image gallery below that you can click through:

There were many people involved in the project, everyone did great work (there’s some lovely animation in there and I can still sing the theme song by heart) and all deserve congratulations for their input (credit list at end of post). Still though, the sensible thing is either handing it over to a dedicated 2D animation studio like Mind’s Eye Creative (we could have partnered up for this, might have proved very fruitful), or hiring people directly to avoid extra unnecessary processes (that old chestnut that often processes are added to computations for a computer to try speed things up, but the more processes there are, the slower things go). If I did it again I’d really put my foot down and insist on getting a tried-and-tested 2D pipeline involved, handling production and budget myself, or not being involved in the production at all and just doing pre-production. I remember the project as being extremely stressful, trying and failing to balance the needs of so many parties, for such a little short. No other project I’ve been involved in prior or since has been so taxing. Weird one – a real white whale. Thankfully, the human mind is excellent at looking back on the past through rose-tinted glasses, so more and more I remember only the good bits.

Sadly, Disney officially passed on the show and rights reverted back to Triggerfish. They’ve kindly passed development rights back to me, with a sizeable fee that needs to be paid back to them (about equal to my yearly income, if I was mega-ballin’ I’d pay the fee myself) should the show ever get picked up (the new buyer wouldn’t be getting that amount of value from just the bible and pilot unfortunately). I’ve pitched it as best I could at Annecy and Ottawa International Animation Festival, but with the turnaround fee and the number of people that have already seen it, and with a very short development time leading to a fairly half-baked show (though with a great 11-min pilot script, Greig Cameron‘s largely responsible for injecting the lol’s), it feels like it’d keep consuming valuable time and energy, difficult to convince someone to partner up with me with the current terms, and there’s still weird juju for me with the it, so I’ve shelved it indefinitely and decided to work on other projects that might have a better chance of taking off. I’m already in deep with Bru & Boegie in terms of ‘sunk cost fallacy‘, don’t need to add another one to the pile 😉 There’s a bit of solace that the short outperformed all the other ones, and despite the struggle, we delivered on what we were contractually obliged to, and on time.

The Story Lab, at the end of the day, has been a success for many people. If I’m able to separate the disappointment of not being able to do Bru & Boegie and the struggle we had doing a 2D short at a 3D studio, we received MEGA value from the whole thing – we had some incredible writing workshops with Pilar Alessandra (her book ‘The Coffee Break Screen Writer is *SO* good, I still refer to it), we got a trip to the US (!) where we toured Disney studios in Burbank, and around the same time I used the trip to meet Pen Ward and Phil Rynda, visit Nickelodeon Burbank and 2 buds and I did an awesome road trip up to San Fran after. So, while the Story Lab was cut short once the DTI pulled funding, chatting to some of the other Story Lab peeps, we all view the program as a success, with many tangential benefits, even if it didn’t relate directly to the projects we were picked for. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I was lucky to be a part of, and at the end of the day we got a trip to the US, got really great lectures and talks to upskill fast, got a short on Disney XD, got rights back for Bru & Boegie, and am back to doing my own thing. On those points, mega grateful and a win all around.

The pitch bible is here:

‘Dogshow With Cat’ … by on Scribd

When thinking about the show and the pilot, I’m a little saddened that we’ve ended up with this great albeit expensive show that’s dead-ended a bit. It’s the kind of show I’d like to watch, with wacky characters, rad music, the surreal and enticing landscape of the Karoo desert – those are the ingredients that’d have appealed to me back in the day when I was a kid, and it’s the kind of show that’d appeal to me now. It’s time still might come, although probably not anytime soon.

In other news, my fairly low-budget (R20k) Pac-Man vid that Japanese musician Fumitake hired me to make has clocked nearly 9 million views. It’s quite unbelievable. I think the song is fantastic and the visuals are just there to support that. I hired long-time pixel collaborator Carl Douglas from the US to help me with the animation, and that was it. I vaguely remember paying a small amount for its promotion early on, maybe that helped. Maybe it got friendly to the Youtube algorithm. I used to be partnered with Frederator, and maybe they punted it a bit. Whatever the case, I’m thrilled because the vid is on my channel, it’s bringing in some revenue and subscribers.

