Ask For Help

Brenda_Chapman

Here is a beautifully written letter by Brenda Chapman, Director at DreamWorks Animation.

Chapman’s feature film credits include Brave (co-director and writer), The Prince of Egypt (co-director), Chicken Run, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to name a few.

On February 1st, 2012, Chapman wrote a great blog post calling all animation artists to participate in The Animator Letters Project. Read it here.

Letter to Willie final_Page_1_editLetter to Willie final pg 2_edit Letter to Willie final_Page_3_edit Letter to Willie final_Page_4_editTranscript:

Oct. 28, 2013

Dear Willie,

I’ve tried to sit down & write this so many times, but I always feel that what I’m writing either makes no sense or it’s too much. I’ve been in the animation industry for nearly 30 years…and I still feel like I have so much to learn.

When I arrived at CalArts in 1984 (after being rejected when I tried for 1983), I didn’t really have a clue.  I hadn’t been an animation geek – that is…I didn’t know who the 9 Old Men were, I had never read an animation book nor had I tried to animate or make my own film. I just loved to draw and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons after school and see the old Disney animated films in the theater. So I was behind when I started at CalArts. Most of my classmates had an idea of how to animate already. So I asked a lot of questions – and I wasn’t afraid to ask for help with things I didn’t understand. I have a deep gratitude for the patience of the teachers – and the mentoring of the upperclassman (Steve Moore, Kevin Lima, Kirk Wise, Ron Hughart & Dale Macbeth – to name a few).

I was incredibly naive. Good was good. Bad was bad. I’m still learning to cope with all the shades of gray after all these years. I went into the animation world with eyes wide, a smile on my face and a determination to do what I loved to do.

DIC was my first job working the summers while I was still at CalArts. Then I made it into Disney when I graduated in 1987.

Again, I asked a lot of questions & sought help when I was out of my depth… which was often – and still is! I was incredibly fortunate to have wonderful mentors who didn’t see me as the token woman in story (for which I was hired by the exec in charge at the time), but as a new young story artist bringing my own ideas to the game. People like Joe Ranft, Roger Allers, Ed Gombert, Vance Gerry, Gary Trousdale and Burny Mattinson. I was truly very lucky.

But the main thing that I feel I’ve had in my corner for all these years is something my mother taught me… and I didn’t even realize it until lately. She taught me resilience. She taught me to get back up when I got knocked down. Giving up was just never an option. I know it has nothing directly to do with the craft/art of animation that we all love. But it’s a way to look at life, I suppose, that helps you make it through the hard stuff and achieve whatever your passion is. Things may change direction (sometimes by choice, sometimes out of our control) – and if you’re open to it – that change could lead you to a better place. Just don’t let the direction change so much that you end up going backwards.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Look for mentors from whom you can learn. Most importantly, be happy in doing what you love to do. Don’t let the struggles, the heartache or politics deter you. Look for the passion, the joy and the satisfaction of your own personal part of the bigger puzzle. Those 3 things combined with the struggle & heartache are what make us artists.

Wish you the best of luck in everything you try!

Brenda Chapman (signed)

P.S. The sad thing is, I don’t draw as much anymore – as you can tell by the little sketches. My change in direction has taken me more into writing…and I love that too!

Need to Create

Here is a letter written by Daniel Gonzales, animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Gonzales’s feature film credits include Wreck it Ralph, and Cars 2 as well as promo for Toy Story 3. Be sure to check out his blog, where you will find a goldmine of wonderful advise.

Transcript:

PIXAR

October, 2011

To all aspiring artist,

Deep down inside you, inside all of us artists…at one point in our lives we’ve all discovered a huge desire to create. A desire so unexplainable and strong, it’s what makes us artist.

I would wake in the middle of the night as a child with the need to draw, the need to un-load ideas and images from my mind. And that still happens till this day!

To all you who want to be animators..first and foremost, you must find and recognize the same desire to create. Not only for others but to create for yourself. To create for the primal need to just create. Don’t create for the sole reason and purpose of entertainment: to make others laugh and cry. Create to appeal to yourself. I guarantee that your work will connect to more people when you are creating a piece that makes you laugh or cry or think. You’ll be creating from the heart and NOT creating from the assumptions of what might make someone laugh/cry/think.

Stay away from cliche’s. The best tool for original ideas come from your mind, memories and your childhood.

When you ask others to critique your work, remember you’re doing this to ONLY improve technique, skill, execution. You will never grow as an artist if you are always asking others if your work is “good”. Your work becomes good when it connects to you! Most importantly YOU.

