Finding your audience begins with knowing yourself. The longer journey, though, is hearing the genuine voices of those that are finding you and finding your work.
Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired the saying,
“build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”
Perfect. So, after you have pushed through the work, solved the problems, and finalized all the steps – your creation is complete! Open the gates, so the masses can be enriched and enlightened.
Um . . . where are the masses? Where is that well-beaten path?
That old saying left out some important info, like, how did all those path beaters find out about the better mousetrap? And, how much feedback did the inventor need to finally land on the ‘better’ idea?
Old sayings aside, there are currently an abundance of opportunities to not only get your work in front of people, but also to have direct access to that audience. And, a potential key feedback point in your work is the direct response from the people consuming it.
So, who is responding to your content? And, what is their response? What usually happens in the beginning, as we are first putting our content out in an accessible place, is that we don’t get any response. Basically, no one is consuming the content.
No one is watching. No one is reading. And then, you have the one. That first one. The first reader, or watcher. But, no comment, no response, just the information that, yes, they were here. Your content was read, it was watched. But, by whom? And what did they think? Did they love it, or hate it? Or worse: did they even care at all? And possibly, you may have that cavalier attitude of, “It doesn’t matter to me if anyone watches it or reads it. That is not the reason I am creating, anyway.”
Ok, yes, as creators, we need to be vigilant around our original inspiration. We certainly need to be true to ourselves in the process of stewarding it from idea to final format. However, it’s what happens to our creation after it is released that holds the most potential for impact. I believe that we have the additional responsibility to listen for the responses from those who have found our work. Here are four questions we can ask which may help us increase our impact as creators:
- Who is my art speaking to?
Find out how old they are. What do they do? What shows do they watch, or what do they like to read? Are they active? Where do they live?
- What do I hear them saying about my art?
Listen to the specific words they use to describe it. Do they think something is missing, or something is too much? Do they look up to your work, or admire it as the thoughts of a peer?
- How do I feel about their response?
Does the feedback make you happy? Sad? Angry? Are they telling you something that you already thought of, or is it a new revelation of your work?
- Am I able to see a way that their feedback can help me make better art?
I am not talking about re-doing the work you have already created, but listening to the input and testing it as part of your process the next time around.
Think of your most important project. Have you finished it? Maybe you are 50% complete or 25%? Or, have you started production at all? If you are not actively scheduling and completing tasks that have been strategically planned, you will never finish that important project. It may even become your unfinished masterpiece.
I Recently purchased the documentary, Persistence of Vision, on DVD from Kevin Schreck Productions. This aptly titled doc is about Richard Williams and his pursuit to create the greatest animated film of all time. Seriously, I first read about the film Williams was producing way back in 1979 from a short blurb in a Kodak publication titled, The World of Animation. On page 132 it says, “He (Williams) has been working on this special project for several years and hopes to complete it in the near future.” And by 1979 he had been working on it for 15 years. He worked on it an additional 16 years after that. Boom! An official world record holder for longest production.
Two key lines from the documentary, Persistence of Vision, that made me stop the DVD and listen again. The first from Williams,
“In the old days you would work at a craft until you became a master, then you would create your masterpiece that showed your skill. I’ve mastered this thing called animation, and I’m creating my masterpiece. If I can ever finish the thing.”
And the second quote is by the writer of the original script,
“Williams had avoided storyboards. Animators found out that they had completed more than enough footage for an 85 minute feature, but they had yet to finish certain sequences involving the central story.”
Williams’ film was his masterpiece, and Williams had indeed mastered his craft. Other seasoned masters were working closely with him, and training teams to maintain animation excellence. The animation is mesmerizing. Sadly, to modern eyes, many beautiful wonders of the process of this film go unseen. An example: the mechanical sequences of the doomsday machine created in the old style – meticulously crafted. It’s so absolutely perfect that uninitiated viewers tend to think it is computer generated. The master’s hand is now forgotten. He did so many things RIGHT on this film. Not just right, but masterfully. He was aware of his own skill level, and he led a team by strict quality standards. He even increased his abilities by gathering old masters around him. Undeniably, the work he completed is his masterpiece.
So, what about the story? Williams work on the film began in the form of illustrations he created for a series of short fable type stories in book form. He partnered with the owner of the stories, because Williams wanted to use these stories as the foundation of a film. Due to the questionable accounting practices of his partner, they went their separate ways. This meant that Williams lost the stories and only retained rights to one, maybe two of the characters. He decided to continue with the project that was originally just disjointed fables, and now had been scalped down even further. According to the earlier quote, he had a script written, but did not follow it “faithfully”, and he avoided storyboards.
Which is more important? The story or the masterpiece? The masterpiece is more important to the master – and it’s a valid endeavor. The story, is more important to the audience. But, NEITHER is MOST important. It is MOST important to complete the project.
You’ve heard it before: Good animation cannot save a bad story, but a good story can save bad animation. Yes, it’s true, but it does not apply to our unfinished projects. Here are some suggestions to help you move forward as a producer of completed animated stories. These alone will not make you a master animator – that is a life-long journey which requires additional input from other masters, and many hours of devotion. They WILL help you become an accomplished content producer, and possibly a successful one.
- Dream up a really good, really short story.
- Create a plan (script, storyboard) and commit to the plan.
- Schedule time to focus on the work of animating that story.
- Finish it (if this part isn’t happening, check to make sure you are sticking to your plan and keeping your scheduled work time).
- Show it to people.
- Listen to those people.
- Use the feedback to dream up an even better story.
- Repeat the process.