Standing Out From The Crowd (or How to Be Yourself and Still Get a Job in Animation)

written by Robert Kirkpatrick, President. Lava Studio

Employer: “I meet kids like you every day.  I need you to tell me what makes you different from everyone else.”

Prospective (male) Employee: “Um…I wear women’s underwear.”

Employer: “you’re hired!”

When I started my career in New York, I had a friend who was a talented filmmaker who had won a student Academy Award, and expected to jump right into a great film career right out of college.  He went from interview to interview and was going nowhere.  Then, in the interview quoted above, he made the employer laugh. More importantly, he set himself apart, and got his career started.

You don’t necessarily have to cross-dress, but you do need to stand out from the crowd.

Now – What about you? Let’s assume you are going to art school because there’s something special about you as an artist. So, why does it feel like you’re training to work on an assembly line? Is this an art school or a trade school?

Hopefully both.

If you’re an artist who is feeling pressure to be more specialized than you want to be, I encourage you to resist that pressure. Learn the skills, but don’t throw out your individuality. The technical talents you have today are not be the same ones you’ll need a few years from now. It’s your unique perspective that will move you upward in your career. I’m amazed by Animation majors who approach graduation without ever having done any actual animation. “No, I’m a modeler, or a rigger, or a fur specialist, or whatever.”  As a business owner looking for innovative creative people, I get very discouraged when I see a demo reel that consists entirely of static models.  I swear I’ve seen the same reel from half the students looking for work.  If your demo features a static character with horns, a huge automatic weapon, and enormous breasts, you may be a great and talented artist, but you are not original.  What could you do differently?

I know you might have to have a marketable specialty to get the job that will kick start your career, and I’m not putting it down – but if you are a creative person who wants to do amazing things over a long career, you will have to develop a variety of skills, and you will have to make your own mark on the work you do.

I have a pretty successful career in the world of computer animation – a profession that didn’t exist when I was in college. I did this by never becoming too specialized, and by adapting to new technology, and by always trying to take advantage of my own creative perspective.

OK – I’m about to sound very old here, but you’ll all be my age much sooner than you think.  And you want to be sure that when you ARE, you’re still relevant, and doing what you love, and getting paid to do it.

I was a kid who studied film and painting and at Pratt, and who desperately needed to get a job.  Well, the one thing that the world seemed to need in the early 80’s was a lot of titles that streaked through space and said (whoosh!) SEARS! Or (whoosh!) CHEVY, or (Whoosh) WHATEVER.  So here I was, an artist who knew how to use a film camera, (and yes those effects really did require a camera.) So I got a job as a graphic animator. And my career grew as animation technology developed, and I managed to get jobs at the companies that had the latest tools, and I developed knowledge and skills that not many people had, because not many companies could afford the equipment, which cost millions of dollars.

For you, it will be harder than it was for me. Everything is much more democratic now, and everyone can afford amazing tools.

The nature of technology is changing all the time, and your audience is getting more demanding every day. You have to be prepared to learn and innovate to keep ahead of everyone’s expectations.

So, what makes you special?

I mean, besides the underwear.


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Inspiration or Rip-Off?

Where is the line?

Written by David Woodward, Creative Director, Lava Studio

I’m a Norah Jones fan and I recently came across the cover art for her new album “Little Broken Hearts.” I thought it was very cool and a nice change of image for her.

On her website I was reading about the inspiration for the cover.

Jones drew the inspiration for the album cover from the vintage movie posters that adorn Burton’s Los Angeles studio. “Brian has this great collection of Russ Meyer posters in his studio,” explains Jones, “and this particular one, called Mudhoney, was right over the couch where I sat every day. I always was looking at it and thinking ‘that’s so cool I want to look like her!’ I remember staring at the poster the whole time we made the record. It’s a great visual.”

I was surprised when I found the original Mudhoney poster; I realized the Jones cover was a direct copy. This isn’t some kind of homage or tribute to Russ Meyer films; it’s just a copy of the image for her promotion.

Is this inspiration or stealing?

Seeing this Norah Jones cover really got me thinking about other artwork.   As a big fan of pop art, I always liked Roy Lichtenstein, but then I discovered what a direct copy his work was. It seems to me that the original comic book artists were being completely ripped off…and Lichtenstein was getting rich and famous from their work.  Did he share the profits with them? Does enlarging it making it original art?

Is this inspiration or stealing? (This is in the MoMA collection)

Original Artist: Tony Abruzzo

Pop art is based on using popular imagery from culture and showing it to us in some sort of new way… either it’s ironic, symbolic, satirical, whimsical, profound, etc.

To me, Andy Warhol seemed to get this. What do you think?

Is this inspiration or stealing?

I use pop images.

As an artist I’m always being inspired by the things I see that spark other ideas.

