Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Cynicism

Story artist Mark Kennedy has some important and useful observations about working in animation.

... Everywhere I've ever worked, certain things have always been the same. Our jobs are very difficult and there are a lot of long hours. In the Feature Animation world, you can work for years on a picture and never really know if the film you're working on will get finished, be released, and if so, will ever really be any good. The story process of making a Feature is filled with experimentation, blind alleys and false starts. People in every department tend to get nervous about the amount of work ahead and they have to have a lot of faith in order to believe that the ultimate product will be worth all the long hours and effort.

It takes a lot more energy to stay positive and have faith in the process. It can be easier to give in to the temptation to become bitter and cynical. Working long hours and seeing screenings of the movie that don't quite work can easily lead to complaining behind closed doors and becoming cynical about the whole thing ...

If a cynic can be described as somebody operating under the philosophy: "Everything is crap, so what's the point of striving to do your best or even participating? ..." then I would say, yep, being a cynical person is a toxic, loser's game.

But that's the current understanding of cynicism. Here is the classical meaning:

Cynicism (Greek: κυνισμός), in its original form, refers to the beliefs of an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici).

Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans.

Some little distance from "everything is crap", don't you think?

In my present mind-set, I think of myself as a "Classical Cynic", someone who sees the way things actual reality of existence yet still holds onto and acts on his beliefs.

But face it, my definition of a CC isn't quite right either. Because I'm definitely not some guy who's interested in "rejecting all desire for wealth, health, fame" and the rest of it.

So where do I come down? Just here: I think it's counter-productive to be a total cynic in the modern definition of the term, because you get trapped in your own sneering negativity. Modern cynicism stops you from acting in positive ways toward positive ends. On the other hand, you do need to be a clear-eyed realist about the way the world actually works. Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of time floundering around, tilting at wind-mills that are going to remain wind-mills no matter how long you attack them.

So maybe the words I'm looking for are "active, clear-thinking realist" instead of classical cynic, since the c word has been pretty thoroughly corrupted by its modern usage.


yahweh said...

I think of myself as a "realist" and remember to keep a sense of "perspective".

Depsite all the anxiety and struggles we feel we go through in this profession it's important to remember that, while still doing as good a job as you can, at the end of the day we're making cartoons. Don't let yourself get so worked up and think your curing Cancer or something that it hampers your job performance.

I know them younguns out there will blanche when they read this and feel I'm a cynical old hack, but let's see if they can last as long as I have....

Anonymous said...

"everywhere I've ever worked" ?

The only place he's ever worked outside of a couple of freelance gigs has been at Disney. At least 15 years straight. I'm sure he knows about cynicism somehow anyway.

Ohhhhmmm said...

The dictionary definition of cynicism sounds a lot like Buddhism, minus the enlightenment factor.

As professional for hire. We are paid to contribute what we can, but the bottom line is, it's their dime. If they want to screw things up, it's their prerogative, as long as you gave them your honest effort.

Having said that, as creatives we all want to be appropriately acknowledged for our talents and our efforts, and have our ideas be, at least, heard and considered, if not followed.

Anonymous said...

Mark Kennedy is always spot on for my money. His views on the product and the politics of the office are always insightful and a great beacon for people in this industry.

The problem is, with producers as completely inept and bereft of any artists ability today, realism about the process end up being the exact same sentiment of cynicism.

Anonymous said...

The powers that be often erect walls to protect themselves from sometimes quite legitimate and often constructive criticism about the quality of the product we're making.

"The crew is just being cynical" is one of those walls.

"Trust the process" is another.

like, yeah.... said...

Over the years,Iv'e come to the conclusion that perhaps there's such a thing as caring too much about a scene, for example. You're less likely to take feedback in said scene, if you 'fall in love' with your work. Instead, I've somehow relaxed about my work, and it's easier now to take the feedback (I dont take it personally). Your relationship with your supervisor becomes easier, and you are seen as less of a problem.

As for being a cynic,there's also such a thing as blind optimism.

'The powers that be often erect walls to protect themselves from sometimes quite legitimate and often constructive criticism about the quality of the product we're making'

True, but I find that with perseverence, sometimes, SOMETIMES, they'll lend an ear to your suggestions. I guess it depends on how you approach them.


Anonymous said...

I think that the antidote is neither optimism nor cynicism, but rather passion.

The artists I know are passionate about the films we make.

The worst possible crew would be a crew who didn't care.

Anonymous said...

Hey, look! It's a virgin^^^

Anonymous said...

Hey, look! A schmuck!!!^^^

Anonymous said...

Hey, look another virgin^^^

Anonymous said...

To the guy calling the other guy a virgin:

Its time to quit your job.

Anonymous said...

Posted this elsewhere, but i think it applies here as well:

Hey snarky anonymous guy: I think I know who you are. You sound exactly like a coworker I know, you use the same little catch phrases and offer up the same self-righteous, inappropriate back-talking here as you do at work.

If this is who I think it is, you have no place to talk shit. You're a disappointment to all of us, and would do better to spend less time here being a smartass and more time pretending to care about your (former) job.

like, yeah... said...

"The worst possible crew would be a crew who didn't care."

I never said I stopped caring completely. I just said I stop caring TOO much. Off course you want to do the best job you can on every scene you have.You missed my point entirely. Like I said, there is such a thing as caring too much.


Anonymous said...

... dude,

Other "powers that be", including some of the people who have a string of something like 11 blockbusters in a row, tell us the opposite. They tell us that the secret to the success of the lamp is that the attitude of "well, at least MY shots looked good" doesn't fly there.

I'd be happy to just keep my head down and make sure that just my shots look good for my reel. There are plenty of studios where I can work under that model. Collect my check at the end of a week.

I think it's possible to do better than that. Call me a hopeless optimist. I don't want to work somewhere where I just care a little bit about the quality of the entire film. A fair-weather friend, only positive when the film is looking good, but "checking out" and just working to make my shots good when it isn't.

My goal is to be engaged in the entire process, on the sunny days as well as the rainy ones. It's on the rainy days when engagement is most needed, not least.

I've seen films turn around and get much, much better... and I think that's the key.

dissapointed said...

I used to care. deeply. Then... I got my walking papers.

Studios feel no remorse about letting artists go. It would be different if there's performance issues. But not when the studio is simply trying to cut costs. Specially when there's all those big fat cat executives making huge stashes of dough.

Studios have no loyalty. I feel no loyalty to any studio anymore. To them, we're nothing but a piece of meat.

Anonymous said...

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