Olivier: “So why are you an artist Claire?”
Claire Fisher:”Because I have a lot of pain.” -Six Feet Under
So in writing this blog, I’ve decided I want this to be more than just a movie commentary/review blog. Of course, I’m keeping the title “Moviecappa” because the subject of film is my field as an artist. The things I want to talk about pertaining to art I see mainly through the world of film. But I feel any discussion I want to make regarding art could be valid for any form, if it were sculpture, or painting, writing, photography, etc. I’m an animator, so animation is the art form I am most passionate about. In my mind animation is one of the most powerful, “living” forms of art that can do anything your heart can imagine. For such a powerful artform however, it’s also, in my opinion, one of the most repressed.
I’ve often complained about always seeing the exact same story elements and structure in animated films for the last 15 to 20 years. It’s gotten so bad that it feels like we’ve gotten to the point where audiences (as well as animators) are willing to make up excuses for bad storytelling, to either justify or hoo-rah-rah their pals in the animation industry. In my last big post I talked about a lot of animators coming from repressed backgrounds. I’m sure anyone whose pretty observant can acknowledge the animation industry attracts a high level of the Jesus crowd. It’s not to say anything against people based on their religious backgrounds (I have several buddies who come from strong religious backgrounds, myself included having gone to church and being raised Catholic). But with a lot of artists of this nature running the show, the impact we get in animation storytelling is a lot of moralizing and lessons the characters are supposed to learn, despite the fact that there might be a more pressing urgent issue about the characters and their world. Which of course gets ignored. The character learns a lesson…but is it the right lesson about being human? Or is just P.C. moralizing?
The artists/animators get the job done when they work for someone else (a big studio for example), but in a nutshell…they’ll do what their told…and won’t nessecerily take a stand to protect their vision, even allowing themselves to compromise it or be walked all over by somebody else. As some will probably think when I say this “well, that’s the price you pay when you work for a studio”. Well, yeah, in a way it is. But for a lot of these artists, the goal isn’t so much about their vision as it is the job.
When we were kids we all had the big studio we wanted to spend our life working for. Many people in the most recent generation are motivated to work for Pixar. As a kid, I was motivated to work for Disney. The movie that had the greatest impact on me as a kid was Beauty and the Beast. Part of it was the fact that…well, the Beast was just freaking awesome. But I knew what moved me more was the emotional heart, and the Beasts “death” and transformation at the end, which shed several tears from myself. But that was 1991. Disney is not same company as it was then. And of course, no one expected Toy Story would come along and change everything, making CG films the dominant form of animation. In college that put me in a crisis where I suddenly had no direction as an artist. Jobs, as well as motivation for the field I wanted to be a part of, became non existant.
I like CG, but I have no use for it, and to this day, what motivates my heart has always been 2D traditional hand drawn animation. It’s a vision I have for myself and the medium of animation I will find a way to make a living at. For some people, it’s simply easy for them to adapt to the new medium in order to keep themselves employed. But while those artists may manage to stay employed, at what cost is it to the pursuit of their visions as artists? Without sacrificing their jobs, they’ll compensate for it in other ways, such as making children‘s books for example, that they’ll hope will be picked up by a studio to be made into an animated feature. But for those not motivated for making children’s books, they may have their jobs, but because they’ve already gotten the job they’ve craved so long, boredom sets in. I see it in a lot of my animator friends on Facebook. They’ll take up expensive hobbies, such as acting in theater, or gymnastics, or dance to find any form of expression for themselves…but it serves to take them farther away from animation, the medium they first fell in love with. They’ll make up reasons for how having these hobbies or outside excursions applies to what their doing at their job…but it really doesn’t. An animator working for a huge corporate studio like Blue Sky, Dreamworks, or Pixar, will always be expected to deliver a certain type of animation performance in CG and not stray from that. No animator today has the freedom of the Nine Old Men at Disney to explore the possibilities of animation, unless your name is Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, or Andreas Deja. If any artist tried to explore something other than what the studio expected from them, they‘d be fired.
