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Don't Impress Me. Convince Me.


So I decided to write a blog. This isn't even a first. I had a blog—nugob.org—that started back in 2000, but haven't touched it in 5 years. It had just run out of steam, even before it's final blog post. Initially it was intended to keep family and friends up-to-date about my life. This is pre Facebook mind you. I was quite interested in web development at the time, so a blog was the perfect pet project. About two weeks into starting that blog I got accepted by a University in Austria which led me to study multimedia design and a bit of development for the next four years. And connecting the dots, that's somewhat and in a very indirect way responsible for starting this new blog 16 years on: My Mechanical Dance.

In a nutshell, in 2002 my studies led me to an exchange program with RMIT University in Melbourne. I still don't know why that worked out as they only had two exchange places for my uni which were already taken, but I just tried it anyway and could study there under the exchange programme for a full year for free. So either someone at RMIT made a mistake, or was very kind. They are certainly capable of both. Today I live in Sydney and have a New Zealand citizenship and am married to a Japanese, all direct effects of this. Life can take interesting turns, you just need to try and embrace what comes your way.

My year of studies in Australia was amazing, and departed from the more rigorous European studies to be much more open and creative. Don't get me wrong, studying in Austria was great and helped me to cover the technical basics, and the right way to do things. But Australia liberated me creatively, and challenged me to draw from my own character and feelings. I don't think I fully understood the significance of this at the time. I think I always had artistic aspirations in me, but design as I learned it in Austria can be very much task, tool and guideline driven. Which can be fun for a while, but over time may leave you with an indistinct feeling that something is missing. Or not even that, it may just be that routine and boredom sets in in areas you could've previously spent weeks and months on end in pure excitement.

So, in a way Melbourne is where I found the first glimpse of my true self. I've been thinking twice if I should actually write this, my true self, mainly because I feel it could attract all the cynics who call their home the internet. But then that's just me again trying to be over-conscious, calculating and intellectual, so exactly again this rigorous (and safe) model that I was so excited about to depart from.

Enter Mr Felix, aka Mr Pumpy's best pal, who was my animation teacher in Melbourne. When I chose the subject my rigorous trained mind thought I'll probably learn about some good animation software and techniques, but fortunately that couldn't have been further from the truth. It was almost exclusively about characters, and not the visual type, but how they behave, act, react. What motivates them, what makes them tick, how can they come to life? Basically everything that you could read about in any of the countless story and screenwriting books and resources. But rather than reading and be all theoretical about it, in best Felix fashion, we got to experience it.

Take this example, from an actual exercise/homework in said animation class.
"Title: I Am Angry. 1: Think of something you are angry at. 2: Record a 30 second tirade about the subject. 3: Bring the recording in to class. We will play them in class and laugh at each other. Have fun! You only have one life. There is no dress rehearsal. This is it."
Challenging when you expected to just learn a couple of handy key shortcuts. And it's probably good that I didn't know what to expect. My past self could've easily taken the safe path instead and choosen another subject. But it was too late already, we were at Felix' mercy. And thus the discovery began. To learn about characters, the central part of any story, you first have to learn about yourself. What drives you? What lies under your well protected surface? How do you react under pressure? Where does that come from? And once you start to understand this human condition you can create your fictional characters. Exploring anger really was a shortcut to character development. When we're angry we don't filter and the true character comes out. The same is true under pressure.

So in the end it's about creating not real but believable characters that drive a story. It may be animation or any other form of visual storytelling, but the look really is secondary to character and story. Or, as Film Crit Hulk describes it in his excellent article The Age of the Convoluted Blockbuster:
"Don't impress me. Convince me."
I could go on, and I probably will in one or another future blog posts, but for now let's fast forward to the present, or almost there. About half a year ago or so, when I was thinking about the last couple of days, weeks and months, it struck me that I didn't have any recent valuable memories. Life was a routine, and it wasn't anything you'd call bad, but for better for worse over time it had slipped into the area of boredom. To cut a long story short, I became much more active, pushed myself to seek the experience of being alive, as only good old Joseph Campbell can put it in words:
"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."
Another side effect of this was that I rebooted my creative side which had been somewhat dormant for a while. And with this I don't really care if I create something productive. As long as it is joyful and thus valuable in the broadest sense, it is all I'm trying to find.

So, a few weeks ago, and for no apparent reason, I had a sudden urge to do stop motion animation. I recorded simple stuff shot on a mobile phone at first, but soon I fell in love with the idea to get some proper armatures and set up a home stop motion studio. Stop motion animation combines so many creative disciplines: story and character development, building armatures and puppets, making props and backgrounds, potentially sculpting, moulding and casting, photography, lighting, music and sound effects, editing, etc., Also, besides the editing most is done not on a computer. Professionally I'm a game developer, and I love my job, but I was looking for a creative hobby that doesn't extend my screen time too much beyond work. So stop motion animation it is.

I'm not a professional animator, and it's not what I'm working towards, but I felt that all the things I'm learning in the process could be worthwhile to share. We're coming full circle …

So I decided to write a blog.

Stay tuned.

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