A note on notes (from Creativity Inc)

If you haven't read Creativity Inc, on the formation and rise of Pixar by Ed Catmull (one of its founders); you're missing out. As well as a business biography, there are a huge number of philosophical theories on how to best nurture creativity in the film-making process, and how to bring all employees together to make the best product possible.

My Kindle informs me that I've highlighted 35 sections in this book - for non-technical manuals, I usually will make around 2 maximum per book. So, it's fair to say that a lot of it struck a chord.

I'd like to share a short passage on giving meaningful feedback, which applies to many stages in the film-making process, and certainly not just animation. As an editor, I receive a lot of notes - and sometimes send them out, either on cuts I've made or on scripts and films that other people I know are working on.

A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. “I’m writhing with boredom,” is not a good note.

Animation Studio - by Helen Piercy

Among the people I know from the National Film and Television School is Helen Piercy - with whom I have previously worked on an animated sonnet by Shakespeare voiced by Alan Rickman, and various school projects.

Helen is currently doing a lot of work with children and young adults in the form of animation workshops across the UK, and as a result was approached last year to write a book/ kit to help children make their own animations.

This book has now been released, and it's fantastic. I have a copy in my edit suite, and it's a big hit with the animators (and others) at the studio. The age guide is ages 8+, but there have already been reviews from much younger children starting to make their own films using the book and kit as a guide.

The kit includes several sets, characters, and props - plus a "director's handbook" which gives an introduction to animation and different styles, as well as hints and tips on making your own films. Find out more at the webpage on Helen's site, or by watching the trailer below:

Animation Studio is available at Amazon (UK), Amazon (US), and various bookshops.

On Character Creation

I'm currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon on my Kindle for the half hour or so I spend each way on the underground to and from work. I'd put it off for quite a while (in fact, I think I have the paperback somewhere), but I'm glad I've finally gotten around to it.

I just had to share this excerpt*, which shows a wonderful set of ideas in the creation of a comic book super hero and the setting up of backstory and motivation to make the character feel more real. The importance of this process cannot be understated if you're looking to create something truly special, and I think that the way it's been written as a discussion amongst friends (in themselves working through the setup to the core of the story) is wonderful.



“My guy flies,” said Davy O’Dowd. “That I know.”

Joe shot a look at Sammy, who clapped a hand to his forehead.

“Oy,” he said.


“He flies, huh?”

“Something wrong with that? Frank says this is all about wishful figments.”


“Wishful figments. You know, like it’s all what some little kid wishes he could do. Like for you, hey, you don’t want to have a gimpy leg no more. So, boom, you give your guy a magic key and he can walk.”

“Huh.” Sammy had not chosen to look at the process of character creation in quite so stark a manner. He wondered what other wishes he might have subsumed unknowingly into the character of lame Tom Mayflower.

“I always wished I could fly,” Davy said. “I guess a lot of guys must have wished that.”

“It’s a common fantasy, yeah.” “It seems to me that makes it something you can’t have too many of,” Jerry Glovsky put in.

“All right, then, so he can fly.” Sammy looked at Joe. “Joe?”

Joe glanced up briefly from his work. “Why.

“Why?” Sammy nodded. “Why can he fly? Why does he want to? And how come he uses his power of flight to fight crime? Why doesn’t he just become the world’s best second-story man?”

Davy rolled his eyes. “What is this, comic book catechism? I don’t know.”

“Take one thing at a time. How does he do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Stop saying you don’t know.”

“He has big wings.”

“Think of something else. A rocket pack? Antigravity boots? An autogyro hat? Mythological powers of the winds? Interstellar dust? Blood transfusion from a bee? Hydrogen in his veins?”

“Slow down, slow down,” Davy said. “Jesus, Sam.”

“I’m good at this shit. Are you scared?”

“Just embarrassed for you.” “Take a number. Okay, it’s a fluid. An antigravity fluid in his veins, he has this little machine he wears on his chest that pumps the stuff into him.”

“He does.”

“Yeah, he needs the stuff to stay alive, see? The flying part is just a, like an unexpected side benefit. He’s a scientist. A doctor. He was working on some kind of, say, artificial blood. For the battlefield, you know. Synth-O-Blood, it’s called. Maybe it’s, shit, I don’t know, maybe it’s made out of ground-up iron meteorites from outer space. Because blood is iron-based. Whatever. But then some criminal types, no, some enemy spies, they break into his laboratory and try to steal it. When he won’t let them, they shoot him and his girl and leave them for dead. It’s too late for the girl, okay, how sad, but our guy manages to get himself hooked up to this pump thing just before he dies. I mean, he does die, medically speaking, but this stuff, this liquid meteorite, it brings him back from the very brink. And when he comes to—”

“He can fly!” Davy looked happily around the room.

“He can fly, and he goes after the spies that killed his girl, and now he can really do what he always wanted to, which was help the forces of democracy and peace. But he can never forget that he has a weakness, that without his Synth-O-Blood pump, he’s a dead man. He can never stop being … being …” Sammy snapped his fingers, searching for a name.

“Almost Dead Flying Guy,” suggested Jerry.

“Blood Man,” said Julie.

“The Swift,” Marty Gold said. “Fastest bird in the world.”

“I draw really nice wings,” said Davy O’Dowd. “Nice and feathery.”

“Oh, all right, damn it,” Sammy said. “They can just be there for show. We’ll call him the Swift.”

“I like it.”

“He can never stop being the Swift,” Sammy said. “Not for one goddamned minute of the day.” He stopped and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. His throat was sore and his lips were dry and he felt as if he had been talking for a week. Jerry, Marty, and Davy all looked at one another, and then Jerry got down from his stool and went into his bedroom. When he came out, he was carrying an old Remington typewriter.

“When you’re done with Davy’s, do mine,” he said.


 *represents a tiny percentage of the book, reproduced with the intent of educational purpose and discussion.