maintaining creative productivity while traveling
“A foreigner is isolated, observant, displaced. A foreigner lies low, and takes stock. But a tourist feels at home when he is not.”
—Rachel Cusk, The Last Supper
Out of place
This is the second content issue of The Line Between—and the first I’m actively publicizing. THANK YOU to my early subscribers—I even have a few founding members already, which is beyond expectation at this juncture. Your support means so much—thanks again for believing in me, and my work.
The past two weeks have been a blur. I took my first trip since the advent of the pandemic and it was…weird. It felt strange to be sitting aboard a full plane, shoulder to shoulder with strangers for over five hours.
I was dismayed to discover that 50% of my direct neighbors on both flights were unvaccinated due to hesitancy or laziness. Even though I myself am over two-weeks double-shotted, and the plane’s air filtration system provides a level of reassurance, I couldn’t bring myself to relax, or to eat and drink freely. Also, in-flight alcohol was not yet available, removing what little fun there was to be had in an already joyless experience.
Travel of this kind—going to a place I feel disconnected from, primarily to fulfill familial obligations—feels crushingly disruptive to me. While I’m grateful for the privilege, I also resent time away from the studio and my routines.
Though I’m not ashamed of this mindset per se, I’ve long considered my inability to cheerfully maintain creative productivity, while away from home, a limitation of character.
Ironically, I did end up getting a lot done these past two weeks on Chamoe, my new animated short. So this issue is a bit longer, and heavier on the nuts and bolts side.
I’ll be sharing some thoughts on:
Being productive out of place
WIP: balancing circular dependencies in a new project
A Very Good Tip
Being productive out of place
Taking up anchor, putting it down, only to have to pull it back up shortly—drains me. It drains me so much that historically, I would need “buffer” PTO when returning from vacation. It drains me so much that when I returned from this very trip, I couldn’t bring myself to venture out again for nearly a week, not even to go see my partner.
As much as I’d like to be the person who can work from anywhere, fluidly, with a smile—
Let’s be real.
I am not that person.
That’s not to say that I can’t be productive on a flight, or while staying at my mom’s house. I have a portable setup, and am accustomed to working on the road. I just haven’t ever liked it much. How pleasant an experience is, can of course largely be regulated in the head, but the heart often wins out in my case.
The thing that stood out for me though about this trip—perhaps precipitated by unprecedented circumstance—was that I thought about how I might actually define “work” when out of place and routine, given what I have on hand and how much I want to give.
I went on this brief trip to see people I love, to help out with things that are best done in person. I could have taken my tablet with me and certainly there was flexibility enough that I could have regimented the early and late parts of my day to e.g., make progress with my animated short.
I very intentionally did not to do this.
I carried out my physical and emotional labors, took photographs, recorded my mother’s voice. I listened to KCRW. I drove a red Supra. I did some form of exercise daily. I made my mom watch a Korean romcom with me. I read two books. I forded a relational divide.
I grappled with a strange daily rhythm, filled with the roar of the tv, the sounds of loudly sleeping people, the company of an old and aloof canine.
I’m back in NYC now. Unexpectedly, I don’t feel behind, or late, or robbed. I felt like I was somewhere else, more than I felt away from home. It’s probably the first time I’m able to say so after time away.
That itself feels productive to me.
WIP: balancing circular dependencies
What happens when you need A to do B, but in order to do B you need A? That, my friends, is a circular dependency.
Last time I shared that I started animating Chamoe, for which I’m taking on sound design (of which I know next to nothing).
I normally rely on sound to drive visuals, and am finding myself in a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario where the former is unfinished and stylistic direction for the latter is uncertain. Which to focus on first? When to shift that focus?
Thankfully, for the first time after years of struggling with editorial calls like this, I feel I’ve a sense for what to work on when, and when to switch over to the other. So far it’s been a pretty organic audio/visual tag team:
Audio: I started with a voice track for Chamoe
Visual: …to drive a storyboard
Audio: …to which I added placeholder foleys and subtitles (my mother narrates in Korean)
Visual: …which sparked ideas around visual style.
These past few weeks I focused on audio again, firming up the foundation for visual work. I organized sounds into three “layers:”
Base: underlying sonal thread and atmosphere
Textural: transitions and additional structure
Foley: sound effects
This breaks down the scary “soundtrack” into smaller groups of like components, which are easier to manage.
I also broke down and marked the ~2.5 minutes of the timeline into segments, kind of like “chapters.” Again, this means I can work with a manageable chunk of the project at a time rather than the entire overwhelming thing at once.
Premiere Pro lets you color-code and filter markers as well, which makes focusing on a specific segment even easier.
I’m now in a good place to do a more solid visual pass.
A Very Good Tip
If you’ve ever tried to present multimedia in remote meetings, I’m sure you’re familiar with playback seizing up when you try to share video. To fix this issue just choose “Share screen” from Zoom, then select “Optimize for video clip.”
I’d no idea such a feature existed! Recently, when I presented to an audience in California, from New York, I was shocked to discover that it works like a charm.
By the way, I’m thinking of presenting “The Making of Tuscany” to my paid subscribers soon. Fun origin story, process videos, the early animatic, Q&A. It’d be super chill, via Zoom or YouTube. Attendees would be able to remain anonymous, cut in or out at any time, and the presentations would be archived for later viewing.
Feel free to let me know if this seems interesting to you! I welcome other ideas too. You can comment on this post or reply to me by email ❤️
We are what we eat. Here’s are some notable things I took in recently:
Her Revolution by Burial, Four Tet, and Thom Yorke. Beautiful moody 5 minute song, perfect for rainy days.
Klara and The Sun, latest novel by Ishiguro. What I’d call a brainy beach read. So good, so moving, incredibly easy to get lost in. Great for a flight. I encourage reading without knowing anything about it beforehand.
Mornings are beautiful
The thing I missed most while I was away were mornings in my studio.
I work in a little haven on a one-way street lined with historic brownstones and tall trees. It’s a railroad apartment and when the windows are open the cross-breeze flows through like a dream. The sound I hear most are of birds, and leaves in the wind.
I luxuriate in waking up to a whole day by myself, pulling espresso, steaming milk, sitting down at my dining table which functions as a second desk. I put my chin in my hand, staring out the tall windows while eating creamy yogurt with fruit and cereal.
I stretch this out for as long as I can.
Here are 20 seconds of what my mornings sound like. Enjoy.
Until next time.