01. Gestation

the delicate nature of beginnings

“I think that every single project we’ve ever done in our life, I don’t think we ever went in knowing how it was going to end or what the trajectory was going to be. We just knew that there would be a trajectory, that there would be something that we were on the hunt to explore, to experiment on certain elements, to trap certain things...”
—The Quay Bros, interview at SVA

Gestation

Welcome to “Gestation,” the first content issue of The Line Between.  

I’m so glad you’re here!

This will be another quiet issue during the soft launch, largely unpublicized (look for a proper launch toward the end of the month). In this installment I’m going to share with you:

  • Why starting new projects can be hard

  • What I prioritize

  • WIP: a new animated short

  • A Very Good Tip

  • Provisions

Why starting new projects can be hard

Inertia never feels as real as when I’m trying to get something new going.

In animation, there are two main techniques of drawing frames: “pose to pose,” and “straight ahead.” The former relies on keyframes (“key,” or important, frames), by which you plan out the trajectory of motion, break it down, fill in the blanks. The latter is more freeform, starting with just one frame to draw the next, and so on, best suited for animating something with unpredictable movement like fire or water.

The Brothers Quay, quoted above, are more in the “straight ahead” camp (or, maybe not-so-straight-ahead). They seem to embrace uncertainty in their process, intentionally setting out for somewhere without a map, the only inevitability the existence of a destination.

I tend to start out in the “pose to pose” camp but usually end up in the “straight ahead” one. I start out with structure—outlines, bullet lists, storyboards, and so on—as a sort of entry point into “straight ahead;” to provide footing for myself and feel “safer.” These footholds are essentially psychological safeguards to help me move forward—as in the case of one stepping more surely, moving more naturally, near a precipice knowing that there’s a safety net. 

Nevertheless, getting a project started remains difficult for me.

A lot of energy is required up front to bring something to life. Nurturing a new concept—essentially a newborn—while other things require your attention, non-stop, can feel daunting. Even just the everyday stuff, emails, bills, relationships, feeding yourself—much less managing a business or taking care of family—are things that siphon energy and time away from the infant idea.

The past few weeks, I’ve spent the bulk of my time tying up loose ends on my last project, Tuscany, submitting it to film festivals, and dealing with other administrative aspects of art-making that I don’t enjoy as much: spread-sheeting, marketing, promoting.

I’ve also been orchestrating the launch of this newsletter, publishing related articles (I wrote Building a What’s Next Deck in part to illustrate what TLB content might sometimes look like), researching collaborations, and writing writing writing. 

None of this hectic-ness is nourishing for an idea in its delicate stages of gestation, when it is as fragile as a premie and requires full-time focus.

Honestly I’d rather just hole up in my studio to cook, eat, read, draw, and feed my new idea. Focusing in a quiet, private place alone is when I’m happiest, and I get irritated when e.g., tax season, family, doctor’s appointments try to pull me away.

What I prioritize

That said, I’m pleasantly surprised at how “juggling life with new ‘baby’” gets easier with every project. One of the habits I’ve refined over the years to help balance art life with admin life is aiming for priority over productivity.

It’s easy to make lists of stuff I need to get done, seeking satisfaction from the quantity of tick marks v. the quality of items ticked off on that list. I could have 10 todos, 9 of which could be errands, or administrative tasks—things that don’t require much creative energy. I want to get these no-brainers out of the way so that I can free up time to focus on the big, creative task, that tenth item.

But by the time I get through the “no-brainers” it’s time for dinner and a beer, and the thought of a 4 hour creative session is unappealing to say the least. To make things worse, I don’t feel satisfied from getting 9 things done because the thing I really wanted to get at was the meaty tenth thing, the brainstorming of a project, or a storyboard, or whatever, and that’s exactly what I didn’t get to.

So, finishing most of my tasks didn’t even feel good—in fact, it produced more stress and made me feel LESS productive. 