There is this danger for artists in the field of animation to be obsessed about “the job”. They’ll spend their lives driven by a childhood ambition to get the job they’ve always wanted, but once they have it and they’re well paid, it’s hard to get away from that income. Especially when you plan to start families and buy a house. To sacrifice “the job” to find something greater, when you have the burden of family and mortgages and bills to deal with…well its hard. They’re are some artists who have taken the leap of faith to search for something greater in themselves. But at the same time they face a stigma that their peers will attach to them, other artists who will see the sacrifice as act of selfishness, that the person is putting themselves before their family. In some cases, they might be right. But in most cases, for their peers who protest, it’s an act of jealousy when they were too afraid to make the sacrifice themselves. They want to bring the rebel back down to their level. And they’ll make excuses for why they didn’t take the well trodden path. They’ll tell the rebel artist they’re essentially inviting pain on themselves. But that’s exactly the idea.
We’re trained from our parents, or from our religious faith to avoid exposing ourselves to pain as much as possible. But sometimes, resisting your exposure to pain only leads to the inevitable…that your pain eventually catches up with you. Especially when your at an older age and ask yourself what your life would have been like had you taken that road less traveled, where what would have happened if you sacrificed it all to find your voice, instead of spending your life supporting someone elses voice…a voice which may in fact be repressed to begin with. I once knew a guy, a Disney animator, who compared his idea to exposing yourself to life by a vacation he was taking to Hawaii. It’s the same for a lot of artists, who base their exploration as artists and their life experiences they put in their art based on their hobbies. That’s not what being an artist is about.
A true artist, in my opinion, is someone who acknowledges their pain. They don’t try to hide from it. Every animator’s pain is not the same as what we’re told in every formula animated feature put out there. Not every animator or artist sees themselves as an outcast. Not every artist has angry father issues. But there are those animation artists who have suffered more in their lives than anyone knows, but the from what the industry tells them to do in their job, their voice winds up becoming repressed. We all have something to say, and the pain for many of us runs deep. It’s always different for each person. There are artists who suffer heavy traumas. There are those who have never been able to act on their repressed sexuality. While something may be P.C., it doesn’t mean that we’ve evolved or that the repression doesn’t exist anymore. It just means that now there’s going to be another group of people who are forced into a closet, with unanswered repressed feelings they are unable to express. What was once acceptable becomes unacceptable, and vise versa depending on which side of the coin you’re on. Democrat, Republican, Gay, Straight, Bi (Being Bi, both sides of the coin, there’s a paradox for you). But the heart of being human, the grey of what life is isn’t what audiences want to see. They just want what’s going to reaffirm the position for which they stand, which turns everything into a Black and White issue. I see this happening A LOT in storytelling today in movies today (not just animation). It’s not that we’ve gotten better or that we’ve outgrown a level of indifference. It’s just that the power has been shifted to the other side. It’s a constant cold war.
I’m not trying to go off on a tangent here. But what I’m saying is these are the issues we as artists have to express. In Americans especially, there is a lot of anger. A lot of darkness, and so much of it goes unexpressed. Being an artist isn’t a choice. It’s a gift. And it’s a responsibility in yourself to seek out the truth, no matter how painful and harsh it might be, and share it with the world. As artists, it’s acknowledging the pain we all feel that helps others accept what they already know inside is true. Someone needs to show it to them. If you’re an artist, that someone may be you. If you’re an animator or a cartoonist, a cartoon could change the world. Animation is a gold mine at the box office for sure. But audiences today don’t eat these films up because they’re good. They‘ve only become accustomed to what they know. They’ve only seen and acknowledged the one way a cartoon has been made.
If you’re an animator, you have a greater calling inside. A voice… and a fire waiting to explode in you. You can’t tell me you’re not one of those people who doesn’t have something deeper to say or you would have never found yourself pursuing this life course if it had no meaning. Find a way to bring it out of you…and acknowledge the pain you have inside. That’s where your greatest art will come from.