Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Force and Forty

I saw Star Wars: A New Hope in a Bay Area theater as a child. It was the night before our first family trip to a place strange place called "Lake Tahoe" where we shared a cabin with the Yokota family. 
While I could hardly follow the story at that age, the visuals from the film had a lasting effect on me, as did The Empire Strikes Back (seen at the old Hilltop Drive-In in Richmond) and Return of the Jedi. I have been drawing monsters and spaceships ever since. When I watched the behind-the-scenes specials from the Star Wars films, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be there, wherever "there" was, along side those brilliant creatives building models and monsters for film.

My childhood bedroom was a drawing and painting studio, model shop, research library, writing studio, and more. I would even work in my parent's garage under the low ceiling of the storage loft just a few feet away from the cat litter box and whatever spindly arachnids decided to make the space their home.

Since then, I have nurtured a quiet ambition that remains vulnerable to the pressures of being practical with life and career choices. Somehow, I aged into an industry outsider/insider, often the jealous voyeur raging under the toxic haze of "what should have been". And yet, I keep drawing and painting, never letting go of that dim, fool-hardy candle of a dream.

When I saw a screening of Vimana in San Francisco a few years back, I reveled at the sight of my spaceship and space probe designs on the big screen. They were rendered and animated with so much attention to detail that I found myself feeling a rare sense of pride and satisfaction. Somehow, while taking a heavy part-time load of studio classes for my MFA and teaching at three schools, I managed to find myself again through that project. It was a validation of sorts that left me a bit bitter but hopeful.

Around the same time, a friend said to me, "I hate to say it, but ain't nobody gonna hire you." or words to that effect. I was an MFA student at the Academy of Art University, beyond my 30s and noticeably older than most of my classmates. Had I waited too long to take the leap toward what had been drawn to since childhood? Would the shady reputation and bad press of that for-profit art school (with sports teams! Imagine that!) put me at an even greater disadvantage with so many potential social and demographic strikes already against me? Persistence won out and I kept going.

And then came a giddy, almost surreal moment when I heard of the 40-year anniversary of the release of Star Wars on a local radio station. I was at my drawing table designing sci-fi stuff for an actual animated show. The work has been 10x harder than anything I've done before and I'm loving it and improving constantly. And having to put a lot of fun and entertainment on hold hasn't been a problem at all, and I don't miss Facebook and Instagram one bit.

ASIFA-SF Animation Shorts at CCSF

This Friday evening we will host our first joint screening with ASIFA-SF, the organization for animation in the Bay Area. This will include 32 short films from the Bay Area and beyond, with six films created by students in our own VMD program! Please spread the word and attend if you can.
The screening will take place in lecture hall V114 at 6:30pm this Friday, June 16. The event is free and family-friendly (except the last two films as noted in the attached program).
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On Social Me(dia)

For many of us, various social media outlets in addition to browsing the internet leads to a set of habits that could in some ways undermine our productivity and ability to concentrate. Earlier this year, I deactivated a few of my favorite online haunts in order to gain some perspective on how these social networking tools have devolved over many years into a net negative.

I spend a lot of time on computers. As an educator, illustrator, graphic designer, shopper and fan of streaming entertainment, I am online for so many things. With this came a loss of so much of the creative drive and productivity that came with being "unplugged" before the internet really took off during the 90s.

As a child in the mid-80s, Sundays were the worst for TV watching. Sure, there was Hee Haw, The Muppet Show, Pink Panther and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, my only other outlet was in entertaining myself. Old toys would lose their play value. My handful of board games were of little use when I was alone and I could only play so many games of Armor.. Attack on my Vectrex before losing interest. And then there was homework, which also bored me, so I avoided it until a few hours before bedtime when I absolutely had to do it. Those were the times when I often turned to daydreaming and invention in order to disperse the stale and lingering pall of Sunday boredom. This included building plastic model kits, drawing, playing outside, or running around the house with taking toys on new adventures or pretending to be a space-faring superhero. My mind was a phenomenal newsfeed and I could almost dream with my eyes open.

Without the noise and distraction of the television, my mind ran under its own endless supply of creativity. I had plenty of books around me with pictures. I loved looking at illustrations in our World Book enclyclopedia and the occasional Time-Life books my mom generously payed for every month or so. Had I been an avid reader, I would be well-versed on zoology (Wild, Wild World of Animals)  thehistory of aviation (The Epic of Flight) legends and folklore (Enchanted Worlds). And while reading was often a struggle, the impulse to create always came without fear or hesitation.


 A Dearth of Quiet Spaces

As a child, those quiet stints of boredom were tremendous luxury. As an adult, I struggle to find  similar pockets of time and space. At home for example, loud voices, loud televisions, barking dogs, loud car and motorcycle engines, fireworks, crows, phone ringers and other distractions repeatedly jerk my attention away from whatever I am doing. The background noise of a talk radio station or a familiar playlist will at times help me to tune out the noise, but it's not nearly as good complete silence.

Sometimes, I recall how during a summer of deep depression and unemployment, I took to sleeping all day and staying up all night, usually drawing and painting with the radio on a local late night talk show. As long a I could stand the cold and hunger that naturally comes during those odd hours, a lot of work got done, adding just a glimmer of joy to an otherwise unhappy and disappointing life. The dark and slumbering world outside was quiet but for the soft whisper of distant highway or a jetliner cruising high above the city.

Cafés can also be a challenge. My excursions in search of a place to sit and work routinely make me regret the effort. Groups speak loudly, cell phones blast videos shared between friends, noise from grinders, steamers, barristas and whatever music they play in the space all create a similarly distracting collection of noise. Add to this the fumes from brewing and grinding coffee and I wonder if I was better off staying home. I even tried renting space at a co-working spot, but the same problems persisted. Earbuds and earplugs definitely help, but again, silence would be ideal.

Then there are the local public libraries. Like the cafés, the strong odor from aging structures, restroom "air fresheners" and other patrons can be a distraction. There are quiet spaces in some libraries, and electricity for plugging in a laptop. However, I have noticed that the library staff speak loudly to each other, patrons and on the telephone. Newer libraries have a problem with stagnant air resulting from new environmental standards that ironically place energy conservation over human health and comfort.

This leaves the great outdoors or the passenger seat of a car for that quiet time. I've tried local parks, but dog owners let their pets run over, slobber, pee and shit nearby. Young men and teens smoking weed in parks and other public spaces with more frequency than ever. Sun, wind and bugs are tolerable to an extent, but I have my limits.


Using Idle Time to Draw

I keep a small sketchbook and my favorite tools close at hand wherever I go. As a digital artist, scanning and waiting for slow downloads are examples of times when the I need to do something with my hands and my mind. These brief moments may last only a few minutes, allowing just enough time to flesh out an idea or refine one from earlier in the day or even a week ago. My sketchbook continues to be a perpetual staging area where new ideas start, stall and eventually find their way to completion. Wait and travel time on public transit also lets me add to my sketchbook. By weaning myself from social media and browsing the internet on my smartphone, that old satisfying habit of creation and play returned on its own. My skills have improved considerably as have my aesthetics, but I now see while that lifelong impulse to create remains integral to who I am it is also highly vulnerable to distractions from others. Ultimately, this is much less about isolation from others and more about the strict prioritization of creative time and everything (and everyone) else.