In other OTHER news, we’re still waiting for Moosebox S1 to be released. You gotta have the patience of Job when working with Nickelodeon. My one buddy made a short with them – it took 22 months for it to be released. We’re all super proud of what we made, and am pretty confident the show will do well once it’s released.

Peace out!

Dogshow with Cat credits:



A Triggerfish Animation (Pty) Ltd, Registration No. 2013/028823/07
Directors: S. Forrest, M. Buckland, A. Silverston, J. Middleton (British), J. Koenig
The Longhouse, Dreyersdal Farm Road, Bergvliet, 7945, South Africa
Tel +27 21 713 4008


‘Advice I’ve Found Useful’ – 2019 Edition


Here’s some unsanctioned life / animation industry advice I’ve found useful – some of it I’ve learned from others, some of it I’ve learned through experience. Maybe it’s self-evident, maybe it’s noise:

  • If you’re serious about your job, don’t use pirated software. A lot of people (including myself) started out using pirated Adobe software, but after earning from it, I bought Photoshop CS3 when I could afford it, and didn’t feel guilty charging clients for work as I was LEGIT BREH YO. Now all my stuff’s legal (including music), and the good digital juju has helped. Pirated software leads to bad digital juju. You don’t want that bad juju. It’ll get you when you least want it.
  • Don’t do big overhauls on earlier 2D animation, otherwise you’ll never finish. As you work on your project, your later stuff with invariably look better than the earlier stuff. Leave it be (ok, maybe tweak a bit) but rather move on to the next project instead of getting caught up in an endless loop or redoing. Keep moving.
  • The myth of ‘Working With Nice People’. This mantra makes sense, I’ve heard it before and I used to say it all the time, until I worked with people that were very nice and proficient in some areas but clueless in other areas which related to the project. It was difficult, and sometimes proficiency is more important than politeness. If someone can’t do the job, doesn’t matter how nice they are. Think carefully about partnerships. (Bonus if the person is both very nice and very able at that particular job, makes working life hecka easier.)
  • Integrity of a project – it’s not nice when the integrity of a project is pitted against the integrity of colleagues, and a person is constantly being asked to choose between the two. Might need to choose between your project, or your friends / colleagues.
  • Forget about the mantras ‘story is king’ and ‘character-driven stories’ if they don’t mean anything to you yet, they often obscure the thing you’re trying to get to, or you might be doing it naturally anyway.
  • Network Partner – they’re not someone you’re trying to trick, or to ‘get one past the goalie’. Gone are the days of trying to get subversive or dirty stuff into a kids show and thinking it’s ‘cool’. You’re making a kids show for a particular audience – don’t try to lowball a network, they’re paying you good money to produce a quality product.  We can make entertaining content for kids that is fun in its own right, removing subversive stuff doesn’t make it feel stale or clinical, it can still be hecka fun, but really – keeping the intended audience strongly in mind is a win. I try imagine watching a show I’m making with my imaginary kid, and if I’d be comfortable watching the show. Pushing the envelope in lewdness / rudeness isn’t cool anymore. Pushing the envelope in other ways, like character or story, is much cooler, and fun for both kids and adults. Lewd stuff is easy, stale and boring.
  • Usually, quality is the best business plan – just keep making cool things. You’re only as good as your last work / project. Either it’s in an upward trajectory, plateauing, or downward trajectory, and ‘get rich quick’ things usually don’t work.
  • A good script writer and producer are worth their weight in gold. Generally, script writing in animation seem to be one of the areas we skimp over in South Africa. There are, of course, excellent individuals that excel in the field, and they deserve hero’s praise. When script is neglected and not working, good animation is almost never is enough to cover it up. Don’t skimp on script – it’ll show like a bad stain later on. A good producer can be the glue to hold a project together, do numerous things behind the scenes that you might not even be aware of to get the project finished, and save you headaches – not give you more headaches. If they are good at what they do, they can make a project 100x easier.
  • Don’t underestimate anyone. Career trajectory can happen super fast in South Africa, someone can very quickly go from ‘nothing’ to advancing particularly fast, especially if they have just a modicum of self-motivation. These people are to be celebrated and supported. Don’t keep anyone down – why would you wish that anyway? Let their skills and talent rise to the top, and try and give people opportunities to do what they like to do. Celebrate what people are good at and support them. There’s a wealth of new talent coming through, and luckily (at least in South Africa) it seems the cream rises to the top one way or another.
