The Skill Paradox

This week saw a ton of look development on the commercial project I've been working on for weeks. It's tough trying to find something that fits the company's vision, the music, the story, and ultimately my taste. I am continually reminded of how difficult this process is. Oof!

Still just a concept, but getting closer to something that I don't hate.

Still just a concept, but getting closer to something that I don't hate.

Oh hey, I also added a section to the site where I recommend my favorite books on business. Go here and read those books (if you haven't already).

Art Troubles

I recently saw a tweet from an artist named Dave Kellett. He made a comic strip that captured a feeling I've been having for some time now. You can check out his work here.

With each new project I embark upon, I have found that it becomes more and more difficult to feel like I'm creating something worthwhile. I have happy accident moments, but I was expecting my career to remain just as difficult as time goes on. Instead, it seems to be getting more difficult as I get better. So, perhaps the comic strip above explains this?

It's as if my increasing standards inhibit my ability to get excited about most of the stuff I create. I've always been hard on myself, but I remember past projects feeling more energized, like I was riding the edge of my skill set and everything was new.

I still push myself, and I always do as many new things as possible with each project. But it feels like when I understand how to do something, I'm no longer interested in making stuff like that again. Basically I worry that if I do something that I already know how to do, I risk making something that is too same-y, and ultimately uninspired. I fear making art that is soulless, so I'm constantly attempting to create things that interest me and are genuinely "me."

It's a tough business, I'll tell ya. I'll figure this out eventually (I hope), but these are my thoughts at the moment. Let me know if you have any insights? How do other artists create things that are similar over and over again, but are still genuine?


The Important Things

Today I'm going to talk about some business and life pondering I did this week. But here's a quick update on what's been going on at FP...

This week I attended a motion graphics meetup in LA, and got to mingle with some cool people. Gmunk was the guest speaker, which was a lot of fun. Hope that the meetups keep happening! :)

I've also been taking a hard look at where Forma is going. Specifically, I'm going to be working on a new original project that can release sooner than later (so it will be shorter). As much as I like Hunted, the damn thing is too ambitious to release this year. Still happening, but I've got to get more content out there that doesn't suck. Here's an early concept of where my mind is wandering presently. Yes, this sucks at the moment, but hey...

I keep coming back to this idea of a short adventure that is stylized, brightly colored, and tells a simple story.

I keep coming back to this idea of a short adventure that is stylized, brightly colored, and tells a simple story.

What's Important in Life?

I'm always the first to admit that I'm an idiot. But the people around me have been great. My real fortune in life has been in the company I've kept. Somehow I've managed to find and befriend some really talented people. And I often say that "I'm just barely smart enough to surround myself with smart people." The point being that I owe much of my acquired insights and ideas to the good people I've been around.

Most recently I've been thinking about my trajectory as a freelancer. First of all, I'm happier than I've ever been. But that's not to say that there haven't been hard moments, and I expect even harder moments to come. The beginning of any new venture is plagued with difficulty. Sometimes it really doesn't feel like I'm going to be able to overcome this initial hump in the life of a business. Of course, this was all expected. It's why I planned for a long time before taking the plunge.

Nevertheless, I can't help but feel afraid sometimes. After all, what will happen if Forma Pictures fails to go anywhere? I'll have to get a regular art job again. But imagine the humiliation! What will my friends and colleagues think of me? I'll have failed!

But I was recently clued into a great insight by somebody (one of those great people I know): Going out on my own for a while will yield a better story than simply staying at my past job for another year. Freelancing is a new adventure, and more interesting than just doing what I had already been doing for years.

The ideal is to keep this train going for a long, long time. But in the event that I fail, I won't forget all the happiness I've had this past year. Happiness, for me, is worth more than pride, success, fame or acceptance by my peers. Of course I'm extremely ambitious, but I made a deal with myself... if I haven't achieved all my goals when I die, I still have to say that I enjoyed my life. And that's what it comes down to, discovering what it is that actually matters most. And for me, it's joy. The rest is incidental.



Behind the Scenes

This week I bring you another brand new section to the website...

Here you will find new images, animations, and details about how I made my films. So, if you're the type of person that likes seeing primitive storyboards and old designs, go check it out. Personally, I love seeing behind the scenes stuff, which is probably why I became an artist. When I was first starting out, I remember watching an artist draw and thinking I could watch him do this all day long. I've since learned that this is not so for most people. Come to think of it, that's probably a way to figure out what you should do as a career...whatever it is that endlessly fascinates you.

