Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thank you, Tr!ckster!

This is unusual post for me because for the most part things I write here are directly related to the craft of storytelling, but I want to thank the people at Tr!ckster publicly.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers/presenters at Tr!ckster in San Diego. It was the first year for this event, which ended up being the place to be. Tr!ckster is a response to what the Comic-Con has become—in many ways, it’s just a big commercial for whatever blockbuster the entertainment industry wants to sell that year.

This is me giving my storytelling talk at Tr!ckster. I guess that I sometimes strike a Shatner pose when I speak.

photo by Julia Lundman (using my phone)

Tr!ckster is more down-to-earth with a focus on creators and, more importantly, aspiring creators. There were symposiums on the craft of creation, and I gave a talk on storytelling and story construction. It was a short talk for me, but people did seem to like and learn from it.

Please forgive me for getting excited, but this is the very first time I have seen my three books on sale together.
It was also a chance for me to meet some of you. I met some fans of the blog and my books for the first time in real life. They were all cool people. Frequent commenter Jett and I got into a very serious but all-in-good-fun debate. I also met an early supporter of the blog, Emma Coats. That was nice, and she was as cool as thought she would be.

Good guy and Animator Everett Downing.  It was nice to see him.

Me with the very friendly and talented artist Jeff Pidgeon (photo by Joon Kim)
 Some of my favorite past students showed up to hear me say things that they have heard me say a million times. Thanks for coming, guys. (Artist Ronnie del Carman was also nice enough to come hear me speak on things he’s heard me say before. A good guy, that guy.)

Separated at birth -- me and Ronnie Del Carman.
It was also a chance to meet up and toss a few drinks back with some of the dudes I know from Pixar: Ted Mathot and Scott Morse, who co-created Trickster, were gracious hosts, on top of being two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

Ted Mathot and me after a few drinks.
I know I am forgetting some of the cool people I met and talked to, but there were many. My point is I had a great time and I think most everyone else did, too. If you did not make it this year, next year try to get yourself to Tr!ckster.

By the way, for those who don’t yet know my website is now up:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Again with the simplicity

--> "Simple is good." – Jim Henson

Many years ago a buddy of mine worked in a comic book shop. One day a bunch of teenagers who were very excited about the work of a particular artist came in. They were hyped to see that his new book was out, very impressed with all of the detail in his work. Conversely, they made fun of another artist, calling his work “lame” because he did not use enough lines in his work.

The artist that they liked was a young man named Rob Liefield. The artist they hated was named Mike Mignola.

Today, Mignola, known for his spare style, is recognized as one of the top artists in the field, and as the creator of the popular Hellboy character. Liefield, whose style was kinetic and busy, is barely remembered at all.

-->Rob Liefield's Youngblood

Mike Mignola Hellboy Book Cover
But there was a time when you could not get bigger than Liefeld. He starred in a Levi’s commercial directed by Spike Lee.

The youthful and the inexperienced tend to be more impressed with work that is visible. The flashier something is, the better they think it is. They cannot conceive of another way of viewing things.

When I was a teenager, working for my mentor Bruce Walters doing motion graphics, he said something to me that put me on the path of seeing the beauty in simplicity.

Bruce was a very smart guy and I paid close attention to the things he said to me all those years ago; I still use what he taught me.

We did a lot of animated graphics for local television spots, so we dealt with a lot of logos. One day as we were shooting some animation, he said to me, You know who makes a ton of money? The guys who design those international signs that tell people—without necessarily using words—things like “slippery when wet” or “this way to the hospital” or whatever. You know the signs.

I was surprised. He said it was because it was hard to design something that was so easily understood by so many different kinds of people.

 From that moment on I started to see the beauty in simplicity. I began to notice how effective simplicity was in all kinds of design and composition. I saw how simplicity communicated ideas so clearly. Simplicity can be hard to execute—it is marksmanship. It is about hitting the target. In design, it is about eliminating everything that is not necessary. Novices always want to add and seasoned designers want to take away.

From an essay on writing by Robert Louis Stevenson

When John Williams played his simple JAWS theme for a young Steven Spielberg, the director laughed because it was so simple. He thought Williams was joking. This is now so iconic that the simple notes are synonymous with sharks. Just as Williams’ simple Raiders of the Lost Ark march is synonymous with adventure. Williams is a master of these “sound logos”—simple ideas that communicate mood so perfectly that decades later they can easily be recalled and applied properly.

One of the most difficult things that I teach is the appreciation of simplicity. It may be better to think of it as precision. Legendary illustrator Alex Toth said (and I’m paraphrasing here) to figure out what you need to draw. Draw that and only that. And draw the hell out of it. Precision.

Drawing by Alex Toth
Mignola comic book art
Just as with these other crafts, storytelling can communicate much more clearly when there is no fat on it—nothing extra. Figure out what you need to write, write that and only that. And write the hell out of it.

“It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” -- Bruce Lee



Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I'm On The Air!

Hey guys, I’ve been busy working on a book so it has been a while since I’ve posted. I promise that I will post something new soon. In the meantime you can listen to an interview I recently did for a radio show.