Menu Home

Month: December 2010

My 2010 favorites

I hate to compare things I love.  But for the sake of a more interesting blog post, I’m going to anyway.  In real life, I don’t really like playing favorites, because different books and movies and stuff all have their own spirit, and are ultimately incomparable.  But let’s disregard that for a few moments.

For books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time this year, regardless of their release date.  Movies, TV shows, and film scores must be from 2010.  (Books I only read a few chapters from (which actually make up a majority of my reading) are not qualified.)

And here we go… and Happy New Year!

Year’s best live-action film…

inception (Obviously.)

Year’s best animated film…

dragon1

Year’s best TV show…

fringe

Year’s best film score…

dragon2

Year’s best non-fiction book…

genius

Year’s best fiction book…

anathem

Best whatever else…

Best documentary…

wsb

Best school…

am

Blender studies…

This week I’ve been working on my 2011 Goal #2: Learn to model an environment in Blender. I’ve been learning from the secret book of Blender modeling ninjas, which I stole from the master ninja’s house in the shadows of the night. OK, actually I’ve been studying from this book: Blender Foundations: The Essential Guide to Learning Blender 2.6 by D. Roland Hess. It’s an excellent book for someone who’s never used Blender before. I’m only on chapter 4, but just flipping through the pages ahead, it looks like it will cover all the basics I’ll need to achieve my goal. So far, I’ve only modeled a purdy little flower and a purdy little vase. If I have time after work tonight, I’ll continue on and model a chair and a table and post some pics. Nothing amazing at all, but I’m a newbie. I must say, there’s something very attractive about modeling. If you know what I mean, nudge nudge. No, I mean 3D modeling, the act of creating stuff from nothing. It makes one feel quite powerful. It’s the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed. Things that couldn’t exist in the real world.

The artist’s creed

I’ve been thinking about the artist’s creed. At least my version of it. This is all just my advice to artists from personal experience. Not that I have that much personal experience or have achieved anything very famous, but still…

For now, there are only three. I might think of some more later on as I go through life and become smarterer and smarterererish…

1. Don’t get excited

OK, you are allowed to get excited. It’s part of human nature. Just be careful that you’re not setting yourself up for later disappointment. Be honest with yourself about why exactly you’re excited. If it’s only your daydreams that are exciting you, recognize that, and make sure they do not become expectations.

The beginning of the creative process is, at least for me, the most exciting part of the creative process. (The second most exciting part is actually finishing something that you feel good about, but that has nothing to do with this rule.) When you get that first seed of an idea, that first inkling of something awesome, it can quickly become an obsession. You daydream about it all night and day. Oh, what wonderful possibilities!

But what is it that’s really exciting? It’s the possibilities. It’s the unknown. The unknown can be very exciting. It’s why movie trailers are exciting: they give just small pieces of info, leading us to wonder what the entire movie will be like. It’s why we wrap presents at Christmas: what could be in there? I can’t wait to find out!

But with the creative process, we work backwards. We daydream the movie trailer moments first, and that gets us all excited. The problem with this is obvious: we have to create the film. We have to fill in the details and make it something absolute instead of just of bunch of vague possibilities.

While the initial excitement can be a great motivator for getting to work, DO NOT mistake that excitement as a judgment of the completed work. You don’t have the completed work yet. You can’t judge it. You can’t even judge its potential. Something that does not yet really exist does not have potential.

I once met someone who was excited about an independent film he was working on, claiming it was bound to make millions … later on, he mentioned he was looking for someone to write the screenplay. Wait a sec. You don’t even have a screenplay?

In a similar manner, don’t get excited about potential success. If someone promises to make you rich, or to buy your work, or to make your screenplay into a film, or whatever, don’t get excited until it’s actually done, until it’s actually set in stone. When there’s a lot of money involved, many things can go wrong, many important people can change their minds. Save yourself from disappointment. Don’t let your expectations be denied by not having high expectations to begin with.