So, in addition to some BtS information on past projects, I've also begun a brand new, separate blog that will focus on Hunted, the animated short that's in development. When I first started this blog, it was primarily about Hunted. And it's time once again to give it more attention. So, every Tuesday there will be an update on its progress. And I will always show something, whether it be WIP art, photos, or something else. Here's where it will live:

Aaaand my month of C4D continues. New sketch everyday.


20 Mile Marching

The climb out of the darkness is going well. Because it's near the end of the project, my days have been filled with finalizing art and animation.

Here are some cool buds in the video I'm making. If you know me, you may recognize some or all of these critters as real life pals from years ago!

Man's best friends!

Man's best friends!

I'm animated a lot right now too. I think that curve editors look pretty. Check out this collection of animation curves for a couple objects in a scene (a plant and a speech bubble).

Animation curves! This is what I look at while I work.

Animation curves! This is what I look at while I work.

20 Mile Marching

I'm working a lot right now, which has left me to think about pacing and taking care of myself. So, this week I'm going to ponder on the term "20 Mile Marching". I talk about it all the time, and I first read about in Jim Collin's book "Great by Choice."

What is it? It's a term used to describe a way of working and thinking. In simple terms, it's about achieving consistent performance with both and upper and lower bounds. We need both the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back.

In the book, they describe an example of two people on an expedition across the country. One person marches 20 miles every day, rain or shine. No less (so it's a hurdle to overcome), but no more (so he doesn't overexert himself). Some days it's easy to march 20 miles, and some days it's not, but every day always only 20 miles.

In contrast, the second person begins marching on the first day and feeling excited, he marches 40 miles. Exhausted on the second day, he wakes to find that it's extremely hot outside, so he waits inside his tent for a better day to go out. He continues this behavior of overexertion on good days to make up for lost time, followed by weakened days where he doesn't march at all. But when a powerful storm hits (metaphor for a trying time in business), it nearly kills him and he is forced to wait for better weather.

By the time this second person stumbles past the half-way mark to his goal, our 20 mile marcher is nearing the end. The person who paced himself will cross the finish line by a huge margin. He had the ambition to achieve in bad times and self-control to hold back in good times. In other words, he had the strength to persevere during bad times because he hadn't spent all his resources during the good times.


It's so tempting for artists to push themselves hard to achieve their goals. We want to be good. We want to earn the respect of our peers. We want to earn enough money to feel secure. Naturally we figure that if we push ourselves to our limits, we have a better chance of achieving these worthy goals.

However, ceaseless exertion of our talents isn't going to do it. I've worked hard in my years. I've been up at the ungodly hours of the night, working and working. I'm ambitious as hell, and I obsess in a way that can lead to frustration. Of course we need to exert our talents ambitiously and obsessively, but we need to do so smartly. Wailing on a cave wall with a spoon is not the smartest way to dig.

As much as I hate it, I have finally accepted the fact that I am a not a robot. I too must heed the 20 mile march. I'm also a physical creature who actually needs to sleep at night, eat right, and stay active in physical ways. But it's hard because creating with my brain and my hands is very engaging. Why stop at 11pm to sleep? Animating this character is fun! Why spend the time to make a nutritious snack? Reading tips on cinematography is much more interesting. And why would I ever want to stop storyboarding a chase scene so I can go for a real run that will only leave me drenched in sweat and pain?

But humans need more than that, they need brain stimulation (or lack thereof) too. We need social connection with other humans (especially those we love), and time spent letting our brains rest from our work. I used to think that when I let my brain rest from my work, I was slacking off. I wasn't being dedicated, and if I liked resting, it meant I didn't like art as much as an artist should. The truth is that I love art, and I usually can't stop thinking about it. I don't doubt my conviction as an artist. So, I've found that when I free my mind to think about other things, like how a bike works or laughing at a funny puppet video, I find that my art benefits.

Daydreaming and thinking about "useless" stuff can really pay off. Of course, you can't just do that, but that goes without saying. When I do rest, I'm giving my brain a chance to make subconscious connections that I hope will lead to an epiphany. You know those "ah-ha" moments when an idea feels like it "comes" to you? That's your brain making a connection between two things that you had thought hard about individually, but not together. You can't know when a connection will happen, but you can increase the odds by developing the right environment for them. It starts by giving your brain a chance to wander. And by the way, I'm not saying anything new here. I've read books on this stuff.

