What I tell myself everyday.

To all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and this is.. I'm asking this particularily of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism - for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." - Conan 'O'Brien

August 23, 2016

On creating your own IP (intellectual property) locally.

Everywhere there are artists and animators and writers all dreaming to create the next big thing. The next big tv show or movie or animation etc... The motivations varies for individuals but financial and creative freedom often ranks high up on anyone's list.

Unforuntately creating your own IP is labour intensive, time consuming and costs money. Not only that, but you are making gamble that what you are doing is going to be acceptable.

That is why the common consensus is find companies or people who have the money to invest in your idea.

FACT : TV/cable companies/studios have content to fill and they need to choose what they believe can generate the better returns. And they are the ones putting up the money, they feel should own the rights to it. (Note: I am not demonising the networks or companies. They are running a business and they are doing makes sound business sense.)

There are a lot people in the industry that keep preaching that in order for the local industry to survive, we got to create our own IPs and monetize it. Because then, you are in charge of the cash flow rather then at the mercy of the studio. This I believe what is universally considered to be the path throughout the world. Disney and Lucasfilm is of course the prime example.

Problem of course... is as far as I know, no one has a definite formula on how to successfully create an IP every time. Just like there is no surefire way to invest in shares and stocks.

If they do, they will be using it themselves all the time. Those that are successful don't have a guarantee that the next one will be.

That is why I laugh when I see people trying to teach you how to create IP and how to sell them to TV stations or companies. It reminds of those money making seminar where the speaker is making money from the audience who paid for the course or selling the course. Just less successfully.

But at this stage, even before you worry about how to pitch and sell your own IP , the real question you need to honestly ask is "Can you tell a story or have characters that the audience will want to see?" Often people who can't answer such a seemingly simple question starts thinking about making toys of their characters.

Right now in Singapore there are some challenges facing us and maybe ideas for some potential solutions.

1.) The eco system and maturity level locally makes it very challenging (but not impossible) to create an IP. People complain about the lack of freedom of speech or the censorship control of the media. The consequences over the last few decades is that I feel some of us lack the desire for critical thinking and questioning. Its not an excuse to say that there isn't anything interesting happening. It just means we don't see beyond the surface. The generation of ideas and stories are basically coping what has come before with nothing new to offer in perspective or context. That comes with experience and most of us are more interested in the visual than the story..

2.) Lack of story telling methodology and skillsets in schools..This is a very real problem. Literature and storytelling aren't the "valued" skillsets in schools. Its all about the hardskills. And the irony is

"Artists love looking at art.  It's a hard truth, but audiences don't care about art or animation.  They want characters that entertain them..... audiences are not interested in a high level of craft unless it is accompanied by something that entertains them.  Given a choice between art and entertainment, entertainment wins."

So what to do?  Here are some books that I found to be really really useful in the subject matter.

Invisible Ink.

Prepare to Board

Bascially it boils down to only 2 things from the audience standpoint. Who are the characters and why should I care. And/or what is story about and why should I care.

I am sure there are other challenges and I will amend this post from your comments or when I think of more.

So what solutions is there?

- Understand that it is impossible to cater to all tastes and preferences. The good news is you don't have to. Find your niche and target audience. Youtube does the rest. Build a audience gradually. Post your work on youtube and share it to people. Filter the feedback and improve on it.

- Keep your day job. duh..

- Make sure you have a good idea. What is a good idea? One that you are emotionally interested in.

- Make it easy and fast. And get people to look at it.

- Get friends or people together to work on an idea. Find someone that you can work with.

- Sell your 1st pitch. Gain credibility. Some may disagree and say to keep the IP yourself. Which I fully recommend. Idealistically that would be great. But you got to pay the bills and selling your pitch gives you credibility and pay some bills..

I will add more when I think of it.. 

Mark Mayerson's "Don't Pitch to Buyers, Pitch to the Audience"

I came across Mark Mayerson's blog posts about creating IP and the negatives of pitching your ideas to others a few years ago. And it resonated greatly  with me. The links are below and I heavily recommend those interested to have a read and see if you agree with them.

There is also a video that I linked to below via his blog post.

But below are what I think are the important issues that he highlighted in his blog posts. Again, please read them in their context. I do this for my own references.

Part 1

- The ability to pitch is a wholly separate skill from the creation of ideas
- Too much depends on the budget, the schedule, the crew, input from investors and chance.  
- Without people willing to pitch for free, the listener has no job.  
- If the people taking pitches were genuinely creative, they would be creating their own projects for the company and would not have to listen to ideas from anyone else. 
While a creator sees a work as polished and developed, the buyers see it as raw material to be shaped to their own needs. 
If the owners decide to revive a project in the future, they're under no obligation to get the creator involved.  
Pitching does have an upside. It gives you the opportunity to meet people in positions of authority.  Enlarging your network is always a positive thing.  Pitching may lead to job opportunities if the people you are pitching to are impressed by you, even if they don't like your idea.

