Animation: Arts or Crafts?
Animation is an art form. The interplay between motion and form, color and light, sound and voice all form a story the audience gets to appreciate on a personal level. They can feel a part of themselves in the hero, see people they know in the supporting cast and suspend their disbelief farther than nearly any other medium outside of video games. Animation suffuses so many mediums. Film, television, video games, web design, user interfaces, even fine art are all venues for the animators art. An artist thrives when bringing his personal creative vision to the masses, but there is a particularly irritating rub that all artists must face when they stop making art for themselves and start making art for money. Your vision goes out the window and is replaced by the client’s vision.
As I said, when an artist brings her vision to the masses, there is a sense of great accomplishment. In the animation business however, there is so much to do, so many hours of work and so many people with their fingers in the soup that one has to sacrifice their personal creative vision for the greater whole. I’ve watched so many friends become ground down by the business, letting their creative impulse wither under the pressures of deadline driven, art by community that goes on in the business. Some of them start their own business’ in an attempt to reach new clients, only to go under from lack of work due to their strict inspirational requirements on projects. Yet here I am, nearly 7 years with the same company. How does one do it? How do I keep the doldrums away?
My secret is a simple one: I think of myself as a craftsman before artist. Craftsman build, the construct and satisfy their clients vision. A craftsman is dedicated to bringing others vision to life, often having no personal ties to the final product. They have loads of clients, make hundreds of things all year long and never stop going forward. Craftsman get paid. So when I sit down to make an animation, I think of the work as a singular object for the client, rather than an avenue for bringing my personal vision and message to the world. I am making a piece of creative work for someone else, a tool for the client to present their vision and message. The work I do is a product, a singular widget, if you will, that the client needs to fulfill their desires.
Thinking as a craftsman allows me to appreciate animation on a different level. How high quality can I make the work in the shortest amount of time? Where can I find the highest efficiencies? How do I get the most out of the new tools? No longer does each piece of animation I make carry the weight of my soul, my hopes for a better tomorrow. Like a cabinet maker, who makes four cabinets in a day and says “Nice. Four more cabinets done. Wow, I’ve made a lot of good cabinets.” instead of “Oh, how I wish these cabinets had more to say about the human condition.”
Creative expression is still an important part of my life, but working 9-5 at the animation desk is not conducive to going home and working 5 hours a night on a personal pet project. So these days I find other, non animation venues for my creative expression. Running Dungeons and Dragons adventures, writing rules for board games or writing stories set in my D&D campaign world to share them with my friends are all very fulfilling and gratifying avenues of creative expression. All these things take surprisingly less time and equipment than animation does, so doing a little writing after work is not nearly as imposing a prospect as working on a 5 minute short film. Thus, I have created for myself a brilliant balance of creative expression and hard work that more than satisfies my desire to make animations and express my creativity, if not always at the same time.