So, letting myself rest with a 20 mile march regimen has helped me so much that I feel it's worth telling everyone I know about it. It's about balance. We should work hard everyday, but we must also rest well everyday. I can't tell you how many artist I've encountered who are burned out, apathetic, frustrated, and plain ol' sleepy. They need to pace themselves. And if they work at a company, the company needs to stop forcing them to not pace themselves. The big companies in the industry don't understand 20 Mile Marching, and it's hurting their teams of artists. It makes me sad.

Resisting the urge to work a lot when you have lots to do and the energy to do it is not easy and it's downright un-intuitive. So, think of it like a Chinese finger trap, you know those toys we used to play with as kids? The trick to escaping our entrapment is not to push harder against our cement walls. It's by taking a step back, planning, and making a proper vault over the obstacle in the morning...after we've got a good night's rest in us.

Work smart and rest well, my friends.


Billing the Hour

Today I'm going to talk about time tracking and what I've learned when it comes to billing a client for the work that I do. But first an update:

I'm doing a lot of client work at the moment. The rest of December and most of January are going to be very busy for me. I've been designing 2D stuff like cartoon people, dogs, trees, and other lighthearted things for a commercial. I may also post a photo of the print work I've been doing once it's printed.

Although I'm busy, I'm still making time for you guys. On Christmas Day I'll be releasing my fourth cube dancing video. It's gonna be the best one so far! And after that I've got content lined up for you for the next 3 weeks. Some concepts, some videos, and some behind the scenes. LOTS coming up.

The Billable Hour

There are a few different options when it comes to determining how to bill a client. There are flat rates, where you do all of the work for fixed price. And there are day rates (or hourly rates), where the end cost depends on how long it takes to do. I've done both, depending on the job.

For some design work, especially the smaller jobs, I'll quote a fixed price. I'm fairly confident in my estimations for jobs that take less than a week. But for the larger, more ambitious projects, I favor the day rate approach, which in turn is based on an hourly rate.

A typical 90-120 second animated commercial is a daunting task. There are so many steps, each with varying time costs. And depending on the complexity, it can take months and months to complete. And I never create something that's completely like what I've done before, so there is always an element of learning and exploration that adds to the uncertainty of the final cost. All of this means that, as a contracted artist, I need to keep careful track of the time I bill.

Contrary to what you might think, I do not start at 9am, stop at 5pm and call it a day. Billable hours, as they say, are only those hours where you were actively doing meaningful work for the client. Bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, and checking my email do not count. So, I have my iPhone sitting at the side of my desk with a timer. Whenever I'm painting, animating, or editing, I start the timer. But, say, if I happen to tab over to Twitter, I stop the timer immediately.

What I've found is that getting to 8 billable hours takes at least 9-10 hours of real time. And that's working pretty much non-stop. And when things like dinner are factored in, it can easily take 10-11 hours of the day to make 8 hours worth of money. So, a "9 to 5" doesn't actually produce a real 8-hour day. All the little, seemingly innocuous, things add up fast. A few 5-minute email checks leave me missing a quarter of an hour. And while I'm writing this blog, I'm not getting paid!

When I hear people say they get 16 hours of work done in a day, I pause. I certainly have no doubt that they were on the computer for most of that time. But to truly get 16 hours of real work done in a day is very difficult. Things like commutes, lunch, dinner, bathroom breaks, email checking, adjusting Photoshop shortcuts, chores, exercising, and reading up on the industry take time out of our precious days. Even if you eat while you work, you're not going as fast as normal. Not to mention any family time, entertainment, or getting a good night's rest. So, yeah...I often work from 9am to 2am. But there's no way I can bill a client for all of that time.

If you made it this far, here's an early, early concept I drew last year for the 3D Printing commercial I made. Is this different from the final look, or what? Just goes to show how much things can change over the course of a project.

A very early concept for 3D Printing: Making a Better Future. Very different from the final direction!

A very early concept for 3D Printing: Making a Better Future. Very different from the final direction!

A very early concept for 3D Printing: Making a Better Future. Very different from the final direction!


Drawing Dogs

This past week I was busy with storyboarding and creating style frames for a secondary project. I find that storyboarding takes a lot of mental effort. Probably because I'm trying to concept, stage, edit, and keep continuity all at once. There will definitely be some behind the scenes stuff in January, but here are some dogs:

These dogs are in it to win it. You'll see more of them in January.