From the comments section.
"Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?"  (to pay the fucking bills. Pay the bills then live your dreams.)

- "I wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders much earlier in my career and told me to start pitching by building relationships with other producers, content-creators, distributors, financiers, broadcasters, investors, and so on. Having a good idea is great, being able to animate it into a pitch is great, but developing it into a pitchable product that fits into the market is both costly and time-consuming-- and the cost is often your own time and money."
What people don't often realize is that content producers are generally the lowest income lot of the bunch.. . we sell developed ideas which includes work by a writer, a producer, and artist(s)... and usually we foot the bill ourselves. Anyone interest in joining this club, need only have a never-ending desire to do whatever it takes to get their ideas off the ground while earning next to nothing for doing this. But it sure is fun! And yeah, its kinda rewarding when it actually works.

The success or failure of an idea rests with the audience and until its judgement is known, the outcome is just speculation.
- Creators should  focus on pleasing audiences rather than focus on pleasing buyers.  
- What engages the audience and what do they remember?  Characters.  "We start with strong characters and build the movie from there." 
Characters are more memorable than stories.  
Artists love looking at art.  It's a hard truth, but audiences don't care about art or animation.  They want characters that entertain them..... audiences are not interested in a high level of craft unless it is accompanied by something that entertains them.  Given a choice between art and entertainment, entertainment wins. 

 Q "But what if I fail?" A "You will. "  
- "Your first try will be wrong.  Budget and design for it." 
- The faster and cheaper you can get your idea in front of an audience, the more likely you are to survive the failure and come back with something better. It may be a revision of your original idea or it may be something wholly new, but it will be closer to what the audience wants.
The fact is that creating something that an audience likes is hard.  Sustaining it while you grow a business around it is at least as hard and is going to take time.

Marketing and monetizing your work are the great challenges, but the distribution challenge no longer exists.  Computers and software have also greatly reduced production costs.
It takes time to build an audience, but everyone with internet access has a network of friends, no matter how small, and that's a starting point.  
The difference between a hobby and a business is income.  
Maybe you'll charge for your work.  Maybe you'll finance by selling advertising.  Maybe you'll give the work away and sell merchandise based on the work.  Maybe you'll charge for special access to you or to your work in progress.  There are multiple potential revenue streams.
Building and monetizing an audience are not simple things and they have no instant solutions.

- First, there is advertising.  YouTube is owned by Google and Google places ads and splits the revenue with Tofield.
Then there is merchandise. There are mobile games available and there's user generated content helping to keep the site fresh.
Simon Tofield is doing many of the things mentioned in these articles.  He's built the films around a continuing character.  The shorts are comparatively fast and cheap to produce. There is no dialogue, so the films can be understood internationally without subtitles or dubbing. The films are short, usually less than three minutes and sometimes less than two.
He uses Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to stay connected to his audience and let them know when something new is available. 
Tofield has taken advantage of another thing: an existing community.  Millions of people have cats as pets.  They are a ready-made audience for these cartoons.  (Find something that people can relate to.) 

When it comes to producing something fast and cheap, animation isn't high on the list.  It takes time, and in the current media environment, the audience wants a steady stream of new material or it will lose interest and move on. (Create a series of short animation rather then one every few months)
The skills used to make animated films -- the ability to write, design, draw and stage situations -- can be applied to other things.
Should an idea prove successful, it can always be done as animation at a later date.  
There are more opportunities available now to reach an audience and generate income than have ever existed.  That's not to say it is easy.  Creating work that is popular is hard.  Most creations simply don't generate much interest.
Keep ownership of your work.  Nobody will care about it as much as you, so you're the only one who can protect the heart and soul of your idea.  Get it to an audience as quickly and cheaply as possible and take audience feedback seriously, even if the feedback is negative or indifferent.  Like it or not, success depends on the audience.
If you can satisfy an audience, monetize it.  Even if you can't earn enough to live on, it's a nice supplement to your day job and will prevent your income from ever dropping to zero if you are unemployed.
Until an audience has passed judgment on your work, the value of your idea is unknown.  If you choose to do business with a larger company without proof of value, that puts you at a great disadvantage.  You never want to be negotiating from a position of weakness.  (That is why you want to make sure you have a content that have some leverage. Either through a fan base or value add, like minimising production costs by doing it yourself. Even co-producing if you actually run a studio)
 If you are a creator, educate yourself.  If you're going to pitch to companies, get yourself a good entertainment lawyer and don't let your desire for a sale blind you to what's in your long-term interest.
- Companies don't create hits, people do.  Don't ever forget that, even if many companies have.

I really liked this comment from a commentator in the comments section. 