2. Never be satisfied

This rule requires much less description. It’s the age old philosophy of Kaizen. If you find yourself quite pleased with your work, it does not mean you’re a great artist, it means you’re stupid. OK, you can be a little satisfied. I’m not trying to argue you should always be in a state of self-loathing disappointment. But you should always be able to find something to improve upon. No work of art is perfect. Obviously, you must stop working on a project at some point if you ever want to do something else. As they say: “A work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

3. Don’t be a critic

OK, you can be a critic. In fact, you need to be a critic of some sort to make any sort of creative decisions at all.

What I mean by this rule is: don’t be a critic instead of being creative. As Anton Ego says in Ratatouille: “The bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

Good critiques, even if subjective, serve the creative process. They help artists make choices. Lame critiques (that is, unasked-for critiques from non-creative people) are worthless. Still, they can make non-creative people feel productive and involved. So they’re not going to disappear anytime soon.

As an artist, do not give lame critiques your time. And don’t create them.

If someone asks for your honest opinion, as a creative person might, be honest, informative, and kind. It is better to say “This part of the story doesn’t work for me because I don’t understand this character’s motivations…” rather than “What the heck?! He can’t just do that! That’s stupid! You should die for writing this crap!”

If someone asks for your dishonest opinion, patronize him; that’s what he wants. “Oh, awesome! That’s very neat! Nice work!” If they need people to lie to them to make them feel good, that’s their problem. And maybe they just want to show you their work and don’t really give a crap what you really think. So be polite and don’t tell them. Unless, of course, you are honestly impressed. If the truth doesn’t hurt, it won’t hurt!

If no one asks for your opinion, why are you wasting your time telling them?

The End

Those are the three rules. As I said, I might think of some more later. For now, I’m going to give these rules their own page and link on the side, which I’ll keep updated as I think of more (or if want to edit these later).

Some Christmas gifts…

As they say: “Christmas is when you get stuff! You need more stuff!”

Well, Christmas is over… it came and went as fast as a day goes by.

I got some great stuff – here’s a picture! Here are my favorite gifts…

Dollhouse: Season Two [Blu-ray]. I only saw two episodes from the second season, and then the show got cancelled and I decided to just wait until it came out on DVD… or blu-ray in this case. So I’m really looking forward to watching this.

Drawn to Life: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures Volume 1 and Volume 2. These books are about drawing for animation. But even if you’re like me and stink at drawing, these books are still very interesting, and many of the principles still apply to 3D animation. I checked the first volume out from the library and read the first 30 pages a few months ago and knew that I definitely wanted to own them. I can’t wait to read more.

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios. The story of how Pixar began. Unfortunately it ends at Cars, I think, so it feels like there should be a sequel in another decade or so. (I suppose it’s always better to wait for a couple decades when people are more willing to talk about past projects more openly.)

Speaking of animation history, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a must for all animation lovers. It’s not really about animation itself, but the business and the people behind it; more specifically about the Disney animation studios from about 1984 to about 1994. It is very interesting… one of the highlights are animator Randy Cartwright’s home movie studio tours, in which he strolls the halls and nonchalantly introduces future-big-names, like a young Tim Burton, Glen Keane, Joe Ranft, John Lasseter, Eric Larson, and some guy who asks if he’s allowed to be recording with that camera. It’s an awesome gem. I wish it was longer! Oh, there’s also part of a lecture by Howard Ashman on why he thought musicals went so well with animation, which was very interesting. I wish I could’ve heard the whole thing!

The How To Train Your Dragon score. It’s just awesome.

Inception: The Shooting Script. Because it is also awesome. Has some great handwritten notes by Nolan, an interview with him, and some concept art. A true Inception fan should get it.

Great stuff! Woohoo!

Save the Cat – and I am a genius

So there’s this book called Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. (It’s a sequel to Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but my library didn’t have that book, so I can’t read right now.) The book is about story structure in screenplay writing, kinda like Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, but focused more on movies.

