Monthly Archives: August 2011

Let me tell you a Fluffy Gardens story about Tooty the Elephant. One day, Tooty the rather sporty elephant found himself some place he had never been before ‘ at the bottom of a cliff. What was above the cliff, he had no idea.

But he wished, and he imagined that it would be a new place to exercise ‘ a huge exercise park for everyone to enjoy!

He imagined running, jumping, lifting, throwing. Imagination can be wonderful. Especially for children, but also for the grown-ups among us. We can dream amazing things. That’s fantastic, isn’t it? That’s a good thing.

But Tooty wasn’t content to just stand at the bottom of the cliff. He wanted to see for himself. He took a ladder and made his way up the cliff and found…

Nothing.

Well, nothing interesting. Just grass. Well, it was fun to dream, wasn’t it? Took his mind off his troubles for a while.

Tooty’s story didn’t end there.

No. Tooty had dreamed a dream and that was wonderful. But he wasn’t the type to lose himself in a dream. What good is a dream on its own? So Tooty did the only thing he felt he could ‘ he got some help and worked very hard, doing all he could to turn his dream into a reality. And, soon, it was reality. And it was fantastic.

Imagination is wonderful. Children already have great imaginations. They don’t need help with that. Adults? I don’t know. I still meet plenty of adults with great imaginations. And certainly we have no trouble losing ourselves in imagined worlds of films and games. We’re still pretty good at imagination. It’s what comes next that seems more difficult.

There’s nothing I can do”

That will never work”

That’s just the way things are”

None of these statements are true. Oh, if you work at it you can make them true. And some people might want them to be true. Responsibility takes effort, it’s not easy. There is a comfort in having low expectations. Still, on their own, those statements are false. And, in spite of the world’s ills, the ‘economy’ and fear of what will happen if we don’t continue with the failing status quo, there are people proving them false every single day.

So, whatever your exercise park is, that thing you dream of doing that you think could make things better for not just you, but everyone, please don’t just let it be a dream. Please make it real. Please do it for me. Because if you don’t, the children who see that Tooty episode will grow up thinking I was a dirty rotten liar and I really don’t want that.

Communication

I was in Germany for the weekend, in a lovely town called Elmshorn. I don’t know much German but I have a few words and can string some sentences together. Okay, so they’re often totally wrong and messy and I have to improvise as I go (wenn Ich habe keine Wurt, Ich muss ein Substitutwurt gemakeupen) but I can sometimes make myself understood.

Language is communication. You can butcher it and it’s unpleasant but the truth is, if you made yourself understood, it’s job done. Everything else is a bonus – polish. A desired bonus and one that can bring rewards but a bonus nonetheless.

The same is true for television and film.

Not just big picture stuff (do people actually know what’s going on?) but down to the little details (will they get that the click on the track is supposed to be the foot tap of the guy on the far right?). If you made yourself understood, job done. Now go work on the bonuses that are grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, spelling and noun genders.

But all those things while still failing to make yourself understood? A waste of time.

*Big note to self here (as most things on this site are) – creating a ‘mystery’ or wanting to make something challenging does not excuse you from this. You still need to have the audience understand it is a mystery or challenge and carefully structure the communication.*

The hard part of communication, however, is finding something worth saying.

Truckers

I read Terry Pratchett’s excellent book, Truckers, about a bunch of adventuring gnomes, back probably in 1989. There was a line about leadership that has stayed with me all these years -

It’s not being wrong or right that counts. It’s being certain.

Having directed a decent chunk of children’s television, I can really appreciate just how true it is.

There is always a temptation to torture over decisions. Go back. And forth. Back. And forth. Making lists of pros and cons, revising that list. Making a new list. Many seem determined to put off a decision. Let’s come back to this one fresh later. On other occasions, people give the decisions away. That’s a call the broadcaster/distributor/whoever will have to make. Often going up the chain, which is odd because it usually means handing the decision to someone with less time to consider it, with probably less knowledge of how the choices even arose and who have far more important things to worry about.

So why torture over a decision? Why delay it? Hand it off? Usually it’s simple ‘ the fear of choosing incorrectly. Like choosing the wrong grail at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Everlasting life or a hideous, hideous death.

But here’s the thing – the reality is that most small decisions made every day on a project actually will have very little effect on the finished product. They’re just details. On BIG decisions, if you know what you’re doing at all, you’ve usually you’ve thought about it enough that you’ve already got it down to several great options for which there really is no definitive right option. They could all be right.

Different, but right in their own way.

No hideous, hideous death after all.

When it comes down to it, you’ve just got to call it. Just choose. Definitively – be certain, so you can move on. There are too many choices in a day to spend lots of time on one that will never result in a hideous, hideous death. If you’ve got it down to a few choices and it’s that difficult to choose between them, chances are they’re all good. Just call it. It is more dangerous to let decisions happen around you, or to wait until it’s too late, or to second-guess your project into oblivion.

