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Why I went to the Metaphorical Woods

My wife Sheryl, a counselor for people in transitions reminds me that so often what people share in blogs and on Facebook are superficial or false representations of ourselves. I think so much of this comes from always having to look like we have things under control, we have our game on. Every post is like an addition to our resume, our “permanent record”.

This blog is not meant to be that, but rather a posting about my journey to live a life that I want to live that includes doing more personal work, and being with my family in a meaningful way. Yes, ultimately I’m still trying to find out who I am, and what I’ll be when I grow up.

The truth is that I didn’t want to wake up one day and realize I didn’t know my children and the most I could boast in my life was having done lots of great furry animals for films.

So today I’m going to post about my doubts, and the strange direction that my career has taken since I left Hollywood and working in Visual Effects. The truth is that even working in Visual Effects, has a false glamour around it. It is a difficult industry to be in, with long hours, and crunches that mean working seven day weeks, 12 hours a day to deliver a show. It means getting home when your children are in bed, and leaving the house before they wake up.

The money was good, the artists and people I knew were exceptional in the industry and leaving friends behind was not easy. Leaving all this was a bummer, except when I realized I was giving up my time with my family for a big paycheck and a film credit.

I decided to leave Los Angeles in 2006, after working at Sony Imageworks. Having left my friends and familiar environment of R&H where I had been for over a decade, I worked long hours at Sony and yet, the new environment amplified a feeling of being isolated and alone. The plan had been to work for years and save money, but I realized too much was slipping away quickly, so we packed up with a job offer to teach in Colorado.

I came to Colorado not because of the great field in Visual Effects, Video Games and Animation. The truth is there isn’t much here, and the market here has not been kind to me. Having arrived I began teaching for little pay, and long hours. Small companies snubbed me when I tried to find work locally. I found small jobs here and there as a freelancer, and when money grew tighter I took on freelance jobs out of state which was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do to a small son and pregnant wife that I left behind in Colorado.

A friend recently asked me to tell him how I made the transition from Los Angeles to Colorado and I found myself writing all of this and more. I wrote about my rocky journey here, the ups and downs, and the fact that there have been a lot of downs. I hope I didn’t discourage him too much because I don’t regret my decisions.

I’ve spent the last two and half years creating the Game Art department for Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, while working on my own games and work on the side. I felt proud of the work I had done at RMCAD building their fledgling department up. The truth is that teaching really leaves little room for personal work, especially when dealing with a technical industry, such as making video games. As I usually do, I threw myself into the job, dedicating long hours to creating demos and notes for students. In the end the college wanted more of me, more hours, more meetings, more, more, more. This didn’t work for me. After all having turned down lots of money and prestigious companies in California, why would I say yes to low pay and long hours now? I made the decision again to leave my job and pursue my own work flying solo.

So now I split my time between my studio and raising our two sons who we home school. My wife counsels and on studio days I am in my studio either painting, or working on video games and interactive books of my own design, more of which I’ll soon post to my blog.

I am at the start of my journey again it seems. I enjoy this some days, I feel challenged by it and stressed on others. There are some days I pound my fists when I can’t get a piece of code to work and there are some days when things flow. Overall trying to make a full video game alone is daunting most days. I have thousands of assets to create and texture. I have characters to design and sculpt. There are stories to write, and gameplay to programmed and tested. It’s a confusing mass of feelings trying to do this solo. It is both exhilarating and sometimes isolating, as I’m sure many indie artists and indie game developers feel.

On top of that is the doubt, that the long hours dedicated will result in a game that quickly vanishes or fails. That’s part of the journey though, to experiment and try something personal and see what happens. It’s a journey that means failure is based on my own actions, not on a studio producing a game or film, just me. This of course is preferable to me right now in my life.

So yes, failure is an option.

I left Los Angeles where I was making six figures and working on great visual effects, to my small studio in Colorado, where in January I earned a mighty $24 dollars off of my first interactive children’s book that I published to the iPad. I’m grateful that my wife is now earning enough to carry us, as I work on these things. I’m grateful too that even at it’s most difficult times I traded in my cubicle for time with my sons who often work in my studio with me now. I believe that my sons being able to experience what I do for my art and work are important and lost things in our culture where once family and work were side by side. It may mean nothing to them now, they just expect that dad is always around but someday they’ll understand that I chose to be here in a culture that demands that we separate.

What’s odd is that I feel that it is a both a low point and a high point for me. Financially, I’m bringing in nothing right now, but I am in a more creative space than I have ever been, and that is part of the reason I’m on this journey.

That’s why I went to the metaphorical woods.

http://conscious-transitions.com/delete-your-facebook-account-a-revolutionary-act/

1 comment to Why I went to the metaphorical Woods.

  • Caleb Howard

    Trading Hollywood for time with your kids – Epic Win.

    Sony cured me of VFX as well (after leaving R&H – working alongside you). I’m at EA now, in Vancouver. I see my kids for hours each day. Epic win. I don’t even remember production schedules anymore. Fuck that shit.

    You’re living the dream, pal. Soak it up.

    -caleb

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