Just Create

New look! New blog! Well, not exactly…

I want to evolve this blog from being story-centric, to creativity-encompassing. There is a lot of talk in the marketing and blogging worlds about “branding” yourself, a term I despise. It reminds me of farmers branding cows. It’s limiting and I squirm at the thought of being put in a box. I understand the idea behind it – you want your potential audience to know what they’re signing up for when they buy your book or watch your movie or read your blog. Compartmentalization can sometimes be helpful, just not so much for me when it comes to living a creative life.

Korra hates being boxed in too! (animation by Studio Mir)

Korra hates being boxed in too! (animation by Studio Mir)

Part of what I’ve struggled with in writing this blog is figuring out exactly what I want to do with it. It initially began as a way to explore stories and understand why we need them, but it’s also been about Avatar and Legend of Korra. But my creative interests expand well beyond those things, into photography, painting, philosophy, spirituality, sociology, cosmology, nutrition, etc. There are many things which fascinate and inspire me. I try to remain curious and open to new ideas and new ways of understanding myself and the world around me. Story is one way to funnel a lot of these interests, but at the same time, it feels limiting.

I realized the overarching theme I want to explore is creativity and living a creatively satisfying life. So what does that mean, exactly? For me, it’s about living authentically, honestly, and as transparently as possible. It’s about listening to new ideas, taking what works in my life, and discarding what doesn’t. It’s about being proactive and creating a life that inspires me, and sharing what I create, hoping it will inspire others to pursue their own passions.

And this isn’t just about art and writing. Creativity appears in myriad ways across every discipline and aspect of life. I’m not a great cook. In fact I don’t really like cooking, but I am in awe of chefs who can take various ingredients and create something visually stunning and mouth-watering. In an age where craftsmanship has been too often replaced by automation, where fast-food becomes preferable to thoughtful preparation, we lose a connection to what matters. We lose a part of what makes us human.

I totally accept that I sound like an old man lamenting the “good old days.” But I’m not advocating we all move out to the woods, throw away our cel phones, and forage for our own food (though I’ve thought about it). But I often wonder if we’ve lost our connection to our more primal, spiritual selves by moving away from the physical and into the virtual.

When we started the Avatar production in 2003, the artists and I all drew with pencil (or pen) and paper. Other parts of the production used computers to color and composite the show, but by and large, there was a lot of physical evidence of our work. By 2010, nearly everything is done digitally. Everyone still draws by hand, but it’s with a stylus and Cintiq. The exception is at Studio Mir, where the animators all draw with pencil and paper, then scan the drawings into the computer to be colored and composited. The show looks better than it ever has, and I still think the style of each artist comes through in the digital medium, but I can’t help but feel like something gets lost along the way. It’s something small and almost intangible, but I can sense it, like a dream you can’t quite remember upon waking, or a smell that triggers a nearly-forgotten memory.

Would something be lost if this drawing of Tahno was done digitally? (animation by Studio Mir)

Would something be lost if this drawing of Tahno was done digitally? (animation by Studio Mir)

So I guess the reason I’m writing all this is to reaffirm my commitment to creativity, no matter what the form, and to hopefully inspire others to do the same. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter whether we write our novel by hand, or by typing it on a screen. It doesn’t really make a difference if we photograph with film and develop it in a darkroom, or make photos digitally — what matters is that we write the novel, or take the photo, or paint the picture, or cook the food. Just create.

Check out these TED talks (here and here) by Elizabeth Gilbert if you need a creative kick-start. She’s one of my favorite speakers on the challenges and joys of the creative process.

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14 thoughts on “Just Create

  1. “And this isn’t just about art and writing. Creativity appears in myriad ways across every discipline and aspect of life. I’m not a great cook. In fact I don’t really like cooking, but I am in awe of chefs who can take various ingredients and create something visually stunning and mouth-watering. In an age where craftsmanship has been too often replaced by automation, where fast-food becomes preferable to thoughtful preparation, we lose a connection to what matters. We lose a part of what makes us human.”

    I am quite sure that I’m oversimplifying here, but this made me think, “Stop & smell the roses.” Yes, fast food is cheap & convenient, & yes I eat a lot of it. And yes, I am reluctant to spend money on food that I might not like. But it does suck to eat the same things over & over again, to the point where you barely even taste the food. And it’s great to discover whole new options for things to eat.

    Point is, even if you’re the kind of person who feels nice & safe in that box, it’s probably a good idea to go outside of it every now & again.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. When I talk to kids who are just getting started , my advice is always to just start making stuff. Once you get your momentum, great things will happen!

  3. “For me, it’s about living authentically, honestly, and as transparently as possible.”

    I hear a lot in career seminars that to make it in entertainment, you can’t be totally honest about yourself or you won’t appear good enough to be hired and reach your goals. Reading that paragraph and the one about branding was refreshing, I gotta say.

  4. To comment on the hand drawn animation discussion, I’m a huge fan of anime because Japan is one of the few countries still producing quality 2D animation. 3D and digitally drawn animation certainly have their strong suits, but there’s something more personal about hand drawn animation. There are groups on the internet that celebrate the works of particular animators because they have a style that shines through no matter which project their working on (such as In-Seung Choi from Korra). I got the chance to see Hayao Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises in theaters and was awe-struck by the detail and fluidity of motion throughout the film. It’s films like that which prove 2D still has its place in the modern world.

  5. Perhaps your blog could address all of these abstract ideas about creativity, storytelling, authenticity, tangibility, et cetera. Or onto more specific topics in regards to your interests.