The book also details about 10 different genres of movies, such as Monster in the House movies, which are about characters facing some deadly evil, like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Alien, or Golden Fleece movies, where a group of characters go on some kind of journey, like Star Wars or Finding Nemo.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that my screenplay The Melody Box follows the structure of the Out of the Bottle genre so well, that I will call myself a plagiarist genius. No, really, just following my instincts, the story follows the Out of the Bottle structure very nicely. Character gets magic, magic changes life, magic causes complications, the character eventually rejects the magic, etc. I was really delighted with myself.

Another real eye-opener for me (though unrelated to my screenplay) was that in Monster in the House movies, the evil that the characters are fighting has to be somehow associated with the actions of the characters. The characters (or at least one character) has to sin, has to invite the trouble of the monster(s) in; it all has to be someone’s fault. For example, in Jaws, people underestimate the power of the shark and keep the beaches open, even though they should know better. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond clones dangerous dinosaurs, even though he should know better. In Titanic, they should’ve known to put enough lifeboats on the ship, they should’ve known not to turn the ship too much upon seeing the iceberg, and they should’ve known not to say something as blasphemous as “even God couldn’t sink this ship!” The sin might even be something like not paying enough attention. I think the reason these “sins” work so well is because audiences will imagine themselves in the situations they see, and if they can’t say to themselves that they would’ve found a way out of danger (even if it means sawing a foot off), then watching the movie isn’t quite as fun.

(P.S. I think a novel plot can be much more “loose” as different readers will experience such stories at a different pace, sometimes over many months. However, the more the plot of a novel follows the “Save the Cat” structure, the easier a movie adaptation will be. And it could be a nice way for someone who’s plotting a novel to get ideas. Overall, I think most good writers will follow similar structures naturally, just as good composers follow the “rules” of music theory naturally… because it just feels right to do so.)

Goals for 2011

It’s not too early to plan out some goals for the new year, is it? Here are my goals for 2011:

1. Do good work for Animation Mentor – and graduate!
2. Learn to model an environment in Blender
3. Learn to model and animate a character in Blender
4. Continue trying to sell screenplay The Melody Box
5. Write a “listening guide” companion to my album
6. Finish writing a novel – and finish planning another
7. Finish writing 15 short stories
8. Listen to the complete works of Mozart
9. Listen to 100 other pieces of classical music
10. Read 25 fiction books, 25 non-fiction books, and 300 short stories
11. Practice drawing for 100 hours
12. Play video games for 100 hours (I can dream, yes?)
13. Watch lots of movies and TV shows… to study story structure (“Save the Cat” style)
14. Spend as little money as possible… save it for a 2012 vacation!

I also created a special page for it, which you should see on the side menu. I’m hoping to keep that page updated with my progress. It should be updated at least once a month…

As I say on the page, these goals are purposefully beyond my reach (though not completely impossible). The goal is not so much to actually reach these goals, but to get somewhere while aiming for them, if that makes sense.

The only goal I must reach is the first: Do good work for Animation Mentor. The other goals are nice, but I will sacrifice working on them for the sake of Animation Mentor if I must (and I probably will).

I’ve also recently become interested in Blender. My free student version of Maya will expire at some point (actually, it might’ve already, so I’ll have to try to renew it for the next Animation Mentor term), and Blender looks like a nice alternative. After all, it’s free! And it can be used for commercial projects for free. Not that I’m planning any commercial projects any time soon, but it’s nice to have that option.

Christmas, Animation Mentor, and whatever

Christmas

We’re a week away from Christmas! I’ve got almost all my shopping done, I just need to buy one more thing… then I just need to wrap them, put them under the tree, start the fire when my parents aren’t looking because the gas costs money, sit on the floor and look at them and think happy thoughts.

Have you noticed in all those TV specials in which characters talk about the “true meaning of Christmas” they never actually say what it is?