I used the Coppertone logo for a painting I did years ago to symbolize my thoughts on overzealous censorship. Am I guilty?

Is this inspiration or stealing?

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” -Pablo Picasso (He said this even though I didn’t find any direct copies in his work.)

Is this inspiration or stealing? In this digital age this line has become more blurred…just Google for an image you need, just use a music sample, what do you have to do to make it original? Make it yours?

I’m very interested in others’ feedback. I would love for you to share your comments here.


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Original Design in a Plug-in World

Robert Kirkpatrick, President, Lava Studio

Once upon a time, broadcast design was an elite pursuit. A handful of well-placed designers had access to the budgets and tools that would enable them to be competitive. Within this circle a few stood out as truly inspired and innovative.

Well, times have changed. It’s a wonderful world where we all have access to remarkable media. Cool tools are all around, and everybody, it seems, is a designer. Creating and customizing images is a daily experience for almost everyone. As professional designers, we have access to plug-ins and toolsets that enable us to create eye-popping images almost effortlessly. Yet, within this vastly expanded world, it still takes true inspiration and originality to set yourself, your brand, or your product apart.

In the plug-in culture, we have to be careful not to confuse cleverness with creativity. Otherwise we allow the software developers to dictate style. Soon every graphic has the same splattered ink or growing plants and conformity rules.

To be truly innovative, designers have to look for inspiration away from the desktop and then use all the tools at hand to bring their visions to life.

Expectations are high. The market for inspired design is vast. Access to material is easy. I don’t think it matters if your work is to be consumed in widescreen HD or on a mobile phone. The fundamentals remain. Do your homework, understand your audience, search for the best solution your own aesthetic has to offer and execute it with as much enthusiasm and as few obstructions as possible.


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Cool Design

Yeah, we know life isn’t just about animation and production. That’s why we like to feature artists in other areas that are doing amazing things.

Naoto Fukasawa is best known for his sleek and innovative industrial design for electronics and furniture, but we think we’ve found his coolest design of all.

These unique juice boxes have the look and feel of real fruit. 

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Top Seven Ingredients for Creative Success

Written by Robert Kirkpatrick. President, Lava Studio.

Originally published in DNA Magazine.

So… you have amazing talent and a huge budget.  What else do you need to get incredible images to the screen? Here are some ingredients to keep in mind:

1. Inspiration

Inspiration is the fuel of the creative person. Seek it everywhere. Use your camera. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Brainstorm. Drink good coffee. Try to be influenced by everything.

2. Understanding

Get to know your audience, your product, and your specific goals clearly. Research. Make notes. Refer to your notes so you don’t lose sight of the big picture. Once you are focused, you can relax and trust your instincts.

3. Enthusiasm

Have fun and pour yourself into your work. Keep yourself interested. Pursue the kind of work you enjoy, and then don’t forget to enjoy it. Look for variety. Don’t become more specialized than you want to be.

4. Perspective

Stay cool. Trust yourself. Ignore the panic around you. Don’t take it too seriously. People will seek the one who hasn’t lost his mind. Do an ego check. Remember why you’re doing this. Make the current project- the bird in the hand- your first priority.

5. Flexibility

Be open to new ideas, and don’t be limited by specific instructions. Explore the limits of each project. Go too far (you can always come back). Adapt. Expand. Contract. Resist pressure to conform. Bring your clients gently along as you make their project as good as it can be.

6. Experience

There are no shortcuts here. Pay attention. Ask questions. Make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Make every experience an asset for the future. Never stop learning.

7. Relationships

People. People who need people… well, you know how it goes. Build solid enjoyable relationships with clients, collaborators, and employees that you respect.

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Welcome to the Lava Blog

So, here goes. The first Lava Blog post is about….the Lava Blog! We’ve created this blog to generate discussion, and to bring relevant topics to our favorite kind of people in the creative community of TV, advertising, and film. These topics will be informative (How do you shoot a proper green screen anyway?), inspiring (Can you believe the cool work that this artist is doing?), and relevant (What are the problems we face as creative people trying to make a living while doing great work?). We’ll feature our favorite guest bloggers, and we invite you to comment and contribute.  We’ll make every effort to explore beneath the surface of our favorite topics: The Marriage of Production and Postproduction, The World of Animation and VFX, Art, Photography and Film, Environmental, Interactive, and Experiential Design, Life in Miami, Advertising, Global Collaboration, and Broadcast Design. We will avoid discussion of recipes, pets, gossip and politics, not because we don’t love these topics, but because our expertise is in other areas. We will review movies, interview trailblazing artists, and share opinions about our industry, clients, and business. If we speak at an event, we’ll share the content here. If we write an article, we’ll post it here. If we have an ax to grind, or a bone to pick, the picking and grinding will be done on this blog. So, loyal reader, and I hope we do have at least one loyal reader, check in often, and stay tuned.

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