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 something 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”! :)