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It's not about the money

As tax day has come and gone this year, I have time to reflect on my earnings, and what I feel is some of the most honest money I’ve earned during my career. My income from publishing my first interactive book in 2013, was a very modest $36.00, or something close to that. I haven’t even added it up actually.

scooby-journey

I’m not ashamed of that salary for the year, I look at that as possibly the first honest money I’ve made. I’m not saying I’ve cheated or stolen. I’m saying that sometimes I feel my salary was for questionable causes. I worked for architects with questionable ethics, movies that are intended as crack for children and make hundreds of millions of dollars so that studio execs can get bigger homes and better cars. More than once that kind of work had me questioning what I was doing at the end of the day, and why I was dedicating so much energy to it. There were a string of furry creatures, car commercials, mediocre Arnold Schwartzenegger films, hyper active animated films.

I struggled with this idea at times. My value, my voice had been replaced with a monetary value. My paycheck and status at visual effects companies replacing my own personal ideas over the years. To me, a poor kid from New Jersey, the money was dependable and enticing and that felt good, that incentive superseded my own personal goals.

SixthDay-journey

Gradually over the years I’ve shifted out of visual effects, the last real work being for the Discovery channel in 2009 (thanks Joel!). It’s probably little coincidence that my last visual effects project happened when my wife was giving birth to my second son, Asher. As we shifted into a larger family, I was shifting more into a role of spending more time with my family.

Since then we committed to home-schooling our sons. My wife and I both work at home, and split our time, neither of us putting in your standard work week. Our life looks much different than it could have, if I stayed the course in Los Angeles. It would have trapped us into one mode of life that didn’t agree with our life choices, and in the end the industry collapsed which would have left us few options.

Over the years, I’ve also shifted more into video game work, as well as teaching and writing again, at least I tried to do my own work while teaching, but teaching as many people know takes a lot of dedication for very little compensation.

aslan-journey

A little over a year ago I left my Head of Game Art position, to focus on family and my own illustrating, writing, and still tinkering with personal games. I enjoyed teaching students, but in the end the message I got from the college was that they wanted more, and still more of my time. I wasn’t valued for the expertise and dedication I brought to the college, but was seen as someone who needed to sit in an office, and at meetings for more hours.

I did something that I should have done many times before in my career, when working with the architect with questionable ethics, and on the movies sucking my life away, and now the college with questionable practices.

I quit.

Two months later, I published my first interactive book Ten Monkey Marbles on the iPad, and since then I have been working on game ideas, my own books, and spending more time with my family.

My earnings are small, modest, inconsequential I hear you say.

Laugh heartily, it’s okay. I feel proud of what I am doing, and spend much of my time on personal projects, which I hope to steadily release over time, on a time-table that agrees with living my life and being available to my family. The bottom line is that I’m feeling like life is more about the journey now, not the destination, not the paycheck. Yes there are definitely days I struggle. I often spend many hours still recovering from the Colorado flood, which is still exhausting work, but eventually that work will be over.

In the end I still believe that there is something valuable in what I’m creating, that isn’t reflected in how much it is or is not earning right now, and has more to do with the value of contributing art that is personal in some way.

The choice that many indie artists, indie game creators, and children’s book writers have is between despair, and perseverance. So many despair and give up. If we persevere, we can take time to enjoy the journey, keeping in mind that often the most important things we do in our lives, are not about making money.

Skimming Stones

At the end of winter semester at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, I resigned from my position as Head of Game Art to pursue my personal projects. Since then I have been doing just that on several fronts at the same time working on games, paintings, writing, and pulling together my notes on creating games.

Although there are a lot of things I’m working on I’m going to try and confine this post to my first product that I released today to the iTunes store for the iPad. It is called Ten Monkey Marbles and a link can be found here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/10-monkey-marbles/id594412373?ls=1&mt=8

Ten Monkey Marbles is meant to be my way of starting out and beginning the process as an Indie Game studio. The story itself is a counting book for children, and is meant to be a small introduction to the Monkey Marbles concept I came up with years ago while on Sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues studios. Monkey Marbles is a longer book and more complex which may not work well as an interactive, but I will put it out into the world at some point.

