Discover more from The Line Between
How we can complement routine. A peek at my animated short, halfway through! Plus, perfect fried rice, and bubbles, to battle burnout.
It was legendary that every Tamil home on Jaffna peninsula had three trees in the garden. A mango, a murunga, and the pomegranate. Murunga leaves were cooked in crab curries to neutralize poisons, pomegranate leaves were soaked in water for the care of eyes and the fruit eaten to aid digestion. The mango was for pleasure.
—Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost
The past two weeks, I’ve had an excuse to put every tool I have for battling burnout to use, and I thought about the above passage a lot.
The idea of setting in place, and investing in, a practice of pleasure—for a guarantee of contrast and as a sort of insurance against everyday dullness—has stayed with me.
Last time, I shared my schedule for the work remaining on my animated short: 10 seconds every week (alternating between lines and color) until Mother’s Day.
So far I’m on schedule—barely. My days have been mercilessly unvarying and isolated. It’s unclear if I can keep this up, but I’ve been building in bolsters, braces, and bearings to try my darndest. Here’s my basic M-F:
Make bed. Ablutions.
Espresso, yogurt with fruit.
Work 4 hours.
Salad + hardboiled egg.
Work 2 hours.
Open all windows, jump rope + lift weights.
Cook, eat dinner, watch something. Wash dishes, tidy up. Shower.
Co-work with partner via FaceTime. 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on how much more I got in me.
Read a little. Wordle. Sleep.
As I alluded to earlier, the ostensibly contrary thing about hard work is that, in addition to steady routine, there’s got to be contrast in order for it to be sustainable. For each bitter, some sweet; for every bellow, a breath. There has to be pleasure in there somewhere—a nourishing and luxurious nugget, however small, to plump back up what’s been pummeled and wrung out. We have weekends, vacations, holidays, sure, but sometimes we need reprieve more often.
I do three things to feed low fire and counter the grind of necessary routine:
Sometimes I don’t wanna do the same thing again for the nth time…but do want the benefit of doing it. So I switch in an equivalent. If I don’t feel like jumping rope I’ll take a brisk walk while listening to a fun podcast, and double that up with picking up groceries. The activity ends up feeling like a treat instead of a chore, and saves time in one way if taking up more in another. It balances out.
I bought a bottle of champagne and have been having a little with dinner every night. I don’t drink much, and the 750ml bottle will last me at least 2 weeks with a high-quality stopper. It gives me something to look forward to at the end of a long day, and adds a bit of sure sparkle to what could otherwise feel like a flat transition to more of the same.
I usually can’t listen to podcasts or music while I work, even if I’m doing what might seem brainless or repetitive, because doing so has sometimes led to expensive mistakes in the past. But this week I had the Winter Olympics on now and again in the background, and would pause to gawk at the snowboarders or Nathan Chen’s gold-medal winning performance. You gotta live a little.
No matter how much one loves the work, there can be something remarkably defeating about going from 24 hours to another 24 hours of sameness. This is why markers— breaks in the seemingly interminable—are important when I’m in the weeds, the long forest, whatever. They’re reminders of progress and passage, small notches to indicate “I was here. (And I enjoyed it.)”
Support routines with pleasure! We need the contrast. We need the mangos.
Sequence 05 of Chamoe, lined and colored
Sequence 06 of Chamoe, lined
Fueling up for hard work: the secret to perfect fried rice
Halfway through Chamoe 🔥
Five out of ten sequences of my animated short Chamoe (CHA-meh) are now fully in color! The sixth is lined, the rest of the animatic has been cleaned up, and each upcoming sequence has a style primer to go with it 💪
I usually don’t share a preview of more than one sequence at a time, but to celebrate this milestone members will get a sneak peek at how Chamoe is looking so far, from the very beginning to the end of sequence 06, with preliminary subtitles and sound. This will likely be the last time I share an extended preview. Check it out in the supplemental to this issue:
Member support helps keep The Line Between going, and makes it possible for me to work on an animated short every year.