These dogs are in it to win it. You'll see more of them in January.

There was no progress on my original short film (Hunted) this week. I'm still figuring out exactly how to balance it with the rest of my work. I also don't want it to take years, so I may need to devote larger chunks of time to it.

Next week I'll be releasing another tiny (short short) as part of my ongoing effort to practice rigging, animation, and choreography. I'm also doing these to force myself to release content at least once every two weeks. It will be goofy and musical!

As for the future, I've begun to think about doing something even more ambitious: a project where I release art every day for two weeks. I'm calling it a Fortnight of Frames. I hope to do it next spring.

Lastly, I began work on my fourth edited short. This will probably be released in February (only because I'm working on it simultaneously with everything else). You can find the first 3 HERE. In case it isn't clear, here are the release schedules for my current projects:

  • 1 tiny animation - every 2 weeks
  • 1 medium sized project - every 2 months
  • 1 short film (Forma Pictures) - every 1-2 years
  • 1 short film (part of a team) - every 1-2 years
  • ongoing client work - every 1-4 months (varies)


A Plethora of Projects

Progress on Hunted will be slowing down a bit. The truth is that Forma Pictures has been involved in a slew of projects. As of this writing, I'm working on 3 short film projects (and a couple smaller ones)! Some are original IPs like Hunted, and the rest are being made with or for others. So far, this blog has focused on Hunted, but I'd like to open it up to the other projects as well. At least the ones that aren't confidential.

Showing the other projects will be a more honest representation of the growth of Forma Pictures anyway. Client work remains a core part of its business model. I've got a lot of irons in the fire, and bets on more than one direction. I'm exploring where financial success lies, while still staying true to my core passions of working with great people and creating genuine, music-driven stories. See Good to Great to learn more about the 3 circles (money, passion, best at). I want this blog to peel back the curtain not just on Hunted, but also on the growth of a business.

Never fear, however, because Hunted isn't going away. I'll always be working on it. It's my favorite "kid", and I'll see to it that it becomes a high-functioning adult. Here's a poster concept I recently did:


  • Next week I'll be releasing a new edited short. Remember Movie Magic? Well, get ready for more!
  • Also, be sure to check out my new series of short shorts (aka "tinies"): "Dancing Cubes." These are goofy, 5-15 second, musical animations. The first one is below. More are on the way!


If weekly updates aren't enough for you, be sure to follow me on twitter:

I actually spend a portion of time each week carefully collecting and posting good content from the web that I feel is worth sharing. I promise I'll never tweet what I had for dinner, because who gives a ****. My twitter presence is just about the craft and the community. It's where I mention new stuff I'm doing that may not reach the blog.



We all know that it's difficult to translate the vague ideas in our heads into something real. To help with this, I tried an exercise.

Over the last few weeks I amassed a lot of reference photos and inspiration. This week I chose thirteen of my favorites. Then I wrote down the reasons I liked each one. Finally, I compiled these qualitative assessments into a spreadsheet and tried to find patterns. Some interesting things developed from this. For one, I learned that I'm attracted to art that uses lighting to tell stories. I listed lighting as the primary reason why I liked eight out of the thirteen. I also learned that I apparently have a fascination with silhouettes.

This helped me because it distilled my pool of thoughts into something more tangible. The physical act of writing things down is a wonderful human tool that allows us to see multiple things at once and detect patterns. It forced me to recognize what I liked and didn't like too. I have a tendency to doubt my conviction while I search for "the perfect idea."

The aesthetic I see will serve the story of Hunted. It's been tricky finding an approach that will work for each scene in the film. Some shots will be more difficult, but I'm eager to put my ideas and passion to the test.

Here is the first environment test. This is just the beginning!

If you have any comments, critiques, or an interest in working together, don't be shy!


Busy Week

What a week! I did some rigging and concepting. But, unfortunately, a decent chunk of my time this past week was spent moving, so the film underwent less progress than usual.

Playing with tones and brush strokes.

Playing with tones and brush strokes.

The biggest challenge I'm facing right now is how I'm going to animate the characters. The visual direction is highly dependent on what character animations I can pull off. The vision is clear, but the execution is still a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, I have a feeling I'll crack this puzzle by next Friday.

Until then!