When your work is so intwined with your thoughts and your heart that the thought of asking if someone else likes it is pointless.

ask others= improve skill

ask yourself= to improve concept.

Artist never have asked permission to try something new and crazy. Let alone ask if it’s good. Picasso, Mozart, Dali, Monet, Van Gogh, Goya, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Wagner, John Cage and many more…they just DID IT.

To imphasis the point that the greatest work/ meaning/ originality come from within, here is Edvard Munch’s description of his inspiration for the painting, “The Scream”.

“I was walking along a path with two friends, the sun was setting, suddenly the sky turned blood red. I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence. There was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord of the city. My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature….” – Edvard Munch

As long as you take your desire and never stop improving your technique, you will never be less than what you want. It’s not about where you end up, what studio you work at, how much money you make. It’s whether or not you are happy with what you are creating.

I never grew up with much of anything. Single parent home in a forgotten run down neighbor hood! As a child I knew more people who have been to prison then to college. Seeing poverty and drive-by shootings was unremarkable to me.

I would find comfort in drawing, pushing myself and my skills to communicate my ideas. I knew my desire was my ticket to get out. Over time people took pleasure in my art, but I never made it for them. It was not them but for me. I needed to draw. Soon then I learned to paint and then to build, and then to animate. I didn’t learn for the sake of learning how to animate, but because I needed to express myself and animation offered another/ different opportunity to do just that, express myself. This mindset has carried me through highschool, college at CCA, 3 years at Pixar, and now mentoring @ Animation Mentor. Most would be content and settle..I can’t.

I need to create, I need to satisfy my artistic desire to continue to express myself until the day I die.

To you aspiring artists/animators out there, never settle down until you are satisfied. And if you find yourself satisfied, you might want to check your inspiration, and desire.

You might of lost it.

Good luck to all. Start at the top and work your way up. Never stop. Patience is the key to all artists!

Respectfully,

Daniel Gonzales III

Persist

Here is a letter written by Austin Madison, animator at Pixar Animation Studios.

Madison’s feature film credits include Brave, Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, and UP. Be sure to check out his blog, and also follow him on Twitter @munchanka.

Read what Madison had to say about The Animator Letters Project on his blog, after Letters of Note featured it on their website.

Listen to Madison read his letter on the air with KCRW’s the Business:

Transcript:

PIXAR

May 17, 2011

To Whom it May Inspire,

I, like many of you artists out there, constantly shift between two states. The first (and far more preferable of the two) is white-hot, “in the zone” seat-of-the-pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode. This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice! This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office-corner-full-of-crumpled-up-paper mode. The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word: PERSIST.

PERSIST on telling your story. PERSIST on reaching your audience. PERSIST on staying true to your vision. Remember what Peter Jackson said, “Pain is temporary. Film is forever.” And he of all people should know.

So next time you hit writer’s block, or your computer crashes and you lose an entire night’s work because you didn’t hit save (always hit save), just remember: you’re never far from that next burst of divine creativity. Work through that 97% of murky abyssmal mediocrity to get to that 3% which everyone will remember you for!

I guarantee you, the art will be well worth the work!

Your friend and mine,

Austin Madison

“ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!”

Don’t Give Up!

Here is a letter written by Aaron Hartline, animator at Pixar Animation Studios.

Hartline’s feature film credits include Brave, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, UP, Ice Age 1-3, Horton Hears a Who and Robots. You can check out his blog, and his Daily Post-it doodles. You can also follow him on Twitter @TheDailyPostit.

Read what Hartline has to say about the letter on his blog after it was featured on the Letters of Note website.

This is the letter that not only encouraged me to follow my dreams of becoming an animator, but also inspired me to start this project as well.

Transcript:

Hi Willie -

Thank you for the kind words! Reading your letter, all I could think was DON’T GIVE UP! If you really love it, then don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard, that you will fail.

When I took a tour at Disney right out of Highschool, I showed the tour guide/animator my work. She said ‘It’s easier to get a job as a professional basketball player than getting a animator position at Walt Disney Studios‘. My mom said ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I was so angry. So motivated. I knew if I worked hard that one day..some day..I could do it! Took me 14 years of trying but it happened.

You can do it Willie!!

Work hard and really want it!

Check out www.animationmentor.com. I teach there. It’s a great school w teachers who are professional working animators at the major studios.

Hope to be working with you one day.

-Aaron

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