TLB is also my way of documenting, and visibly prioritizing, process over ends. However indirectly, I aspire to support you in your own day to day through what I share. I hope these 10-minute chapters read like fun and interesting letters from a friend, perfect for quiet moments with a cup of coffee or tea.
Bonus content for members almost every issue + access to more benefits as they develop ❤️
To jog your memory: my mother craved out-of-season melon (chamoe) when she was pregnant with me back in Korea. Her grandmother left on a mysterious journey and returned with 3 melons in her pocket. (I call them boules here in my notes because I didn’t want to say “balls” over and over again.)
Sequence 05, “Return,” shows these magic boules surfacing from the depths to float in grandma’s Mary-Poppins-esque pocket before they become chamoe in my mother’s hands.
I thought the boules would be easy to animate but they were surprisingly tricky to time and coordinate. I wanted them to have a floaty and harmonious feel while moving distinctly. Smoothing out the jitters and getting them to play nice took a few iterations.
Boundaries finally close the boules in as we zoom out and see that they’ve been in grandma’s pocket all this time:
Again, I can’t extol the virtues of style primers enough. They’re incredibly helpful for maintaining consistency as I paint hundreds of frames hour after hour. I refer back to them often to keep me grounded.
A few last straggling thoughts:
I like to make progress bit by bit across the board, rather than finishing out one isolated piece at a time. This helps me catch issues before I inadvertently propagate them, makes it easier for me to make global changes gradually, and I know 100% that everything up to a certain point is working expectedly—I don’t have to wait until the entire film is done for confirmations.
Here’s a look at my Photoshop workspace, optimized for minimal arm travel during repetitive movement, and mitigation of RSI:
Here’s how Seq05, “Return,” turned out:
I also finished lines for Seq06, “Gift,”
where my mother welcomes her grandmother back from a mysterious journey. This sequence involves walk cycles, which are incredibly annoying to animate. In addition, the camera angle is oblique (above and behind the grandmother’s right side), so that needed to be accommodated.
Thankfully, I was able to get through the task relatively quickly this time. I started with a loose sketch of keys (with a slight limp) straight on from the side, then worked the cycle into the correct angle.
Here’s a process video of me drawing the grandmother as she takes out a chamoe from her pocket (45s).
There’s much more to Seq06, but I’m running long so I’ll peace out here.
As hard as it’s been, I’m excited that I’ve been able to keep up with this schedule 🤞 And I know I keep marveling, but I don’t think I could have done this a year ago.
What’s the saying? 10K hours to close the gap between skill and vision? 10K hours at 8 a day is 1250 days. Divided by 261 week days a year, that’s about 4.8 years.
I’m into year 2 of hand-painting animation full time—and visible progress is great fuel.
Take in good things, make good things
I’ve not been consuming much other than food lately. But food is great! Food is delicious. Especially fried rice.
When I’m with my partner away from the studio, we have dinner together. This past weekend we made kimchi fried rice with shrimp while listening to jazz. It goes very well with a glass of bubbles and some pepper sauce 🌶🌶🌶🌶🌶.
There’s really not much to fried rice other than sizzling up chopped veggies with rice and protein + throwing in some peas. The key to success though is using COOLED short-grain/sushi rice. (Otherwise the frying gets soggy.) Cook the egg and other proteins (we used shrimp) separately and add in later. Butter is the fat of choice. A little bit of garlic and oyster sauce go a long way. Be liberal with the soy sauce and black pepper, and finish with toasted sesame oil. Don’t be afraid to let the bottom brown.
Read on in the member-only supplemental to see Chamoe from the beginning to the latest, with preliminary sound and subtitles. There, I also share where I go for happy hour when I want to feel fancy for 30 minutes—but don’t want to destroy the wallet.
I hope you, too, find ways to complement routine with sparkle and contrast as you work.
Until next time.