Ren and Stimpy: John Kricfalusi and the art of Creativity

Admittedly I was a late comer to the genius of John Kricfalusi and Ren and Stimpy. My renewed interest in animation sparked a sort of reeducation on the art and Kricfalusi’s name kept popping up. It only took about 15 seconds into the intro of the show on DVD to realize I’d been missing something very special. I was always a huge fan of animator Tex Avery and discovering John K’s Ren and Stimpy was like seeing Tex Avery all over again.

While attending last summers Comic-con I sat in on a panel that John K was giving. You can see the same thing I did here on YouTube.

I had actually been exposed to Kricfalusi earlier than the Ren and Stimpy stuff. His involvement in the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse back in the 80’s was a springboard for him. I always loved the look and feel of those cartoons. John K’s infulence are all over them. Thankfully they are now available on DVD as well.

What I love most about Kricfalusi is his passionate, undying dedication to preserving the art of animation for future generations. Whatever your opinion of Family Guy or the Simpsons is, the quality of the animation involved is even less appealing than the Hanna Barbara cartoons of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s limited in its scope as well as it’s character design. An entire generation of cartoonists and animators are being influenced by an inferior form of animation. That’s why John K and Ren and Stimpy are so important. Kricfalusi’s blog is a must read for the creative process of character design and the process of squash and stretch animation. For John K it’s all about quality.

These days we are adjusting to a new world. Changes in the way media is consumed is evolving literally by the day. The new Apple iPad is just one example of how quickly the game changes. As creatives we have to continue to find ways to bridge the old disciplines of our art into new packaging and new ways to be seen and heard. It’s just one of many reasons why I consider a guy like Kricfalusi so valuable. He was the first guy to use Flash animation to produce cartoons on the internet.

Five things we can learn from John Kricfalusi
1. Innovation is the key to survival in this current changing job climate. We have to find new ways to keep ourselves relevant. That might mean learning WordPress and starting a blog. Or learning a new discipline like Flash animation or Dreamweaver. Staying on top of the technology is not only interesting but necessary for job survival.
2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Changing Technology doesn’t mean the old ways don’t work. They just need to find the vehicle in technology to keep them relevant.
3. We must all become entrepreneurs. Gone are the days when we worked for somebody else until we retire. For John K this meant starting his wildly popular blog and doing cartoons for the internet. He forged new trails and continues to do so.
4. Stay true to your vision. In Kricfalsui’s case this has actually meant getting fired from his own show. He doesn’t like compromise. No matter the cost.
5. Pay it Forward. Kricfalusi could have thrown in the towel after he was fired from Ren and Stimpy after the first season. Instead he keeps on experimenting on new ways to produce content and help others by passing down his knowledge of animation and cartooning to a new generation on his blog. It’s a very cool thing.
Click on Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy to see what I mean!

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.

Jeff Smith and Bone: Lessons of creativity

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During my recent trip to the San Diego Comic-Con I sat in on a panel that featured a wide variety of people who have created Graphic Novels for children. Jeff Smith, the creator of the amazing graphic series Bone, was among them.

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An example of Pogo by Walt Kelly

I’ve been a huge fan of Bone for years, attracted initially by its art style, reminiscent of legendary Pogo cartoonist, Walt Kelly. Kelly was the cartoonist’s cartoonist, an old school guy who rendered each panel of his strip in glorious detail and who made tremendous use of black and white contrast to make his strip pop off the page. Clearly, Jeff Smith felt the same way I did about Walt Kelly. But Bone quickly became more than artwork to me. His sense of graphic storytelling is powerful and engaging, two qualities I would like to strive for as I set out to create my own Webcomic.

Here are just a few creative tips that impacted me while recently watching the documentary about Jeff smith called The Cartoonist.

1. Take a risk. Smith left his day job as a co-founder of an animation studio and gave himself a year to try and make Bone successful. Bored by the constant grind of commercial work, Jeff and his wife decided together to take a leap of faith. Jeff Smith faced the fear and took the chance.
2. Have a Plan. Smith put together an actual business plan, with set goals and a definitive sense of making his dream viable creatively and financially.
3. Do the research. Jeff immersed himself in learning to tell a story. He did this by reading Huck Finn, Moby Dick and books by J.R.R. Tolkien. His intent was not to emulate but rather to learn the art of narrative storytelling. I might add J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis
to that list if I were doing the research today. Learn from the Masters.
4. Find your own voice. For Smith it was in his three protagonist characters, each reflecting a different part of his personality. Be authentic, not opportunistic. Don’t try to create something because you think it might sell. Create something because you love it, and quite frankly, don’t care if anybody else does. Authenticity like that resonates with people.
5. Do the work and Don’t give up. In the case of creating Bone that meant working often seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day. Nothing great is birthed easily. Think of the creation process as labor pains.

For more on the fascinating world of Jeff Smith and Bone visit his great website at http://www.boneville.com/

No Fear

Dreams cannot reside in the house of fear.

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Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high.
There’s a land that I heard of Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops, Away above the chimney tops.
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow,
Why then – oh, why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh, why can’t I?

I just returned from the San Diego Comic-Con, a place where some dreams come true, while others are shattered. Talent is everywhere. Creativity abounds. It is an electric environment for those in the comic industry as well as the fans it attracts.
You may find yourself at a place in life where those dreams you once held have been stored in the attic somewhere within the recesses of your soul. Occasionally, maybe after seeing a great movie, reading a great book or viewing a stunning piece of art, that dream is allowed to briefly come to the surface, like some reclusive groundhog in hibernation, only to see it’s shadow of fear and return to it’s protective burrow for six more months of “I can’t do that”.
Why not? Why can’t you do it? Someone whose work you have just seen in that book or movie or comic book that stirred those dormant dreams inside of you did it. They chose to embrace the fear and do it anyway. They chose to put in the long hours, the grueling deadlines, to face the insurmountable odds to reach their potential and the dreams that were most likely planted in them as a child. Probably like the ones inside of you. What’s holding you back? The mortgage? The ridicule of colleagues, friends, sometimes even spouses? You cannot silence that voice inside of you forever. The one that tells you “Do it” “Do it Now”. The one that keeps telling you to go for the glory of creating that part of you that no one else on earth can possibly create. Feel the Fear. Stare it down and beat it like some overgrown Goliath in front of you. And get on with it. Fly. Fly now before it’s too late.

“But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”
-Bruce Cockburn-