"I think animators should be more like musicians. Musicians form bands, they get together and jam and create albums together and tour. People with the same tastes and skill levels team up, form a little family and make their dreams happen under one name. It's a team, it's a chapter of your life." 

I mean animating does not cost money. Coming up with ideas does not cost money. Find mates who have common interest or people who you can work with and just do it.  

August 22, 2016

Surviving our singapore animation industry.

This is a subject matter that bugged me for the last few weeks and I think its best I brain dump it while rendering. Whether you agree or disagree, these are just my thoughts and opinions for what its worth.

The current state of the Singapore animation industry obviously isn't the greatest. Even after the introduction of Lucasfilm and D Neg, things have not improved. Of course with the withdrawal of Double Negative, it has gotten worse.There are many causes and effects. But it boils down to a few things consistent with other skilled labor-intensive industries all over the world..

1.) The cost of running the animation business here against the global market.

Cost of running a animation company in Singapore is very high compared to countries regionally or in Asia. The only countries we are comparatively affordable to are Japan and Korea. Both which have better quality of work then what our local companies are capable of at the same price.

Thailand and Vietnam have studios that are similar in quality but much cheaper then us as service provider.

2.) The lack of high level of artistic craftsmanship necessary to entice higher value companies to Singapore.

For most of the aspiring local cg artists, the best career that a local animator or cg artist aims for is to work at ILM Singapore (after the closure of double negative) and if possible move overseas to expand if they can. (more pay, more opportunities). Others choose to stay for family or kids. We do have very talented local artists inside there. But there is a limit to the head count that they can hire while ironically severely lacking of skilled and experienced artists in other areas.

There are of course some local artists working overseas. But even if they want to come back, the salary package here cannot compete against what the bigger studios overseas offer as well as the lack of options besides ILM.

That leaves with a chasm of skill transference from the experienced artists to locals. Because I believe that a majority of the locals here will try go overseas for better prospects and experiences.

3.) Reluctance of local companies to take in fresh graduates.  Local companies in my opinion find it challenging to take the time and train fresh graduates because of the cost overhead. Unless they are really talented. A company runs a biz. It needs to make money. Time taken to teach a fresh grad can be used to do a shot. Also the level of quality that the polys as well as degree level and private schools are producing are not at a level that the companies can use. Also the smaller companies know they are just stepping stones for artists hoping to jump to ILM or overseas. So they will not spend more time to train the fresh graduates unless they are really really good. This of course causes a cycle of them not able to get in more work so that they can expend and improve the quality and biz. Which means they cannot spend the money to train artists.

SO what can we  do to survive?

- Learn a skillset that is not common. Look.. you want to be an animator or a modeller or a concept zbrush blah blah designer. I get it. Its cool. But there are lots people out there already. And there are other jobs out there that companies need and are actually willing to train you for and pay you for it. Coding, Texturing, particles, pipeline. Jobs that are not on Zbrush central or art station but actually pays you so that you can still be in the industry and keep practising what you strive to be.

- Use your skills learnt in animation to start something else. I do not mean just the technical skills. But designing, storytelling and visualizing. As well as what applications can be created with or for these purposes.

- Learn to invest. Honest truth. Something that is painful and slow and what I regret not having done earlier. I  do not mean speculating. But stable low gain shares.

- Rob a bank with a piece of paper. Nicely storyboarded of course.

- Create your own company to undercut the companies that inexperienced fresh grads open up to undercut the established players because the clients care more about the cost more then quality.

- Set up a company AND a school to try and make money off the govt and gullible students while trying to sell part-time courses.

- Get out of Singapore while/if you can. This is not a anti-PAP rant. I do mean it.

Keep working on your reel and polishing your skillset and go out. See the world and gain valuable work experience.(Best advice I ever got from my lecturer). Useful to make connections with new colleagues who might have lobangs in future. Plan your holiday back here to conicide with the durian season.

- If you inherently have some level of talent, and is driven enough (I fucking hate the word "passion"), you can make a living do animation or computer graphics as a career in Singapore. Companies will always want to hire good talent. But honestly that is the hardest thing and yet the simplest thing to do. The same reason dieting almost never work. The short and long term pain cannot justify long term gain.

- Create your own IP. hahahaha... better luck trying to get Gold at the Olympics.

- Network and don't be a dick. I don't mean put on a fake smile and kiss ass. But be curious and ask questions. Dont be a dick at school and treat your colleagues and supervisors with respect. Build trust with them so that if they leave they might recommend you to their new job.

Unfortunately there isn't much chances to network locally. That is why make full use of it.

But that is what I think we got to do. Constantly keep improving and learning new stuff. Stay curious and hungry and be unrelenting in your pursue for creating good work.

Worst case scenerio, you can still create art even if you quit the industry. Isn't that why you got into the industry in the 1st place?