Being inventive for a living is full of its ups and downs, and when you hit a down it can be hard to stay motivated. Due to post-move empty-pocket syndrome, I’ve been seeking cheap sources of inspiration, and NetFlix’s free trial + Pixar’s Short Films Volume 1 proved to be just the right formula. Seeing the evolution of this amazing team and their work reminded me why I should keep going during the creative rough spots.
Yesterday was sort of a hellish day. I was working on a pro-bono design for a friend of a friend, and for some reason I just couldn’t find the right way to present the content for his application. After stumbling all day, staring hopelessly at the Photoshop file for about 10 minutes, showing it to Jason and getting a “meh” response, I felt like getting down on the dirty coffee-shop floor, crawling under the table, and crying.
I have an issue with detaching myself from work. Web design isn’t really just something for me to do from 9-5; I think about it all the time. I think about color schemes while stirring spaghetti. I drift off into a comparison of different layouts during boring conversations. I have dreams about typography. When clients call me and say “one of the partners’ wives hates the color orange, can you just swap out the background and borders?” I often have to sit down and do lamaze breathing, because chances are I spent several non-billable hours thinking about the site’s color scheme. However, what’s even worse than having a good design reduced by someone’s personal palette preferences is being unable come up with a good design to begin with. For those moments of creative impotence I feel worthless, despondent, and briefly suicidal (just kidding, Mom!).
So in order to get some ideas, or perhaps just to remember some old tricks I’ve relied on to get me going in the past, I started looking at old work I’ve done. Turns out this was a horrible idea. Looking at these mockups of days gone by, I remembered how much work I put into each one, and how proud I was when they launched. And then the glass-is-half-empty side of me thought “you could’ve done better,” or “why didn’t you think to do this?” or “who do you think you’re kidding?” Well, that last one was probably my you-don’t-even-deserve-the-glass voice, which was the dominant voice of yesterday. Seeing all my past shortcomings (imagined or otherwise), and being faced with one in the present seemed to be too much. I slammed down the lid on my MacBook, stomped out of the coffee shop, and followed my dismayed* boyfriend back home.
(*Note: Boyfriend just told me he wasn’t that dismayed, he’s used to it.)
Once home, I sulkily suggested we eat some dinner and watch a movie, hoping it would get my mind off the fact that I was failing at life. We had just seen There Will Be Blood, our previous Netflix choice, so we opted for Pixar’s Short Films Volume 1. There are some awkward moments in the films – the baby from Tin Toy is horrible looking, and the clown from Red’s Dream looks like something our friend Brian would make in MS Paint. Yet when the opening moments of Luxo Jr. unfolded, I couldn’t help but grin. It may be impossible to stay bitter when watching a baby lamp squish its ball, temporarily feel defeated, then rebound with a bigger ball. In fact all of the films ultimately made me smile, despite any of their visual limitations.
After finishing off the series, Jason decided to play the dreaded behind the scenes, special feature, film geek mini-documentary. I hate these little extras, as I’d rather keep the mystery alive, and don’t really care what the craft services table looked like. Yet after years of dating a brilliant and avid film nerd, I’ve come to accept them as the follow-up to any film.
Unexpectedly, Pixar’s dorky special feature turned out to be a godsend. The artists and programmers behind the films talked about the sense of success that came with the release of each work, and how much they learned from each new project. They discussed how they cringe now when they see the misshapenness of some of the characters, but how each one went on to shape a successor. Seeing the drastic improvements between each film, it’s undeniable that the Pixar team has found a way to learn from every challenge they face, and that they are constantly pushing themselves to grow. It’s a story I think every creative person can learn from – know your technology, be forgiving of your early design efforts, constantly work on developing your style, and you will only get better. I just hope that one day I can take my designs from Luxo to WALL•E, and beyond.