Sunday, July 26, 2009


Back during the Ice Age crunch, Pete Paquette wrote a cool blog post on what inspired him as a kid to become an animator, and how it's important to him to revisit those things in order to keep his energy up during crunch.

I've found the same to be true during downtime. As a freelancer you kinda know that downtime comes with the territory, and I've argued that it comes with the territory for animators in general. But even if you're used to it, the days pass and can have a psychological effect. What can you do to stay motivated? Revisit your inspiration. Because even if you have personal projects to do, if you're not inspired, they're not really that much fun.

I mean your personal inspiration. There's a lot of things that are inspiring, very well done, but really don't hit the core of why you do what you do, and what it is that you do. After feeling a little "blah" last week, I spent some time at Barnes and Noble, frankly, just for something to do. At the bargain shelf, I found two of the Calvin and Hobbes books that I've noticed seem to find their way to that shelf. For some reason I was never as big of a Calvin and Hobbes fan as other animators I know, but looking through those books I saw such great drawings, and some insanely creative writing. I went back the next day to look at them again, and of course then had to check out work from my ultimate inspiration, Charles Schultz. All of this got me started thinking about my "Geeks" comic, and pretty soon I was scribbling down ideas and character stories again. Not to animate. To draw! As I've done since I was a kid. Drawing is so freeing to me! The entire thing can be my creation, if I animate something I will probably either be ripping a line from someone else's movie, and applying it to someone else's character rig. Modeling and rigging a character and sets, takes an insane amount of time, and when I finally do come up with an idea that I like, it would take me forever to do in CG, and require things that I would not be able to complete on my own.

Anyway. Revisiting childhood inspiration helps to quiet the critical voices in my head, and open myself up to new creativity. Here are some things that when I see, cause my gut to drop, my knees to shake, and my lungs to exhale in a large satisfying *sigh*.

While finding my favorite examples among 50 years of daily strips at is a feat unnecessary to this post, here's a few examples that I feel show *some* of what I admire so much about Schultz' talents. At the bookstore I saw a retrospective book that showed a single panel cartoon of the peanuts gang at an art museum, and I wish I could find it to post it. They were all looking at a masterpiece European painting, except for Rerun, who was off by himself, looking at a picture of Snoopy. It's such a simple picture that says so much, all of the older kids are looking at the "masterpiece", but the youngest one is captivated by a picture of a cartoon dog, who's back is facing the viewer in a sad way. Both are in the art museum, and while Snoopy is not drawn with the technical mastery of the European painting, the lonely image of both Snoopy and Rerun is more moving. I may buy that book just to have that image to look at anytime.

This one happens to be one of my favorites. Schultz' way of taking simple dialogue and expressing deep truths is something that I adore, and strive for in my own work. He liked funny things, but understood that entertainment did not always have to be funny. There's something to be said for work that reaches wide audiences, and relates to many people, without overtly trying to do so.


Garfield was my absolute favorite as a kid. Around high school that changed to Charles Schultz and Peanuts, but I spent so many days at home and on the school bus, drawing this cat. Until I started studying animation, Jim Davis was probably the biggest influence on how I drew, and I would still say that it influences how I draw today. I remember this strip from one of the Garfield books I continuously flipped through at home.

The other things I drew all the time as a kid (besides Ninja Turtles) were Disney characters. Aladdin was my favorite Disney movie as a kid, but of course loved all the Disney movies growing up. I imagine that the influx of young animators such as myself today, is partly due to my generation growing up with the second "golden age" of Disney animation.
Looney Tunes
My favorite cartoon next to Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles was probably the Looney Tunes. Thank goodness ABC aired those every Saturday morning when I was growing up, and another station had Merrie Melodies in the afternoon after school. I loved these so much, and still do.

More "recent" inspirations (aka, things I didn't necessarily obsess over as a kid, but are huge inspirations to me now):

Calvin and Hobbes
While I noticed that I occasionally don't agree with Watterson's philosophies, his creativity in both ideas and drawing, even writing rhyming poetry is ridiculously inspiring. Just look at these poses. A perfect blend of attitude and shape, with no words necessary.

Okay, I know that everyone was waiting for some Pixar thing to be listed. But for me, Wall-E captures a similar profound innocence that's in Peanuts, and those Calvin and Hobbes drawings above. It's quiet, and lets the character's innocence speak for itself, without many words at all. When words are used, they are repeated with different inflections and different contexts. Every effort was made to tell the story visually. But moreso than that, is Wall-E's way of changing the world through love, while having no concious agenda to do so. I love it.

Battlestar Galactica (new series)
Wait, where the heck did that come from? All of these comics and animation, and now this? Yes. Most definitely yes. It takes a lot to make my all time favorite top-lists and nearly beat out Star Trek in my all time favorite science fiction stories, but Ron Moore's BSG did it. (Star Trek hangs onto first by a nostalgic thread.) This series showed so many areas of grey in war, romance, and faith, and did so many times in heartbreaking and shocking ways..but always truthful...and not the sort of truth that thumbs its nose at you. It's profound, musical. It has something to say. If you haven't watched it, you owe it to yourself to Netflix the dvds now. Great character storytelling at its best.

Maybe I have an underdog obsession. I think I love great stories told in mediums that often don't get the credit they deserve. Looking at this list, I see comic strips, animation, and science fiction. While it's hardly a complete list of my inspirations, it's a safe bet most of these things are at the top.

I write too much. ;)


shahbaaz said...

Hey Kyle!

This is a great post. I wanted to mention I had a similar thought recently. Last time I animated was back in May (april?) on TF2 and since then I've hardly been thinking about animating. I've always had an issue too, where its not as easy for me to set aside 1 or 2 hours aside everyday to just animate something on the computer. So I've always wondered how can I keep fresh with all the crunch time goodies and not just let them slip away. Well I've been reading "Drawn to Life" and on page 34 I think there's a great bit in relation to sketching as animators. You mentioned drawing on your strip and I could agree with its relevance to animation even for CG animators. He says:

"A work-related pastime like sketching is a positive activity. It is an activation. Inactivity, especially in your chosen field is a negative. Negativity is heavy, cumbersome, debilitating, unproductive, and totally to be avoided."

He also mentions in a paragraph before that:

"Reading and Observing are emancipators of the dormant mind."

The great part about your post and about what Walt is saying in this section of his book doesn't involve you burying yourself in a cave animating on the computer. It gets you out to enjoy life and become a better animator in the process.

Kyle said...

Hey thanks man! Yeah I've actually read that part of that book, and it's kinda in the back of my mind, albeit as a nagging reminder which I may or may not listen to. Haha. I do find sketching really fun, and love Stanchfield's approach. And staying active makes such a difference in mentality during downtime. Often when I need to get out of my apartment, it's a great excuse for something to do! (And in New York, it's so great to take advantage of the parks). I hope it helps my animation, but I think equally important is that I do something that satisfies my personal artistic desires, and provides a balance between that and my professional work. While I still sometimes feel I should be animating at home...drawing has always been my hobby. And I think I just lucked out that my hobby can compliment my career :P But also, it is a reassurance to know that a balanced life in general, away from animating, actually does more than keep you rested at work. It allows us to have a larger library to draw from (no pun intended) as we try to tell various stories. After all, I know for me, a shot is much easier to animate when I can relate to it.

teresa said...

Hey Kyle!
Just wanted to say this is a really great post and I enjoyed it!
Thanks. :D