The concept of Monkey Marbles occurred to me in a moment of silly word play while skimming stones at the beach in Los Angeles. I had been working in my studio a lot, and listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. His syncopated lyrics had stuck in my head and I started to make up my own song in that syncopated way in the first draft of a song or poem came out. I went home and wrote it down and had the basis for Monkey Marbles.

It began with these words which I still imagine singing in a mock Dylan voice; “Innocently me, skimming stones into the sea, when I heard a sound far of from me, innocently me.”

No it wasn’t meant to imitate the real versing of Dylan but it didn’t matter because I knew immediately I had something, monkey marbles.

All of this as an indie artist and game artist is like skimming stones down into the unconscious to see what gets struck. You skim stones and sometimes they go far, and sometimes they don’t even skim once. As artists we don’t really know what we’re going to find when we skim stones down into the unconscious but we follow and hope that something will happen, some sound will come back from far off. To me so much of the process being an artist is about trying to facilitate that unconscious process in order to come up with something.

The skimming of stones is one thing, you throw but what we’re really looking for is that interaction between the medium of the stone and the water, the ripples that grow from each point the stone touches and then how they interact.

I know this sounds rather vague in some ways but when I teach this and talk about it, I give drawing demonstrations and show it in action. I sketch a haze onto a page using pencil or marker or even chalk in photoshop and then I see what images come up from the haze and focus in and pull out the creature, and sometimes an entire story comes forth.

The thing I try to remember whenever I work is that the more I try to control things then often the harder it is for it to come forth spontaneously and I guess in the end that is exactly what I’m talking about. When things feel forced and over-worked you can feel it, but when they feel spontaneous and alive they grow of themselves.

A good example is the recent portrait of Kate Middleton. Although the portrait is executed with the finesse and competence of a great painter it has lost the spontaneity and truth that is Kate Middleton.

Games are like this too. When we as artists make all our decisions before hand it’s difficult for a game to grow within that context. We need to set up an environment where we can be spontaneous in creating game play and stories and drawings and yes even portraits of a duchess.

In the end we can tell when things are flowing and spontaneous when we are in the flow while doing our art. Often when we aren’t in that spontaneous flow it is reflected back to us by our audience who will tell us that they don’t feel the connection we had hoped for. All we can do is continue to skim stones, experimenting more and in the end not be afraid to try again.

Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

I was up late last night reading a book someone recommended while I was at the Colorado Game Developer meeting just earlier in the evening.  The book, called REWORK was put out by this company, www.37signals.com, I purchased the book through Amazon’s App on my iPad conveniently.  Here is a quote from the book that I love.

“Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.  Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.”

Continue reading Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

The Door is Right There

Our son Everest started a one week camp today.   Last summer we took him to science camp on the local college campus and had a similar experience to today in that so much of running a school is about managing the children and keeping things in order.

When he arrived today, all the kids were standing on line and our son walked straight up to head in the door, the teacher stopped him saying.  “Get to the back of the line Everest.”  To which my son replied, “But the door is right there.”

Yes, exactly, the door is right there.

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Art is Fun! or A Raw Deal for Artists

Someone said to me today, not for the first time, that art is fun.   The question being, why are artists stressed out and so serious about life and work?

My answer is kind of complicated.   Art is enriching and enjoyable.  Writing stories, playing music and creating drawings and paintings and video games are all creative works of art, I’m just not sure I would characterize any of them as fun.

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Little Cubicles: Resistance is Futile!

Just  a quick post today to show that it is never too soon to start getting your children used to life in a cubicle.   Relent already, resistance is futile as they say!  Why encourage spontaneous creative play when you can get your kids used to the handcuffs…er… I mean the future cubicle that they will work out of, for the rest of their lives?

I first saw this posting on Gizmodo.com, and think it is very apropos to the subject of life outside the box, telecommuting and how we shape our family of the future through some subtle constructs, and of course the not so subtle constructs like Barbie dolls and Little Tyke cubicles.

I can think of a dozen things to get your children that might allow them to really explore and spend a fraction of the money.

Some suggestions.

