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How to Get Better at Anything: The Power of Inspiration & Action

TFA fan art 1

Hi all, hope you’re well. We’ve been in the thick of it recently, filming the first 14 night shoots for COSMOS in September and have plenty of content to come in regards to the film’s progress and tutorials. We can’t wait to get it out for you and hope it’ll prove useful for your filmmaking adventures!

For now though, here’s something slightly different. I wanted to briefly talk about the value of inspiration and the power of action; and how both of these are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to filmmaking (and any creative outlet really) and what benefits you gain from both.

Is there something that you want to get better at, advance your knowledge and understanding of? Something you want to truly master or even take the first steps towards learning? Is there also something that is holding you back, that voice in your head saying: “I’d love to do that but…” or “I’ve always wanted to try that but…”. It’s a common problem, people have that spark of excitement but struggle to nurture it into a roaring flame and instead put it off for another day or reside themselves to the fact that they’ve got other more important things to be doing. So what can we do to give us that extra drive, that push we need to get started?

Step 1: Get Inspired

Well, you need to get INSPIRED. Whether you want to learn more about lighting, get better at drawing, learn VFX, whatever – you first must find something that is compelling. Perhaps you’d love to recreate a lighting setup or style, that truly understanding how this was achieved and achieving it yourself will bring immense joy. How about studying Da Vinci’s unique sketching style and applying it to your own drawings, that’d be pretty epic. Or what about finding an object or prop from a movie that excites you and recreating it in 3D?

If you want to stretch your abilities and skills you need to find something that inspires you to pick up a pencil, or mouse, or tablet, or whatever. Feeling compelled to start taking action is often the hardest step on the journey of creativity, so give yourself a helping hand (or a kick up the backside) by finding something that automatically makes you excited, that fuels your imagination. The best part about it is that it’s not even that hard. Literally, what gets you excited? Now take that and apply it to your skill of choice.

Adam Savage of Mythbusters (and recently fame, has often said that in order to master something you need a reason, an excuse to get lost in it and learn along the way. This is the value of Inspiration.

Picasso once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

And he was right. There is nothing wrong with copying, nothing wrong with remixing or reworking. Why re-invent the wheel? Why spend so much time learning by yourself, when you can learn it from others in a fraction of the time? Stand on the shoulders of giants and take that next step forwards in understanding. Simple. Got that? Good.

As an example, I’m going to share a recent journey of mine. As you may have read, I’m a massive fan of Blender. For those that don’t know, Blender is an OpenSource 3D Software suite; it does it all – from modelling to texturing, animation, editing, motion tracking – the lot. So if you’re interested in reading more, check out a piece I wrote called: The Best Free VFX Software for Filmmakers.

I’ve worked with Blender now for several years, all the while looking to improve my skills and therefore in turn, help add new options for our filmmaking processes. Most of what I’ve achieved so far has been more out of necessity than creativity, but it has pushed me – we’ve required graphics for our documentaries on the Apollo Program, so I’ve created them; we’ve needed title cards or flashy text, so I’ve created them. But I’ve wanted to take that next step for a while – to create something that would help lift my level of understanding further.

So, given the wave of excitement over the new Star Wars movie, I decided to throw in my 2 cents. I like many others, am a massive Star Wars fan; I saw the re-runs when they came out in the 90’s, collected as many Star Wars figures as my pocket money could allow and used to swing my water bottle round my head in the playground at school, pretending to be a Jedi Knight… who hasn’t?

Step 2: Take Action

So for me Star Wars was the perfect for inspiring me to make something unique. Great. So now we have the inspiration, we need to take ACTION. And this is the next common hurdle. Knowledge, understanding or inspiration aren’t enough; if you want to achieve something you have to take ACTION and immediately. You must use the momentum you’ve already identified through your subject of choice before it becomes stagnant and old, before that lick of flame dies out.

So once you’ve got something that excites you, don’t leave that moment until you’ve taken at least some form of action. Grab a pen and paper and sketch out some ideas or notes, take some screenshots of that scene you love or download some photos and start collecting reference material. Taking that action will set everything in motion and give you reason to return to the project later down the line. In an hour, day or even a week. You’ll have already invested time into the project and therefore will feel compelled to continue. To pick up where you left off.

So in my case, I identified the new stormtrooper helmet as a lovely way of improving my modelling and texturing skills, started to download reference materials from conventions and trailers and literally began modelling the helmet. I’m not going to pretend the process was quick or easy but because I love Star Wars, I wanted to return to the project week after week. I wanted to release my piece of art before the film came out, to add to the archive of fan art and the excitement in the lead up to the film’s release. I had a great reason, beyond my personal development – because as much as we’d love to think it, sometimes the draw of that personal development is not enough to motivate us.

I can tell you it worked. Damn I learnt a lot. I’m already excited about what I might do next and have several compelling concepts waiting in the wings (all of which I’ve already taken action on). What’s more, I now have positive references about pushing myself, about jumping in and taking action. I’m associating that by just deciding to take action, I will learn more, get better and… well have fun. What’s not to love? Here’s my finished piece of artwork (feel free to download it if you want).

TFA fan art 1

So please, do yourself a favour – find something that inspires you to take serious action. Use these two forces for good and push yourself and your skills to the next level. Best of luck with all your filmmaking endeavours. Thanks for reading.

(p.s. this isn’t the first time I’ve done this, a couple of years back Elliot and I found a screenshot from Blade Runner in which we loved the lighting and tried to recreate it. Again, we had the passion and drive because the thought of being able to create lighting like that was compelling and we took action – and guess what? We learnt a tonne. Our focus was on Rachel here rather than the background, so we cut Elliot’s head out on photoshop and stuck it onto the original frame… we even added a bit of artistic license with an additional subtle blue backlight on the right of his face. Worryingly, I think you’ll agree Elliot makes a rather convincing Rachel! Not sure about the finger nails though! Here are the results:)

blade runner lighting

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