On Needing A Bigger Boat

First and foremost: Happy Birthday Neil!!! And a Happy Halloween to all of you!!! (Yes I realize I’m late on both counts; 5 days on the first and 15 on the second, but what can I say? That seems to be how I roll…) And to celebrate, here is a new image you can use as a desktop, featuring our intrepid hero know simply as The Black Cat:

I hope you enjoy it. Now, by way of explanation:

I’ve resisted posting anything for the past several months, worried that the stress and anxiety I have been wrestling with might spill out through my words and taint the flow of positive energy all of you have so generously radiated since this project began.

Despite knowing that there are many people who are interested in all aspects of the creative process (including the downs as well as the ups), I was hesitant and unsure of how to share.

Inspiration came after watching the beautifully restored BluRay release of  Steven Spielberg’s  Jaws.  I found myself thinking again about the relentlessly brutal series of events and intense conditions under which this still-astounding piece of entertainment was crafted; I am more stunned than ever that it was even finished, let alone being one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

How did this happen? Well, the behind-the-scenes story is told in lavish detail (thanks to the many wonderful supplementary features), but merely adding up the seemingly endless list of problems, setbacks and obstacles that mired the production from start to finish still doesn’t provide any  genuine, plausible explanation for why the film turned out so incredibly well.

I think it has a lot to do with the principle of resistance. If you try to push forward and something pushes back, you have to push harder. This works for building muscles, solving  problems, and invoking creativity. If you truly want to accomplish something, all the opposing force can really do is help you discover how strong your passion actually is.

My experience with any creative endeavor is that at some stage (usually well past the half-way point), what you have so carefully been constructing from the images, ideas and inspirations that have been swirling around inside, suddenly and inexplicably comes crashing down all around you! It seems to be the worst possible thing that could have happened, and always at the worst possible time.

And you just can’t believe it. You stare stupidly at the wreckage of what was once so full of promise, trying to grasp just what happened and far too stunned to consider escape from the black wave of despair that comes thundering down.

If you have ever experienced this, you’ll know I’m not exaggerating how awful it feels, but it is only a part of a larger process. It’s resistance, and while it usually comes at you in smaller chunks all along the way, invariably there will come that particularly vulnerable moment when — WHAM!!! — and it’s all gone…

But the good news is: it isn’t really gone. After the smoke has cleared, and you find the courage to go back and pick up the pieces, you begin to see how they might fit back together again — perhaps in ways you hadn’t even considered.

What I’m saying is that while this stage of the creative process may not be much fun, it almost always proves to be the most pivotal, maybe even the most crucial. If you can pull your project back from the edge, you will have developed the strength to see it all the way through.

I’m no longer as shocked when that break-down point arrives, but I find it still corrodes my resolve, especially when that period drags on and on…

Which brings me to our project, The Price. I started thinking seriously about adapting Mr. Gaiman’s potent little gem back in December of 2005 — seven years ago! And despite the heady rush of almost unbelievable good fortune I’ve experienced, the crash-and-burn this time around has been by far the most devastating.

Why so über-bad? I’ll invite you to draw your own conclusions to that one, but I personally believe it has something to do with balancing out the potential of the final piece…

So what happened? You can start with a variety of technical problems that have taken an obscene amount of time to resolve, then somehow no longer appear to be completely resolved. Let’s try another way around —  here? Nope, that’s blocked too. How about this way? Sorry. That way? Nay. Ugh!!!

Then there have been personnel problems, and while having a couple of guys not work out the way you had hoped doesn’t sound all that catastrophic, in a team comprised of only six — well, those are pretty bad odds.

In short, the last 10 months have been a very difficult period for the production, and an extremely difficult one for me. And yet…

Wonderful things have happened! New software and new technical solutions have been created, or in some cases evolved into  much more useful creatures. Designs have had time to mellow and artists have had a chance to go back for another pass (unheard of in most situations). New people have come onboard and brought their unique quiver of talents with them to share with the wonderful stalwarts of my little team. And most importantly, those precious lightning bolts of inspiration continue to flash, revealing new ideas and solutions, illuminating the way.

