Sunday, June 1, 2008

Limited Animation?

It’s been long since my last post and I now find myself writing this in a foreign land. This is supposed to be a ‘working’ holiday for me, so naturally the first thing I did when I came here was to start looking for opportunities in the local market. One of the first people I met was a man who owns an advertising agency - let’s call him H. for convenience. He asked me the usual questions about what software I knew and what kind of work I was looking for and from his conversation, I could tell he was a man who knew what he was talking about.

However, as our conversation went on, it became clear that he was definitely one of the ‘realistic’ elements of the industry. He listened to my stories and hopeful enthusing about the potential for a creative revolution locally and then with a quiet smile said, “That’s all well and good, but that kind of work won’t earn you your bread-and-butter.” Then he told me that most marketing managers locally preferred to either choose print media because it allowed for a greater profit margin or to outsource animation projects so they could thrown in a free trip abroad for themselves… that really hit hard. The Classic Cold Splash.

And I found myself believing him, especially when he went on sensibly about how the creative side of things had to be left for the sidelines, as a hobby perhaps or when you’ve earned enough money, etc., etc.

For a couple of days, I trod dejectedly amongst the shattered shards of my dreams. Was it really unrealistic to believe that I could succeed if I picked an idea and gave it my all? I already know it’s hard, and that there’s the financial element to think about - to support both the project and myself. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Focus on the idea and do commercial work to support it? If you’re already giving your all to earning the money, then what’s left to give to the sidelined project?

It's difficult having to make that choice, but I think it’s a choice every artist makes.
At some point in time or another. The question we need to ask ourselves is: “Am I doing this for myself or to fulfill the expectations society has of me in this capacity?” When I began to study animation, the most common reaction I’d get was “So, you’ll be going to work for Disney some day!” That would be nice.

What would be better is if I could stand up with something I created from the very core of my being. Something that said bint Ali is every nuance, in every line, in every aspect. It wouldn’t matter if I’d had to live on bread and water all the days I’d spent creating it; I’d have fulfilled my true purpose as an animator.

But even in doing that, there are so many other choices that could change the future in unimaginable ways. Choices that depend on deeper issues than just commercial vs. creative. Whichever path you decide to take, you then need to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to achieve that goal.

Just last week, I was asked to take on a project that would put all my skills to use. It had the potential of becoming so
mething huge on a national level. It was challenging, creative, risky and the perfect way to jump right into the deep end of the industry. Except for one thing. The project was based on an idea that conflicted with my religious beliefs.

When I first started the animation course a year and a half ago, we discussed career opportunities in class and I realised even way back then that I would never be able to work within an agency simply because you can’t choose your projects and I would have to constantly compromise my faith if I did. Freelancing was the only option for me and that meant having to fight every step of the way for work. (Which gave rise to an interesting story idea, but I’ll leave that for another post.)

Turning down the offered project was a hard, not so much because I was tempted to take on the challenge, but because it also meant that if I haven’t explained myself properly or if the person at the other end doesn’t understand my reasons, I might have lost future opportunities too. And yet, if I had taken it on, I would have lived with a guilty conscience every day.

I wonder if every animator/artist goes through that when they choose their work. It could be in accepting or rejecting a project, or even within a working project. How many boundaries will you cross to pass on your message? You have to jolt the senses of your audience sometimes to make them realise a certain point, but just how much of what you show/create serves that purpose and how much of it is simply a ploy to take advantage of the shock-factor syndrome?

When people speak of religion with animation, they think of faith-based features: historical, educational and moral stories made to suit a specific audience. But I believe every animator needs to have a set of personal or religious principles that define their limits; things that they won’t sacrifice for any reason. That is what gives a backbone to an idea. It allows an audience to know you through your work, to become familiar with your set of standards. It doesn’t mean you have to hold back on creativity or inspiration. Just that you refine both to something that uniquely identifiable as you, regardless of what it is. It is the essence of your work.

I’m hoping the choices I make will help me create that kind of identity so that some day, just like people look at work and say “That’s so Moebius” or “I can see Miyazaki in that”, they’ll be able to say “That’s classic Bint Ali”! :)


Daniel said...

In uni we used to have this one lecturer who would tell us that it is important to develop a Worldview to inform all our work. A kind of a statement that we were making. I don't know how far that could go in an industry like animation, it's not like comics or such forms where it's easier to make a personal statement, but it is a good goal to work towards.

Bint Ali said...

Good, but horridly bumpy. I'm still waiting for a response to my explanation...

Why do you say it is easier to make a statement in comics than in animation?

Daniel said...

Comics have fewer people between the creator and the audience, so the idea can come across less filtered by other people's opinions and tastes and style.

But on the bright side, all this new technology makes it a lot easier for animation to come to a more personal level, I think.

Tom said...

Man, really impressed with this blog. Love the iwinyo piny video. I really like what you are doing. Just reading this post man, reminds me of one of my idols. You need to look up Lesean Thomas. Inspirational for us all the way.

Keep them posts coming.

3dafrica said...

Most guys spent too much time reading Archie and Sabrina.Sad but true.In 3G we say it is always best to do the undooable.
Kenyanimation is a doodler with a steady hand.Gonga someone with the undooable and they give you contracts.What do you think would have happened to the competition between DC and Marvel if there wasn't the Green Lantern.
@daniel it is grossly insufficient to quote a university lecturer,they are always working to re-invent the wheel.You know that mad Italian already spent months centuries ago painting the sistine chapel roof on his back.Is there need for us to go back that way?
Do your thing coz all good art pays.Chai ni jaba....

Daniel said...

@ Tom
Thanks for the link and positive vibes, dude, that guy's work is too too funky.
@ 3dafrica
It's not a random quote, I quoted that lecturer because I found his vibe true in my own experiences with doing all this creative stuff: It really does help to have some kind of vision to your work, unless you wan to do work-for-hire, which is fine, you can sell your animation services to people, but if you want to tell your own stories then it helps to actually Say Something. Not even necessarily some huge epic life truths, but just have something holding everything together.

I just saw your blog, though... Are you based in Kenya?

William Deed said...

I'm really interested to know how the project went against your religious beliefs.

But maybe that's being too nosy.

Bint Ali said...

@ William

Nah, it's not being nosy. I foresee a future where I'll have to explain it a lot so the more people know it, the easier for me! :)

Basically, I wouldn't take on any project that promoted a product/service that was forbidden under Islamic laws - that includes alcohol, pork, gambling and secular music. The project I chose to turn down was based on the last.

And as it turns out, the guy was very understanding and I haven't heard any doors banging in my face, so it's all cool!