I watched the Christmas classic A Christmas Story earlier this week, one of the great films of our time. No holiday is complete without at least one viewing. Now I just need to watch A Muppets Christmas Carol, not only the last best Muppet film, but also the best film version of the Christmas Carol story there is. Right? Yes? Indeed? They need to put it on blu-ray!

Animation Mentor

I have finished my second semester at Animation Mentor! Though it was quite a bit of work, the term really flew by. I’m getting better with my time management, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed as I did last semester, but I hope I can continue to improve next semester. We get a two week break for Christmas (though I’m still working at my job, so it’s not like I’m on vacation or anything), and then we’ll go through semesters 3 and 4 in a long continuous 24-week no-breaks stretch! It will be intense! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! But I still get excited imagining being able to work as an animator full-time… by this time next year I’ll be done, and we’ll see what happens with my life then…

I’ll post my second semester reel soon…

Anyway, I do think I’ve made some good progress this semester, and I definitely learned a lot. I look forward to more!

Got published!

Beceause my writing be so well, I was got profsionally published! The words flowed so passionately!

I’ve been blathering about it way too much, so I won’t say much now, but my short story appeared in Daily Science Fiction earlier this week! ‘Twas a rousing success. Cake was baked and eaten, wine was (and caused me to be) drunk, and angels sang glorious hymns.

(It was emailed to subscribers earlier this week. If you didn’t subscribe, DSF will have the story on their site on December 22nd, I believe.)

And I got a profile page on the ISFDB… woohoo!

On Thursday morning it started snowing, so I went to work for about 20 minutes before we closed. It’s wonderful to still have snow days in your mid-twenties. So I spent some time writing a new short story. Not sure what it’ll be called yet, but it’s about a sword that shows its holder the image of an evil person, then guarantees the holder invincibility as they slay that person. Isn’t that great? Yes, it is.

Short story and animation and screenplay, oh my

11 days until Christmas!

Just a couple updates on my life:

1. Be sure you’re signed up to get some Daily Science Fiction! Even if only for a day. My story, Maker of the Twenty-first Moon, will appear tomorrow, December the 15th, making it my fictional debut. You don’t want to miss this historic occasion. I plan on baking a cake tonight to celebrate. Might seem arrogant, but all excuses are valid for cake.

2. The second semester of Animation Mentor is just about over! I’ll post my second semester reel later this week. The semester really flew by. While I think I definitely improved this semester, I know there are plenty of areas I definitely need to keep working on. This semester was quite challenging, but overall, I’m still very happy with Animation Mentor, and I’m looking forward to the third semester, starting next month.

3. I got this email in regards to one of my screenplay query letters (for The Melody Box):

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your intriguing query.

I’ve attached my bio/producing credits and can be reached in New York City at: [censored].

Let’s talk first.

Best,

[censored]

At first, this got me all excited. I forgot the first rule of the artist’s creed: don’t get excited. After Googling the producer’s name a bit more, I found that he ran a script consulting service, and I’m sure that’s what he wanted to try to sell me on. Ugh! No thanks.

That said, I have been fortunate enough to get a few actual genuine requests for the screenplay, woohoo!

I guess that’s all I have for today…

I wrote a screenplay… now what again?

18 days until Christmas! Yay, woohoo, and such things.

Over the last week or so I’ve been editing my screenplay The Melody Box and it’s at the point now where I’d like to try selling it.

Most books and blogs I’ve read about selling your first screenplay strongly suggest that you write several before trying to sell one. I started writing another one earlier this year, but I lost interest and don’t really feel like continuing work with it. Quite frankly, it seems like a waste of time to write a screenplay if it’s not going to be produced. It’s a waste of a story. Might as well write a novel. The only reason I wrote The Melody Box as a screenplay is because music is essential to the plot. It could work as a play or a movie, but it can’t be just prose; the audience has to hear the music.

