I’m reading a book at the moment by Chuck Jones, entitled “Chuck Reducks” (the follow-up to the great “Chuck Amuck”), and having got through about half of it, a thought occurred to me. Chuck talks about producers being ever more and more short-sighted and money being tight in the business. Now that sounds awfully familiar to me, as it’s something that I hear all over the animation world today.
The difference though is that people today seem to accept that good work cannot be done within the constraints imposed. It was an opinion I shared in fact.
Among my own colleagues, such views are everywhere. It’s a topic of conversation that keeps cropping up, no matter how much we exhaust the avenues of complaint. I myself have been guilty of churning out uninspired work because of the lack of time in which to create something better.
I use the word “guilty” quite literally because I have always known deep down that I could do a hell of a lot better, while taking up no extra time. I don’t know how I knew that, but it was something that niggled at me inside until I recently tried doing something about it. I set about finding ways to be more efficient with my time. For example, a lot of my time is spent with creating walk cycles within cutscenes. I used to stick to a Richard Williams-esque formula for producing walks, creating a stream of almost identical cycles for all the characters I worked with. The thing with a formula though is that it is quick. So how could I possibly improve my speed, let alone actually produce better work? Well the answer lay in really sitting down and re-learning the body mechanics that I had previously convinced myself I knew all about. This took a little time, but the knowledge that I gained from it shocked me. I’m now a few months down the line from then, and I am still producing walks and runs with the method taught by Williams. However I’m getting far, far, far more information into the method than I was before. I’m thinking more and tailoring walks and runs to specific characters and situations. The time I use to create a walk is the same as before, but into that time I am cramming so much more. And I’m enjoying myself a lot more!
I made a promise to myself that with the start of the Lego Clone Wars project, I would improve my work significantly. If I may for one moment be rather immodest, it is my belief that my first cutscene on the project was by far the best I have created in the two years I have been at Traveller’s Tales. My second, upon which I am currently working, looks to be shaping up to be of similar success. And I’m taking the same amount of time to create the cutscenes as before. The big difference is that the cogs in my head are turning a lot more than they were. I should add however that unlike Daffy in the picture above I’m still not satisfied with my work. Though I acknowledge I am better than I was, I’m nowhere near as good as I want to be. I’m glad that is the case though. My point is not that extra effort can make us wonderful artists, but that it can bring enjoyment which I believe multiplies the amount you learn ten fold. And whether we achieve our personal goals or not, the work we produce along the way will be far better.
Trying to steer this topic back to Chuck Jones, I think an awful lot more can be achieved than many people in the industry believe. Jones created truly groundbreaking work, whilst simultaneously pleasing penny-pinching producers, and I see no reason why someone can’t do that today. The work I make is hardly groundbreaking - I’m still learning my craft – however it is infinitely better than what I was producing before. It’s all too easy to say “oh but there’s only so much you can do when businessmen are holding the purse strings”, but I implore you to not take that view, or if you have already acquired such an attitude, to lose it.