Then on Sunday, I decided to watch, "The Haunted Mansion" movie. I own it, it's great for Halloween, I'm thoroughly obsessed with the ride, so I tend to collect ride artifacts, movie included. So I watch it, then I decide to watch it with commentary, which I was surprised to realize I had never done before. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, if not a little random.
On Monday, I had tickets to a Heartland Film Festival seminar that Jake couldn't attend, so I called my best friend and we were able to attend in his stead. And the first speaker of the day just so happened to be Don Hahn, Oscar-nominated Disney producer, who just happened to do Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Haunted Mansion movie, on top of many other greats like, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and more. The man is prolific, and that's putting it lightly.
Let me just share some of the wonderful stuff that Mr. Hahn explained, and may it inspire you the way it inspired me. Here are the Top 10, because if I didn't limit it, I would blather on forever...
1.) Study your inspirations and love them. If you love something, and it catches your eye, heart, attention, whatever...go with it. Study it, live with it, dissect it and don't even be afraid to imitate it. All the greats have done this, including Disney animators who regularly draw on other artist's work for inspiration. No pun intended. (Hirschfeld caricatures for the design of the genie in, "Aladdin".) His words were to make sure to, "fill your cup."
2.) Use everything to tell your story, including a setting. Don't forget that the landscape details of your story can be just as revealing as the characters. (The first time you see Cruella DeVil in, "101 Dalmations", she is in silhouette behind a door with a glass pane that resembles a spiderweb, thus instantly signaling that she is dangerous.)
3.) Simplify your story. If you can't tell your story in one or two sentences, if you can't boil the book or film or story down to that, then go back and start again. (Lilo adopts Stitch, who she thinks is a dog, but who is really an alien, chaos ensues. Simba is traumatized by his father's death, runs away, and must seek the bravery that it will take to go home and defeat the evil that rose up in his father's absence. See? Simple stories.)
4.) We want to create because we all want to make something worthwhile and leave a mark, and that's reason enough. If you are creative, don't feel bad about it, just go with it.
5.) Try and fail and try and fail and try and fail and try and fail, just don't quit. (Here, Hahn showed all of the rejected concept sketches for, "The Beast' and played Elton John's original demo for, "The Circle of Life". None of these things were even close to their end results, but if Disney animators and legendary musicians wrestle with the creative process, then you will too.)
6.) "Don't expect everyone to cheerlead you in your creative endeavors." There are naysayers, and that's okay. Not everybody has to believe in you, and you can't always be seeking everyone's approval, and you shouldn't waste energy trying to get it, spend the energy working instead. Just work and keep going, no matter what people say.
7.) In storytelling, first impressions are everything. They "mean something, you can't un-ring a bell." Remember that when you're shooting or writing and make your introductions count.
8.) Follow your first creative instincts, because your instincts are raw emotion, and emotion informs art. He spoke about the way that legendary architect Frank Gehry used to make sketches on napkins, and more often than not, his finished designs ended up looking almost identical to his first sketch.
9.) Make the effort to collaborate. People who aren't willing to collaborate won't see their work improve, won't learn, and likely won't succeed.
10.) "Great artists borrow, great artists steal!" After this, he showed a multitude of slides demonstrating this. "The Bathers" done by Renoir, repainted by Cezanne, repainted by Picasso, done again by Matisse. Norman Rockwell's paintings all started out as well-known photographs, Disney animators looked to artists who were already very popular (European artists such as Kley and his mastery of motion and animals, such as the picture to the left.) to define style and even drew over top of live action film for Cinderella and Alice In Wonderland. It's not the idea that makes you a great artist, it's the way you make it your own that makes you special and distinct. In other words, you don't have to re-invent the wheel, just do your own thing with it.
Here are a few more gems that I took away in quote form:
"Prepare and practice, don't shuffle through life, live it."
"Surround yourself with what inspires you to perform."
"Spend the same amount of time expressing yourself as you do taking in impressions of the world." He talked on this a lot, saying that we take in so much information in a day, and that as artists we have to find a way to outlet all of that, or else we become pent up. I can definitely agree with that. I made a mental note to find a way to write and film as much as I take in other writing and film. Can you even imagine how much work you could get done if you lived by this rule?
"It's okay to follow dead ends." He also really drove this one home, saying that not everything pans out into a finished product and you shouldn't let that deter you from following those little mental tributaries, they're always worth delving into.
Here also is a numbered list he gave us, and this is exact. It's called,
"Don's, 'How To Create' List"
1. Create lots of stuff - don't be precious with your art.
2. Organize it
2. Organize it
3. Edit out the junk
4. Present it to the audience
5. Weep openly in a bathroom stall
6. Listen and adjust
7. Repeat last three as needed
His point? Move FORWARD. If something is painful to hear, so be it, but that's no reason to guard yourself. And often when things are painful or difficult, that's right when they're getting better and improving.
The takeaway for me from the entire day, but especially from being lucky enough to hear Don Hahn speak, is to just keep going. In fact, if I felt weird before for decorating based on Disney rides and for listening to music some would consider immature and for feeling like a slightly obsessive personality, now it will probably just get worse...
If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, don't pass it up. And do take a look at his website, which I'll post a link to below. He's that type of person who's just brimming with useful information, and if you have any creative aspirations whatsoever, you should definitely geek out over his films and books.
P.S. He also showed an amazing animated short titled, "Lorenzo" which is INCREDIBLE and he is currently working on the feature length stop-motion version of, "Frankenweenie" with the man, Tim Burton himself. Cool news, eh?
I'll also post a second entry later showing many of the images that Don used in his presentation, he gave us a list of artists to look at that have inspired many Disney animators, but some of the art he introduced us to was incredible. I haven't reacted to art this way since I first discovered Mary Blair on the special features of the, "Cinderella" DVD.