  • A pottery wheel, and clay.  For god sake let them make a mess.
  • Wax and carving tools.  My son loves this and learns real skills while having a blast and of course making a mess.
  • Clay, clay and more clay.  Mess not included.
  • Paint and paper
  • Brushes
  • An RC helicopter.  Fly it with dad, or mom, or siblings.  When you graduate from disposable ones, go for the hobby grade ones from BananaHobby.com
  • A real telescope.  The cost of a high grade telescope will be lower than the cubicle for kids and will allow you to track stars with computer controls and take photos.
  • A real microscope
  • A bike
  • karate lessons
  • yadda yadda… you get the idea.

Although I work at home in my studio I have space in my studio for my son to explore whether with drawing, painting or jewelry making.   In some ways my setup resembles an old style guild where a son gets to learn his father’s craft, but I don’t force him to do anything.  I supply the tools and he supplies the endless creativity.

If you’re thinking that seeing “toys” like this online bothers me then yes it does and I’ll leave it at that for tonight.

*****

Daev Finn is an artist, illustrator, writer, visual effects artist, and video game developer, whose work can best be seen as Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.

Daev lives in Colorado with his two sons Everest and Asher, and his wife Sheryl Paul, author of The Conscious Bride, and The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner.

http://www.daevfinnstudio.com http://www.sherylpaul.wordpress.com

Work Naked

Yes, you heard me, work naked.

Work Naked is the title of a book by Cynthia C. Froggatt, who writes about the virtual workplace and the benefits of working from home, including, as you may have guessed already, the ability to roll out of bed and just get to work in your PJs or even naked for that matter.

One of the things that Cynthia talks about in her book is the difference between being at work, and being productive and that there is a difference between being in your cubicle staring at a computer screen, (that dreaded box I speak of), and actually getting anything done.  She also talks about the frequent interruptions from co-workers, commuting, and even getting ready for work in the morning.

Wikipedia has articles on this subject as well, discussing work-life balance.   A concept their articles claim came into prominence in the 70’s.  They also claim that many workers in this country, both blue and white collar, are stressed out and dissatisfied with work due to long hours and even keeping up with ever changing technology.

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Hunt & Gather

I work on my business creating visual effects and video games typically around 12 hours a daily, there are days I work longer and days that are shorter, but like today some of my hunting and gathering is done with my son Asher on my back.  Asher turned one year old this week, and is right around 22 lbs of weight on me while I work.  His naps have finally started to happen in his bed, but when they are on my back or more frequently my wife Sheryl’s, it is a 22 lbs that we carry around for hours at a time.

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What One Man Can Do Another Can Do!

I love the film  The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.  The film is a sweeping action drama that doesn’t feel contrived as so many films can, (I’m blogging at you Michael Bay).  The Edge feels like an honest (albeit dramatic) portrayal of people trying to survive and overcome who they are in life, driven by doubt and the need for money and love, or at least lust and ambition.

Hopkin’s character is the self made billionaire who has honesty and conviction but feeling more isolated by his wealth, while Baldwin’s character, driven by love and jealousy becomes increasingly raw as he becomes more desperate and more divided internally.  The two characters devolve and evolve before our eyes.

The crux of the film for me comes when Hopkins is trying to convince Baldwin that they must kill the bear that is stalking them through the Alaska mountains.   “What One man can do another can do.  Say it Bob!”   He wants Bob (Baldwin) to believe and have conviction that they can do this, because others have done so before.

Continue reading What One Man Can Do Another Can Do!

Discovering Ardi : Delivered outside the Box

It’s a year since I worked on Discovering Ardi for the Discovery channel, and wanted to recap some of that experience today, as I received email from the film-maker (Rod Paul of Primary Pictures) who made the documentary saying that it has gotten great reviews and the website has had tens of millions of hits since it aired at the end of the summer in 2009.

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/ardipithecus/ardipithecus.html

The main thrust again of what I’m writing is that I delivered this project not by driving into Denver daily (which would have greatly impacted my productivity) but did much of the work here from my studio in Longmont, as my wife was about to give birth to our second son Asher, which occurred right in the middle of one of the most intense schedules I’ve had in many years.

