The Truck of Damocles

Sometimes when I'm in class, I get swept up in the moment and end up raving like a snake preacher. This happened this week in my animation class while we were watching all the students animatic tests for their final films. Most of them are dealing with the usual student film stuff... ideas that are too big and unfocused, or spending too much time on plot and not enough on character.

This semester there's a trend. Many of the student's films are obsessed with origins. Not backstory, which is essential (though not really essential to directly communicate). I'm talking full on origin comic book style Origin Stories. The mineral content of Planet X and how that led to the development of a certain kind of quantum robot that this particular race of lizard people have adapted to resist which is why they... etc etc etc (There weren't lizard people or quantum robots, I made that up as an example.). But what we see on screen might be something like a feather on an ice cream sundae for half a second before a ninja comes in and chops it in two. And the artist will say something like "this doesn't make sense on its own, but it's part of a larger story that I want to get to." This happened over and over and I started speaking in tongues. "LOOK," I said, beginning my sermon.

You have to animate like you're going to get hit by a truck.

It sort of hung there in the air and they looked at me like I was nuts. But I knew what I meant and expanded...

It's all fine if an artist already has a ton of money and can spend it on a hypothetical epic about lizard people vs quantum robots. But you almost certainly have a smaller project in front of you NOW, not in the future. Not a 90 minute movie, but a 90 second one. Not a novel, but a blog post. Not a 30 foot fresco, but a four inch print. The thing in front of you now is the promise that you can be trusted, that you can express with quality and vision.

But what if you get hit by a truck right after this short movie, and don't get to make the huge vision right away? While you're healing up, people will look at your out-of-context thing, designed to be half-baked, and think "meh." No one will want to know more or be driven to find out. You'll heal up and re-emerge into a world that didn't know you were gone.

Set aside your epic and create something that you can make amazing at this scale, right now. That's not a compromise, it's a promise to people out there that you already have vision. No one can trust you to keep your promise if you never make the promise in the first place, all because you decided to hold back your storytelling skills in favor of this big thing you might make someday.

Rough around the edges, perhaps. But that's what you get when you teach without slides.

PS: There's curricular structural issues as to why this is happening so much in my program, but that might be a post for another day.