  • It’s easy to be a buzzkill for projects. Don’t do that. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met that have told me what I’m trying to do is impossible, and then I do it anyway. It only reflects badly on the person who is self-limited that they try and stop others from succeeding.
  • Don’t edit while you’re creating. Sometimes it helps to just lay down a bunch of stuff without getting too precious about it just yet. Just lay it all out and you can start polishing once you’ve had a chance to see the jumble you’re working with. Sometimes a golden thread starts emerging and the path is clear. Get ahead before retracing your steps, otherwise a person might always be in this tight spot of editing what they’ve just created, doesn’t give them much to work with. They might be editing out good stuff too that’s already working. Keep going forward for a while before looking back, you’ll likely thank yourself later.  The creative process can seem messy, but don’t judge yourself – it sometimes be like that fam.
  • Sometimes you do actually know – everyone likes the agreeable person but if you’ve made pitfalls before and someone else higher ranked wants to make an important pitfall that experience tells you is wrong, there’s always a tension of wanting to be surprised (maybe it’ll work out this time even though I think there’s a better solution), and wanting to avoid the pitfall. It’s frustrating being steered into bad waters when you know it’s the wrong move but are being kept under the thumb of company protocol that’s using tired and useless rhetoric. I’ve learned that if I’ve clearly voiced my concerns and still no-one listens, it might be better to walk away. When that spider-sense is going crazy, it’s really worth listening. In one situation I could clearly see the pitfalls, pointed them out, they were ignored, we all suffered, was told patronisingly ‘animation is hard, we’ll learn from these lessons and do better next time.’ Kind of agonising.
  • There’s opportunity cost of going into something that you know is a dead horse – you could be doing other cool stuff that has a better chance at working out, and time is incredibly valuable.
  • With that said, I always try to be prepared to be surprised. We all have blind spots, myself included. If someone has a better way of doing things, or has a strong hunch, or is more skilled, that’s of huge value. Many people are excellent at what they do, many of them far better than what I can do, and I can trust them to do their thing because they always ‘plus up’ a project better than I can. These are the people I like to work with. Instead of making things needlessly complicated or worse, they’re making it better. What an absolute pleasure. Keep working with those people.
  • Every job is up to you how awesome or boring you make it. The job itself is a blank canvas – you can make it interesting, learn new stuff, give it your best. It’s the best way to advance career if you’re a freelancer, each job leads in to the next, if you’re doing a good job on each gig things naturally open up. Each job is the meat of what you’re doing. It’s easy to think ‘ugh, this job’ but really, that’s self-limitation. The job could be turned into one of the most inspiring and fresh gigs you’ve ever done.
  • Flow like water around setbacks. You can never blame a situation or audience or anyone for being unsuccessful. There will always be setbacks – whether they’re internal or external. There’s always a way. Where there’s resistance from one gatekeeper, another way invariably presents itself – almost always the case.
  • There’ll usually be tensions within a project – sometimes the forces of financial, creative, self-expression, client happiness, expectation, colleagues etc. all seem to be pulling against each other. When that tension can be held without things falling apart, the result is often magic. Try hold the tension and get on with the job.
  • If a client trusts you to do your own thing, that’s a rare thing; do the best damn job you can. A brief that says ‘we like what you do, get creative’ is like manna from heaven. Do not abuse this trust; it’s both a test and an opportunity to turn on the inner ‘genius’ (that we all have). Such a job can add energy to everyday life and invigorate, instead of depleting it. If you’re being given free reign, someone’s essentially paying you to make an advert for your next job, so make it count.
  • If you don’t back yourself or your project, it’s very difficult for someone else to believe in you or your project.