Continue reading Discovering Ardi : Delivered outside the Box

Daev’s iPad Review

I bought the iPad to continue developing video games and apps.  In a nutshell, here are some of my early thoughts about the product.

The speed so far of the iPad is swift.  I can easily connect to the web or iTunes in much shorter times than I do from my iTouch, using wifi.  I haven’t tried these at a distance to my wifi hub yet, but these early tests are promising.

Safari

Safari is speedy and the way Apple gets around having multiple tabs up, is to background them. You can return to the page of tabbed web pages easily, which gives the same convenience of multi-tasking, if only just an illusion.  As always, navigating new types of things with an Apple product is an intuitive process, it works as you would expect it.

Youtube

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Art Cooperation not Corporation

I’m sharing some texture/reference content online today.   My reason is that I’m interested in seeing Indie artists band together more and be more open to sharing content, such as textures, rigs, models, scripting. The reference I have is good for VFX or illustration, coveted by more than a few of my students from Art Institute.

I look at it this way, as an Indie game maker/digital artist, I’m up against the likes of companies who have deep pockets to create games. This creates a certain expectation even on the iPhone games. I’ve already had someone see my first game and say, Can you do some things more like Little Big Planet? (which  is not on the iPhone).

The expectation is that anyone who makes a game suddenly has a huge budget (and endless time and RAM).  Little Big Planet was years in the making with likely millions of dollars and a  huge team just to get it to alpha. Even iPhone games like Avatar and Terminator  Salvation likely  have a pretty big budget. I am  one man wearing all the hats to  create the game,  from design, to level creation,  rigging, animation and  programming, like many  other casual game developers  out there.

I will be posting more of my texture library and my process as I make the transition from VFX to Indie game Development. Let me know if you find this useful to share and I will likely be inspired to share more of my huge library.

Continue reading Art Cooperation not Corporation

Working Outside The Box

It was not my vision growing up to work in an office building, the dreaded cubicle, that box that I’m speaking out against.

My vision has always been one of working from an art studio and not being confined by both the description of my job, or the size of the box that a company has fit me into for days that range from 8 to 16 hours easily in the field of Visual Effects.  Yet, I did this for many years before I reached the point where I had had enough and wanted out of the box, the office building, and Los Angeles in general.

About four or five years ago I started to talk about telecommuting and telling managers at different companies, that I couldn’t afford to buy a home in Los Angeles, and that if I bought one in the suburbs of Los Angeles I would see my family even less than I was seeing them already.   I wrote a report that was twenty pages long touting the obvious ecological benefits of telecommuting and outlining what kind of techniques and technology I would help build in order to make telecommuting a reliable methodology for artists. I offered to help build the infrastructure myself because indeed, to pay for the expensive software and high end systems myself was still far less expensive than trying to delude myself that I would be able to buy a home in Los Angeles.   Other employees came up to me curious and encouraging, but management did not agree with this vision at all.

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A Cube with a View

Having arrived in Colorado my wife and I with our son in tow were looking around the house and property trying to decide where I would set up a studio.  The vision of taking the stable and converting it into a studio was pretty strong.    It’s just twenty feet from the creek which wanders on the northern border of our property.  I imagined windows cut out and being able to see the creek while I worked.

The stable is a little further from the house, maybe forty or fifty feet.   Far enough away that when I’m working late I wouldn’t disturb anyone.    So  I called an engineer to come and check it out.  We knew it had to get cleared by him before we could do anything.   After measuring and looking it over he told me that to set up a studio inside I’d have to raise the whole stable two feet to get it above the flood plain.   The stable is sixty three feet in length and roughly 18 feet wide so this started to feel like a bad start to such a lovely vision.    What did he think it would cost to raise the stable?   He told me that it could probably be done for $60,000 dollars.   That there may be other things I could do if I wanted to get around the flood plain rules but in the end just finishing the stable would cost a lot as well.

So I decided to do what I often do in a situation like this.  I back burner it.   It doesn’t mean I give up on the vision of having my studio in the stable, it would be too much money for a fledgling business.   Instead I went to our big two car garage, plan B.

Continue reading A Cube with a View