Creative lessons from District 9

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The surprise hit movie of the summer has got to be the sci-fi thriller District 9. The film is produced by Peter Jackson and conceived and directed by a 29 year old South African named Neill Blomkamp. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the story of this very talented artist who began his career as a 3-D animator. Though his family relocated to Canada when Neill was 18, he never forgot the South Africa of his youth, an area ravaged by the effects of apartheid. It is the application of allegory, brought about by Blomkamp’s South African upbringing, that gives District 9 real authenticity and relevance that connects with audiences in in a relatable way. In other words, it is born from the truth of experience.

Blomkamp attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School and worked as a 3-D animator on projects like Stargate SG-1 and Smallville. As a rising young star he directed, wrote, and produced a small short film in 2005 called Alive in Joburg. The clip below is his original film that was to become District 9.

Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a movie based on the popular video game Halo. When the deal to complete the film fell through, Jackson felt compelled to allow Blomkamp to direct a larger version of Alive in Joburg. Jackson arranged the financing to back the film for $30 million, a tiny budget compared to, say, Transformers 2 which cost in excess of $300 million. And District 9 is far and away a better film. Here’s a link to the trailer of District 9.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6PDlMggROA

Here are 5 things that we can learn from the creative process of Neill Blomkamp.

1. Create from the core of you. This single factor is what sets Blomkamp apart from so many young creators ( and old ones as well) and why his movie is so fresh and feels so original. He incorporated his own personal reflections of the environment he grew up in and translated it into a new story arch. He not only wrote what he knew and what he had experienced but found the right kind of story to share those experiences.
2.Follow your bliss. Blomkamp combined his love for science fiction, his affinity for video games, his talent and background in special effects together with his own life experience to create something real.
3. Let your influences inspire, not conspire. Blomkamp’s creative influences are apparent in District 9. The basic premise for the movie is taken from 1988’s Alien Nation, as well as other science fiction classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Independence Day. Even his love of the game Halo is a part of the making of this film. But Blomkamp puts a fresh, new original spin on the genre, and makes it his own. Though the influences are there, they are part of the creative process, not than the creative outcome. It takes creative confidence to achieve that, one that is born from a lot of experience. Sure, Blomkamp is only 29, but he started as a 3-D animator at 16. He listened to that internal voice to create from. The inspirations were only a part of the mix.
4. Give the process time. The gestation period for creative projects varies, but it is often years in the subconscious before it comes to the forefront. I’ve read stories about creators who work amazingly fast (John Hughes, for instance, in one our previous blog posts), but rest assured the seeds for stories, paintings, songs, comics, and screenwriting are planted long before they blossom. Blomkamps short film Alive in Joburg was done in 2005, but it’s story was conceived in the miind of the creator years before it came to the big screen as District 9 in August 2009.
5. Don’t let a defeat dictate your destiny. Creativity of any kind faces obstacles. The moment that Blomkamp learned that the film he was supposed to direct ,“Halo”, had been shelved, my guess is he probably didn’t consider it one of the greatest days of his life. But it was. He went on to direct District 9, a more original film, one that will better position him to achieve more as a director and creator. Every act of creativity takes courage. The road is never easy. In 1982, I had a newspaper editor tell me that I had absolutely no talent, and that I needed to get out of the cartooning business. Rather than let it defeat me, I used it as a driving force to land a cartooning job for a paper in Colorado. It kept me motivated during my 26 year career there (the paper folded in February 2009) and still pushes me to continue to create in new ways as I continue my career. So standing firm in the face of adversity, believing in your creative product and persevering until it comes alive makes the outcome so much sweeter.
Remember: Be Fearless. Create Boldly.

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Creator’s Incubator # 1

Welcome to the first ever Creator’s Incubator. Since it’s the inaugural edition, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a few behind the scenes stuff about my creative process.

Sparks:
Individual cartoons have their own set of sparks, so I thought I’d give you some of the everyday variety.
I like to surround myself with cartoon collectibles and cartoon art in the studio. It makes me feel at home.Here’s just a few samples from my home studio.

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Five things that help me Create:
1. Reading. Newspapers, magazines, websites, billboards, t-shirts, movie posters, anything visual It’s the most important part of creating sports cartoons. After I read I let it soak in for a while.
2. Silence is golden for thinking up ideas. I can listen to music or CNN after I pencil the cartoon and I’m ready to ink, but not before.
3. Word play. I write down topics and free associate a visual metaphor for what it is I want to say in the cartoon. In my case it’s usually an opinion I have about a topic I’m drawing on.
4. Ink don’t think. The worst thing to do is force an idea. Ideas form when you’re most relaxed, even if you are under deadline. If I get really stuck I’ll put the subject I’m drawing about in the most outrageous situation I can imagine. Case in point. This Phelps cartoon.
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5. Bang my head up against the wall and hope that something besides hair comes out.

Creativational Quote of the day: An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
Edwin Land

Created on this date: 1963 – Beatles record “She Loves You” & “I’ll Get You”

The Rhino Recommends: This fantastic book about the founding of Pixar and the innovation and creativity it took to pull it all together.
pixarpic

There you have it. I hope you’ll join us here and at DrewLitton.com for the next edition of the Creator’s Incubator