(I do have another story idea that must be a screenplay just because certain things must happen visually, but I don’t yet have a good grasp on the story, and, again, I really don’t feel like putting a whole lot of effort into something that would most likely go nowhere. Maybe that’s a bad attitude to have, but I’ve got plenty of other more interesting ways to use my time creatively.)

So I might be shooting myself in the foot by not working on some more screenplays, but that’s a hole in the foot I’m willing to have. I’m not really trying to become a full-time screenwriter; I just want to get this particular story out there somehow.

So I’ve got my screenplay. I prepared a query letter and a synopsis for it, which I plan to send to producers in Hollywood. Today in fact. There are hundreds out there, so this will probably be something I’ll be doing over the course of several months.

The idea / hope is that a producer (or someone involved with the producer’s creative material acquisitions) is interested in the query enough to read the synopsis, and is interested in the synopsis enough to request the script. I send it to them and they like it enough to option it or buy it. (In case you don’t know, buying an “option” basically means they’re not sure if they want to buy it, but they’re interested, so they pay you a certain amount to not sell it to anyone else for 6 months or a year or something while they make up their minds.) I’d be happy enough just to get to that point, but then the real dream-come-true part would be it, you know, actually getting made.

Wish me luck! I can read your mind, and appreciate the luck you have just wished me subconsciously…

Life lessons… copied from elsewhere

I came across this blog post the other day: Ten Life Lessons from Richard Branson.

I thought I would just repeat the lessons, but give my own explanations for them. Hopefully this will help you have a better life. OK, here goes…

1. “Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more.”

At least, I assume. I mean, they look nice, and you’d probably enjoy yourself while you’re using them, but ultimately they somehow won’t give you happiness. Having those things implies you have a lot of money, and more happiness will come from your bank account and the not-having-to-do-work-you-don’t-want-to part of life, not the big yachts. However, once you have riches like that, it’s not very polite to continuously talk about how happy it makes you.

2. “I enjoy every single minute of my life.”

I just think of what it’ll be like when I’m rich. Once I am rich, I can just remind myself that I’m rich.

3. “But the majority of things that one could get stressed about, they’re not worth getting stressed about.”

Really, the only thing to stress about is losing your money. Everything else is pretty pointless. Don’t worry about stuff that doesn’t involve boat loads of money. If you don’t have boat loads of money, you shouldn’t be worrying about anything at all. Your life is ultimately meaningless.

4. “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.”

Nobody wants to follow someone who is mean to them. People like getting praise, so giving it to them is a good way to get power over them. Just don’t go overboard, or they’ll think you’re insincere. Give them just enough to keep wanting more and you will have them on a leash.

5. “There is no one to follow, there is nothing to copy.”

If you want to be a leader and have power over others, you have to make sure no one has power over you, you have to make sure you don’t become one of those mindless followers.

6. “I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

You want to make sure you’re rich enough that if the business fails, you’re not dependent on it. Also, if you’re in it just for the money, then I don’t want to compete with you, because you might succeed beyond belief and I don’t want that kind of competition.

7. “I never had any intention of being an entrepreneur.”

That’s a big word with weird spelling. I’m not quite sure what it means.

8. “I made and learned from lots of mistakes.”

Looking before you leap is overrated. If you want to get ahead, it’s better to learn from mistakes than planning research. There’s always a chance you could succeed without thinking, and that’s the best kind of success to have. If you find that you are doing actual work, what’s the point?

9. “If you can indulge in your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you’re just working.”

Like I said, work is for losers. Get your followers to do the work.

10. “Right now I’m just delighted to be alive and to have had a nice long bath.”

After all, that involves no work whatsoever, and that’s what makes life awesome.

OK, I hope these tips have helped you. I didn’t really tell you how to make money easily, because that is a secret that must stay closely-guarded. If I want to maintain my power, I have to make you think my life is a whole lot better than yours, and as long as you think I’m always happy and always have been, then I’m happy enough.