    This is your blog after all. You have the capability to do whatever you’d like. 🙂

    If you end up discussing ideas or topics that you’ve never intended on focusing on, that okay. Because as long as what you are discussing pertains to what you genuinely want to express, that is what truly matters.

    You’ve worked on projects like “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” and these shows are apart of the creative input you’ve contributed to and expressed. So it doesn’t surprise me that you would talk about these shows in your blog. They have been apart of your life.

    And personally, animation has always reminded me that people are capable of greatness. Because it takes a certain kind of dedication and persistence to makes thousands of animation frames, environment backgrounds, character designs, all contributing to the art of movement and to the art itself. And I’m grateful people are passionate enough to express this greatness.

    To add, story gives a sense of direction of what the animation would be about since it gives us a reason why we would want to hold our attention as we learn of the story.

    With this combination of animation and storytelling, it’s a way for us as people, to understand ourselves as human beings and to encourage empathy with one another on a personal level. Maybe I’ve grown to love these stories and animations because they were the equivalent of an affirmation, of someone holding me still saying, “Everything will turn out to be okay. We have the spirit of persistence to get us through. And this is a beautiful world we live in. A world worth living in. You’re alive right now and that’s wonderful, because there is no else like you at all and you have all the clarity and capability to help enrich the world as a better place than before.”

    Remember how I said animation reminded me the greatness of people? Well, I refer that sense of greatness to the creativity which you talk about. Because you’re right about how people can think outside-of-the-box through more than just art or writing. That skill can apply to anybody regardless of what they are doing. Since this contributes to divergent thinking.

    Then in your example about cooking, you mention that we live, “in an age…where fast-food becomes preferable to thoughtful preparation, we lose a connection to what matters. We lose a part of what makes us human.”

    Automation happens because of technology constantly improving and letting us take over our lives.

    Because if we lose the ability to work or to put effort in anything we do, we lose our comprehension of understanding what it means to be human. Because that effort and work we go through is what allows us to feel the sense of accomplishment and self-worth. To be human. It is the perseverance throughout our ‘struggle’ that allows us to truly appreciate each other and for our abilities.

    We must let technology assist and aid us in cultivating a flourishment of improving life here on Earth. We can’t let it replace us. Because it’s possible to make this world a more bearable place with people working together, hand in hand.

    Speaking of hands, drawing on paper is more tangible than drawing on a tablet. Because with paper, it’s possible to directly sketch without having to worry about the skidding surface of plastic or the offset calibration of a sketch on a computer; also when I draw on a tablet, I can’t help but to feel far away from what I draw since I’m looking a screen while I draw, not the other way around with traditionally. Sure visually, they produce the same result, but the physical feeling whilst drawing is not the same.

    I’d like to share with you a TED Talk by Sunni Brown reveals the benefits of doodling, which may help you understand better what the physical act of doodling does to the doodler:

    I have no doubt this would apply to how you or anybody who’d make art for “A:TLA” or “Korra” when you are immersing yourselves in these fantastic worlds.

    Well, I hope all is well Mr.DiMartino, for your life and for this blog. 🙂

  6. For some reason, this reminds me of two other TED talks – the ones by Brene Brown, who writes about vulnerability. I wonder if the move from manual to digital feels like, to them that’s known both, a loss of vulnerability. After all, if you’re drawing on a cintiq, you can change things in an instant; hide a layer, start over but copy and paste the things you like. When you’re working with pen and paper, it feels like more of a commitment – you have to work with what’s on the page, and if you throw it out, it’s gone – you have to start from scratch. Same goes for writing – I type way faster than I write, so anything I write on a computer is basically logorrhea (see: this), whereas writing stuff down on paper forces me to be pickier about what I say and how I say it, slow down my thinking to match how fast (or slow) I write. I’m not a crank (either) – I love my phone, freaking check it first thing in the morning because it’s also my alarm clock, and I get to work on a cintiq at my volunteer gig and it’s a dream, but… I remember how things used to be, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We learned cursive in school, maybe learned to type on typewriters (ok I’m not that old but you know) and a slower pace of life was, I think, ingrained in us when we were little. So yay for us adapting to the exponential increase in technology and speed of…everything, but I for one will always need a timeout every now and then. And maybe that’s when the real creativity will happen (for me, anyway).

  7. Thanks for reaffirming my opinion on the whole “build your brand” thing since the first time I heard it. Some literary agent was talking about that on Twitter once, and I just told her how ridiculous I thought that sounded. She seemed pretty firmly rooted in the mindset.

  8. A really interesting and on point post.
    I have had the same struggles within my own creativity, moving from University into the working world has made it a lot harder to get the time to work or even think about the things I want to create. But what you said about the purpose of your blog is something I think about and struggle with constantly. I want my blog to show me as I am but then it seems that branding, or showing your “best” side, seems to be as, if not more, important than any work or writing I have to share.
    I decided a while ago to try an organic approach of posting anything I find interesting, rather than a more limited showing of only my best ideas or work. Which seems to work well, if only for my own pleasure.
    I love both your work with avatar and all your blogging and look forward to hearing, seeing?, more in the future!

  9. I know you are super busy, but I hope this blog is the stirrings of a book– it is inspirational and wonderful to read even without ATLA and LOK references. I wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors and I am so excited to see your growth as an artist!

  10. Michael, I just wanted to say thanks to you (and Brian) for letting us into your creative processes from you original Avatar Artbook to this Blog: I got so many ideas from you all I have actually embarked on starting my own animated series http://www.themultifacetseries.com . Letting us go behind the scenes has proved more valuable than I could have ever imagined as I struggle to get this off of the ground. Keep the posts coming.

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