Twas the Night After Christmas

And all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the cat, who insisted upon going outside, the boy, who needed to get tucked back into bed, and a scruffy oaf stumbling about, cursing the manufacturer of the toy lodged in the sole of his foot.

Merry Christmas, Mister Scrooge

It’s odd. The lead-up to Christmas is a blur. I remember bits, kind of like flash cards, but if you asked me to string it all together into a coherent block, I’d shake my head and shrug my shoulders.

I guess it’s because the world doesn’t stop rotating. Everything carries on as it always does. There’s a forced sense of merriment, of course, and the stores pull out all the stops to lure us to buy their wares, and the television blares out the seasonal ‘Grinch’, ‘Christmas Vacation’ and ‘Die Hard’, yet the tasks in the Jira backlog are still there, the administration still piles up, the test servers still indicate a failing test suite.

There are still meetings to be attended, nappies to be changed, meals to be cooked, error logs to be investigated – Work won’t go away simply because of a season.

Scrooge

Bah! Humbug!

No, no, no. It’s not like that. I like Christmas, I do. Heck, I voluntarily (read involuntarily) dressed up as Santa to hand out the Kris Kringle presents.

No, my beef is not with Christmas, it’s the whole quasi Parkinson’s Law thing that’s going on: One has the capacity to continue one’s duties on top of all the merry-making, not to mention the extra load of tying things off for the holidays. Rather than stress levels going down, they go up. There is less time to do more work.

By the end of it all, like right now, I’m exhausted.

I want to write, I want to visit the park with the boy, I want to clean the house. There’s only so much caffeine can do. The most I managed to muster yesterday was a trip to the hardware shop to put up some shelves for the bathroom.

Maybe Scrooge isn’t such a bad guy, he’s just a realist who understands that when the frivolities end, the work not-yet-done will be there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to extract a pointy toy car from my foot and go and clean up the backyard.

Merry Christmas – Craft

For Easter I prefer to paint eggs rather than buy chocolate eggs, simply because I think it’s a bit more personal.

When it comes to Christmas gifts, I must confess I’m resigned to simply purchasing them. Easter has a gifting theme, I guess, which implicitly narrows the scope of what’s available to be gifted, which is good for craft.

Christmas doesn’t follow this pattern.

Being so open ended, Christmas gifts can be just about anything, and, being anything for anyone, craft tends to be forgotten about.

For Kris Kringle this year at OrderMate, we were given the brief of ‘Mouse-Pad’. At first I groaned at the thought of trawling websites, going through thousands of ‘yeah, not quite’ options, then the thought struck me: This is a perfect opportunity for craft!

The result?

MinionMousePad

Tada! I could yak on about it but, you know what? I’ll let the video do the talking. Tips are in the Craft page.

Merry Christmas Sarah!

The Struggle of the Artist – Time

Artists are a crazy bunch. We spend our time complaining that we are tired, that we need a break, yet when a break comes up, we spend it… working.

I don’t know if it’s a compulsion, or an attitude, or some kind of psychosis or what, but it’s common among every musician, writer, painter, actor or developer I know. Any quiet time is time to get creative.

The Desire

The brain kicks in, the hands get twitchy, the legs get itchy, and the burning desire to create becomes all-consuming. The Muse comes to torture one’s ears, sowing nonsensical, disjointed suggestions that spawn ideas that grow into concepts that fill every cavity of thought until there’s nothing but an overwhelming need to convert the concepts into reality.

The mouth mutters quietly. The pencil hits paper. Index fingers are pointed to nowhere in particular. Every ripple, ridge and scuff of paint on the ceiling is scrutinised. The toilet becomes as sacred as a library.

Then the thoughts manifest in the physical world, “Hey, you know what’d be really cool?”

Think of all the ideas that could be realised in a thousand lifetimes, then agonise as they are culled to leave only the most sensible, the most immediate, the most practical. Oh, for another lifetime…

The Conflict

Nothing burns like an itch that cannot be scratched. So many of us have to work at jobs, cook and clean for our families, attend social commitments and generally get interrupted by every man and his dog looking over our shoulder.

Like right now.

It’s a nightmare, sitting in a long-running meeting, thinking about all the possible projects that could be completed, all the ideas that could be explored, all the cool concepts that could be made into reality, if only I wasn’t stuck in this damn meeting!

Then, to top it all off, when finally there is a breathing space, one is just too damn tired to do anything – The Physical blots out the Metaphysical. The Muse has gone to bed. It’s a crying shame, but good luck trying to rev your creative engine at 11:30 at night after a long slog at work, cooking dinner, washing up and putting the kids to bed, taking care of that emergency support call, putting the kids back to bed again…

Ain’t gonna happen.

Yet it does happen. The desire is so strong that the artist actively, albeit grudgingly, pushes through the pain, past the fog of sleep-deprivation, out into the world of creativity, if only for a few minutes at a time, if only to make that next stroke of the brush, that next sentence, that next riff.

If you’ve ever tried to scratch your toe by rubbing it on the inside of your shoe, you’ll get an idea of what I’m on about: some satisfaction is better than none.

Go easy on your artist, yeah? Sure, they are crazy, but remember that they are doing it tough.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Adaptation Animation – Dynamic Changes

There is a temptation, with everything we create, to fiddle and poke and prod to get it ‘just so’. This applies to writing, of course, but also to drawing and, as I’ve discovered, animating.

The Conundrum

We start the creative process with an idea, vague or exact, of what we want to build. As we progress, the idea will morph as we think more and more about it, and it should, for rarely is an initial idea perfect.

Things change, ideas change, the goal will change. A book, painting or animation is made up of many ideas, and therein lies the problem: the bits will change at different rates and in different directions. The struggle of the artist (read: one of the many struggles) is to keep all of the moving parts aligned an synchronised with each other.

That’s very much a software developer’s perspective, you can tell by the wording, yet it’s quite applicable.AdaptationAnimation

As I’m making more scenes, my drawing style is converging, so that my original sketches are dissimilar to my current ones. So too with the colouring. So too with what I intend to offer to the end user. Now that the music has come into play, the order and relevancy of the scenes is also under question.

Along with all of this, comes the desire to optimise before functionality has been achieved and, as any good programmer can tell you, premature optimisation is the road to Paintown, stopping all stations.

Solutions?

While things change, and they have to, its good to set a few core elements in concrete. For example, when it comes to books, I can maintain the theme, the premise, and the setting while being free to develop characters or explore morals, so long as they fit within the scope of the aforementioned.

Likewise  with animation, I am keeping to the original plan of showing parts of the story rather than telling the story. Which means that the scenes can be out of order in order to fit with the music, and they can take artistic license to render a scene conceptually, rather than in actuality.

Using this approach, it also shows me that some scenes that I had originally earmarked for inclusion no longer fit under the category of ‘an important part of the story’. In short, if the scene did not demonstrate something new to viewer, then there was no real point including it in the final cut.

I guess this is why film makers take so many shots and leave most of it on the cutting room floor. Not everything is relevant.

Also, since the music has been locked into about a minute or so, I’m restricted to the amount of content to include. This isn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it solves the primary issue: I can’t afford to ‘optimise’ (tweak, fiddle, poke, prod, push, tap) until I’ve got the fundamentals laid out.

There’s a solution for you – limit the scope of any project, before you commit to too much, so that you are forced to really assess what must be in there and what would be nice, and what amounts to wood pulpMini Jeztyr Logo.