  • Finances. It’s one thing creatives rarely talk about, because the focus generally is on the creative (and also NDAs about not discussing money). As a result, we creatives are sometimes lacking in financial education. After listening to a bunch of audio books, if there’s one piece of advice I can pass on: pay yourself first before you pay any bills / sundries etc… by putting away at least 15% of everything you earn into a separate account (I use a 32-day notice account). That money is for you and you alone, it’s ‘money to clink’ and not to be spent on anything, but you’ll see how quickly it grows. Money attracts money. Remember – don’t touch that loot. Just keep adding to it.
  • We don’t live in the time of kings and queens, the days of the ‘kingmaker’ is over. Don’t overly place your trust in anyone that says they’ll ‘recommend you’ or ‘not recommend you’ for xyz job to try get you under their thumb. You don’t want to give anyone the power to squander your future.
  • Be grateful to anyone that helped you get where you are and was kind enough to take a chance on you, but no single person will make or break your career – they may give you opportunities, but you make your own long-term success on your own steam.
  • Show me the soul. A project with no soul – even if its budget is in the millions – is generally no good long-term. A project with no budget and soul usually trumps it. This is a debatable point, as soul might be able to be manufactured, even insincerely, though it might still be effective. Point being – if nobody is invested in a project, it’s likely to fall into the pit of forgotten things.
  • Good to understand the methods and creative processes and ‘rules’ (they’re not rules) for making something, but don’t feel beholden to them. Sometimes you know pieces 4,5 and 6 before you know 1,2 and 3. That’s ok. Work from there. As Pixar says ‘protect your ugly babies’ as they might grow up to be beautiful adults, and it’s  often just a matter of spending time and energy on a particular project. I believe almost anything can work if you give it enough TLC. It’s good to get an outside eye for perspective, but not all advice is equal.
  • If you don’t know something, that’s fine. There’s probably someone who does know, and can suggest a better way. I try and be honest when I’m not sure of the right path, and almost always someone else is stronger at that moment and takes the lead. This is the benefit of working in teams – when it works well, it’s amazing.
  • If someone gives you a boilerplate contract, they sometimes don’t even know what the legalese means if you ask questions about it. If anything, it can irritate the person handing out the contract if you ask ‘what does this mean?’ My feeling is – if you expect me to sign something and you don’t even understand it, what’s the point? Sometimes I have no qualms about going over things in-depth, other times if I feel the work relationship is one where a lot of trust is coming from both sides and if the contract doesn’t look too nebulous, it’s generally good to go. I haven’t been badly burned in the past.
  • Theory is no substitute for ‘doing’ and creative intuition. It can help to know the rules, but a paint-by-numbers approach isn’t likely to yield anything super fantastic. Your creative intuition already knows the best way, so don’t let theory get in the way. If anything, knowing ‘the rules’ or the way people have done things in the past can help to know how to ‘break them properly’.
  • Sometimes it’s riskier to play it too dumb and safe than to take a fresh creative approach.
  • When someone pulls the plug on a project (it happens) you keep going. People can promise things that fall through, things can seem unfair, but you just keep going.
  • You can never blame the audience. The audience isn’t going to drastically change their paradigm to accommodate your animated project. You can’t say “It’s because nobody gets it.” It’s an entitled approach that won’t go far. Take responsibility for your output, definitely don’t blame the audience – the audience is perfect; they’re perfect experts in viewing. They will be the final arbiter.
  • ‘Person who chases two rabbits catches neither.’ You have a certain amount of creativity per day. Be wary of spreading yourself too thin as all projects might suffer as a result. I go for sustainability and can’t pull all-nighters like I used to. I usually try passing on short intense projects if I can rather get work that’s a couple months in length, and hopefully I can afford to work on only job – eat and breathe it, really get into it. Otherwise, I’m burning the candles at both ends and it’s not sustainable. All-nighters usually end up with major exhaustion, irritability and suffering relationships.
  • Clients are not enemies. They also want a good result. Help each other find a way to get there.
  • Putting the health and sanity of employees above the project is a good idea, and will ultimately benefit the project.
  • Keep your side of the road clean even if your neighbour across the road is making his side messy. Be responsible to you and mind your own business.
Well, that’s it. Thanks for reading. In a somewhat related post, here’s ‘Bru & Boegie’s Guide to Pitching to an Animated Show to a Network‘ I put up in 2017.