Seems to me that the people doing well usually get there not by always making the right decisions. But by just having the courage to actually make the decisions at all.

As those wise gnomes realised – It’s not being wrong or right that counts. It’s being certain.

Apes

There was a time when humans ruled the Earth. Then, after a plague that killed off cats and dogs, people began to keep apes as pets. But apes could do so much more than cats or dogs and, before long, they were being used as slaves.

Until, eventually, one ape said ‘No’.

Everything changed. Humans fell and apes ruled the Earth. Sort of. I think the history was revised a little in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it’s probably way off in that new one. That’s not important.

What is important is what we can learn from this inevitable sequence of events – if you learn to say ‘no’, you can rule the Earth. Or at least do well in your job or life.

Let me tell you another story.

Many years ago, I was directing an ad. As ads go, it was a pretty good one and definitely for some of the best people I encountered in adworld. A cartoon family running around a cartoon house, made in state-of-the-art (ish) CG. The agency producer asked me for floor plans to show the client.

I said no.

No, the client really needs to see the layout of the house.

Yeah, you’re not getting that.

Why? Why did I refuse? Was I just being a total ass? No. Really, I wasn’t. Honestly. Oh, now you think I’m an ass, don’t you? Well the thing is, the floor plan would have been meaningless. It was a cartoon – we’d be cheating every shot to suit the needs of the ad. We weren’t ever going to be locked to a floor plan. Doing a floor plan would have been pointless and counter-productive.

But the client was spending a quarter of a million on this ad. Shouldn’t I just have done it to keep them happy?

No.

Every minute, every hour, that me or a member of my team does something that doesn’t improve the quality of the actual work is an hour or minute in which the work gets worse. That time is far better spent doing something that actually matters. Work that directly contributes to the final product, or on the requests that will matter. Time is limited. It’s not something we can afford to throw away. Not something we can waste, no matter who we are indulging.

I said no.

They didn’t get their floor plans, the ad turned out great, the client was really happy and I ended up marrying the agency producer. Happy ending.

From there, I made a quality preschool show with just five animators (four at times), tight deadlines and a mere fraction of the resources of most other shows. By streamlining. Cutting out every process that isn’t 100% necessary. By saying no. Oh, I’ve indulged a few people more than I should have (I shudder at the time wasted on conversations about the Fluffy Gardens houses) but, hey, we live and learn and now, with PLANET COSMO, I’m finding I can make a far better show with those same resources.

But only by saying no to the likes of floor plans.

We all do things our own way of course and I know my animation systems are very different to those elsewhere. They work great for me but I suspect they might well only work for me. Nevertheless, if you add up the time you spend each week on work that doesn’t directly contribute to the final product, whether its indulging requests, working to ‘accepted’ systems or the time you spend talking about work rather than doing it, those time-killing meetings and conference calls, you might find yourself horrified at the wasted hours.

You might find that there is a huge amount of your week you can reclaim, without losing a thing, by saying no. ‘No’ could mean you have more time to make your work better, time to get home to the kids, time to sleep.

Or, if those apes are anything to go by, you might even overthrow your human overlords and take over the Earth. And who doesn’t dream of that, eh?

Two weeks ago today, my father died. Last week, I wondered if it would be appropriate to post about that. But then I figured to post about anything else would be sort of dishonest. But I couldn’t find any words. Well, not the right ones anyway.

Another week and a few attempts later, it seems that still hasn’t changed. But I have been thinking a lot about fatherhood. Well, that’s something I think of a lot anyway, I guess. I have two amazing little girls and I want them to have the best dad in the world. Which is why I’m shipping them off to Dr.Phil.

No, no, that’s a joke. You knew that, right?

But I want to be a good dad and I work at it. I can totally feel the love from my girls. Sure, they drive me bananas sometimes and what happened to that thing about a man’s home being his castle? And, oh I know, some day I’ll be an awful embarrassment to them and they may hate me for a time in their teenage years. But I’ll be there for them as long as I’m around. I’ll be their strength until they are ready to be their own strength. And they will be strong. In the meantime, it will be about the little moments, like making that excellent crocodile playset pictured above with Daisy (take that, exploited Chinese factory workers).

I’m reminded of just how big the responsibility of being a parent is. Not just being a parent but in being anyone who can reach children. Never a responsibility to be taken lightly.

There’s a whole new generation to look after. To teach. To nurture.

But there also seems to be a new generation of great dads.

So here’s to all the dads out there. Everyone striving to do better. To excellent sites like dad.ie and bookdads.com, encouraging and helping fathers in their own way.

Here’s to dads.

Not just dads – here’s to everyone who is actively working to make the world better for the future generations, not worse. And there are a lot of you out there. You all rock.