I find that it’s much better for me to tackle the most creatively taxing task first. When I make my way through, I feel invigorated, and the rest, the “no-brainers”—filling out a form, dealing with a clerical error on the health insurance bill, picking up groceries—feel relatively easy to take on, even if I’m at the end of my day.

WIP: a new animated short

My latest creatively taxing task is figuring out the stylistic direction for a new animated short, working title “Chamoe”  (pronounced CHA-MEH). A chamoe is a yellow melon, ubiquitous in Korea in the summer time and widely available in Korean markets here in the States. 

This is the first time I’m working on an animation that’s not music-driven. Some may feel that being able to derive visual inspiration from sound is a gift, but I wonder now if it’s been a bit of a crutch for me. It’s going to be an interesting journey to go the other way—music last, if at all. Another challenge here is that it’s feeling pretty literal, and I’ve historically resisted that. For now here’s a peek at what’s on my desktop.

I’ve been cleaning up hours of recordings, whittling and editing multiple interviews down to a single narration that runs less than 2.5 min, using an open-source app called Audacity. (I’m starting to use Adobe Audition for some aspects of editing as well.)

I also have a bunch of thumbnails going in Procreate (feel free to download my thumbnail template):

I’m now in the process of articulating the thumbnails into 1920x1080 storyboards, and setting them to a voice track in Premiere Pro. That’s what’s really starting to bring the story to life, along with some foleys. Making the animatic feel as alive as possible is sparking inspiration and getting me more jazzed about stylistic potential.

Trying to coax “Chamoe” into a more realized state while being swept up in a suddenly speedier post-vax life in NYC, dealing with the spectre of travel, and the launch of this newsletter (another fledgling venture fraught with its own uncertainties), has been a challenge—but a manageable one.  

A Very Good Tip

The other day my Macbook was overheating, the fan reaching a screaming crescendo. It sounded like an animal being asked to be put out of its misery. This is unfortunately a familiar issue and one that I’ve dealt with in the past by closing the app or walking away from the machine altogether and pouring myself a shot of bourbon.

If you use Chrome you’re probably no stranger to its performance issues and gluttonous CPU usage. Here, my friend, is a small gift:

  1. Open the Task Manager

  2. Sort tabs by CPU usage

  3. Find the culprit tab

  4. Close it

  5. Enjoy the beauty of near-immediate silence

I don’t know, perhaps this is old news to everyone else but it’s gold to me and I’ll be leveraging it often. Such a simple, and transparent, solution to a common and incredibly annoying problem. You’re welcome.

Provisions

We are what we eat. I try to consume the right things in order to produce well. Beautiful things, provocative things, delicious, spiny, dark, and brilliant things.

  • I was happy to discover How to Proceed, a podcast where writers talk to other writers about craft, politics, relating. The one with Rachel Cusk was delightful.

  • Speaking of Cusk, I’m almost finished with her Outline Trilogy She inverts the form of the traditional novel, and that feels new, thrilling.

  • I find Nami’s Life, a young woman’s video log on YouTube, soothing to watch. She describes herself as “an office worker, living alone in Tokyo. I don't have any special skills…My life is very ordinary.” OK she makes financiers at midnight and somehow has the energy to cook intricate meals for herself after long workdays. Extremely ordinary.

Life is beautiful

I’ll end with a photo from last week after getting my second dose of Pfizer (which I think supports the developing theory that it’s the hot person vaccine btw).

In all seriousness, this photo strikes me particularly because of its pedestrian setting. Just a Brooklyn rooftop with friends drinking wine and eating pizza, except that all of us are vaccinated and sitting within inches of each other and there’s an extraordinary exuberance with which we lift our hands, in high, triumphant, splay-fingered hurrahs—

as if to say We’re here! We’re here! 

We. Are. Still. Here.

Thanks for reading this first content issue of The Line Between.

I love nice comments, hellos, and book recommendations.

See you next time.