Earlier this week, I finalized my work on Puss in Boots. The work then got un-finalized, but still – I’m right at the end of the show. And it’s been a tough one — I’ve been stressed out for weeks on end, and have barely seen most of my friends. I’ve been very busy.
Not that my busy-ness level is easy, necessarily, to gauge. I’m always on instant messenger. I reply to text messages quickly. I post a lot on Facebook. I can speak informedly on world news. I’ve probably seen that cute cat video before you have. Hell, everyone here has probably caught me at my desk with some completely-non-work-related website up. These are not the actions of a busy man.
To understand this, you have to understand how I work.
To put it briefly, I don’t have direct control over my work. Unlike an animator or a storyboard artist, who has immediate, interactive feedback with what they do (move the pen, get a line), I’m dealing with abstracts. For example, making a splash involves creating and animation millions upon millions of tiny points that represent water particulate. You can’t animate them by hand. You have to cede control to the computer, in the form of simulations.
We don’t know when we start the simulation if it will do what we want. We may have to program in new behaviors or edit existing ones. Increase gravity, decrease friction. Play with the laws of physics. Define some really complex behaviors, all interacting with each other: wind, gravity, buoyancy, viscosity, on and on and on. Write some code. It’s a lot of guesswork, math, and imagination. And then hand it to the computer, let it crunch the numbers, and hope for the best.
What I’m saying here is this: my job is more about time management, cleverness, and ingenuity than artistic ability necessarily. I have to be able to forecast how long something will take, and test within the best of my abilities how it will work, before giving it over to the computer. This means limited, 5-minute simulations to test individual aspects of my effect, before the 6-hour version of the simulation. What can I get done overnight? What can I get done over lunch? What can the computer get done while I work on something else? I need to constantly be feeding the computer tasks, or I’m falling behind. I’m always gathering information. Always keeping the computer going.
This means I come upon many pockets of downtime – sometimes just a minute, sometimes an hour or more. Usually I ping-pong between different effects and different shots, but often I’m waiting. And I’ll check Facebook for a minute. Or the news. Or listen to a podcast. Trying to continue to live life, sneaking it in a minute at a time.
It’s stressful, splitting your attention a hundred ways. Having a life becomes one more task you’re juggling.
Puss in Boots has been stressful.
Here’s the problem: most of these activities don’t require my undivided attention. And I start to have trouble keeping it undivided. I’m experienced enough at my job that many of my tasks are done as a matter of reflex. And when I do need that focus? Those rare scenarios that need real problem-solving? That’s where the real stress starts. That sort of concentration involves a zen-like state of mind that takes time and effort to attain, and is easily shattered by distractions. Like test result notifications. Like emails. Like text messages. Like my entire life.
Some things in life deserve your undivided attention. Being physically incapable of providing it is a horrible feeling.
It’s frustrating and deadening to realize you are not engaged by the majority of your work. To live off of information nuggets instead of substantial works. To be addicted to the flow of the new. To be an info-junkie. So addled with things happening around you that you can’t always think straight.
Which is why I write. Because it requires focus. It demands I unite the disparate parts of my brain, that I sit them down and give them purpose. That I pull myself together and feel whole. Even just for a little bit.