What I’m trying to say is that the dark cloud of discouragement has finally begun to break up as shafts of hope pierce through its mangy hide; we’re past the worst of it.

And I’m still here, still wildly in love with this story and my imagination still thrumming with the visions that keep me pushing back. The boat is big enough.

About Xtopher

Director of The Price, and Owner/Creative Director of Silver Fish Creative, LLC.
This entry was posted in The Price. Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to On Needing A Bigger Boat

  1. Rob Field says:

    Hang in there, man! The stuff you’re producing looks gorgeous. Keep up the good work.

  2. Keep pushing but also know when to sit in front of that unmovable wall and stare a hole through it with quiet contemplation and watch it melt before your eyes. Timing is everything.

  3. Dhugael says:

    And you know that we’re still all here for you. You have talent and enthusiasm out here in the ether. :)

  4. Maury Jackman says:

    I don’t know how to change my address from when I first contributed.

  5. Court says:

    I fully understand that resistance when it comes to creative blockage and problems; I’ve been trying to write a certain novel for well over ten years and I’ve just kept on trying (in between other novels of course) and this is the month I’m actually accomplishing it by writing through, fighting back against blocks and problems it’s suffered with for years, so I loved what you said here:

    “If you try to push forward and something pushes back, you have to push harder…If you truly want to accomplish something, all the opposing force can really do is help you discover how strong your passion actually is.”

    I’m sorry there’s been struggles, but I suppose that does come with any great love, and I’m glad to hear that things are clearing up. That background is brilliant by the way. Now I want to go read the short story again (for the umpteenth time, it’s so beautiful). Best of luck with everything! You’ve still got my encouragement :)

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks so very much Court; it is the best kind of encouragement to hear from other creative people who are pushing-back on their own projects! I’m excited for you, and hope for the chance to read your work someday soon!!!

  6. sandra getgood says:

    We’re still excited, and we know it will happen, Xtopher….take your time, so it the way you dreamed it would be. We already love it.

  7. Look forward. The finished product and all that comes after will make this stuff seem like bumps in the road. Oh, and about “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh…” Why wait? Laugh now; it’s good for you.

  8. Trevor says:

    I\’ve noticed that most things worth doing in my life have involved great obstacles, complications, unpleasant surprises, etc., but those great things have come because I insisted on being more stubborn than visionary, on outlasting the proverbial slings and arrows. You can do this. The great works that you respect and admire were accomplished in spite of what their creators were up against, not because of their had a gentle path placed before them, paved in rainbows.

    Besides employing basic stubbornness, I also find it useful to remind myself that the goal is more important than the how or the how much. By ‘how’ I mean methods, tools and even team members. By ‘how much’ I mean how much do I need to own? How much does this have to reflect my initial vision? Can the goal be achieved through a different how? A different how much? Can I be more flexible in my definitions and constraints on how the goal is achieved, but not the essential core of it, and still achieve it? You indicated that you want to achieve “adapting Mr. Gaiman’s potent little gem”. There are so many different ways to put the skin back on this cat (forgive my broken metaphor!).

    • Xtopher says:

      What you say is very true, Trevor. When I come up against an obstacle, I try to remind myself to ‘think sideways’ and change my perspective instead of trying to use brute force to somehow ram my way through it. It does take some time (along with perseverance), and I am so grateful to have that on The Price. Thanks for your encouragement, my friend!!!

  9. Trina says:

    I was having such a rough week at work, and was quite excited to see this update, and but then grew worried as I read through this one, half-expecting a dreaded announcement of the project being canceled. To my relief, it was about overcoming and pushing through and being determined to succeed and it pretty much became my rallying cry for the day. Thank you for the inspiration!

  10. Adele says:

    I am sharing this post because it is both BRAVE and BRILLIANT. Thank you for sharing. Hang on. We are all backing you still, through the dark times and the good x

  11. Doug Salmon says:

    You are pursuing the long road of excellence! As in all such quests, “deepening trials [will] throng your way”. As you endure them well and “press on, press on”, the rewards will surely come… Uncle

  12. juni says:

    You’ll come out the other end. It’s going to be a beautiful film, it is a beautiful story and i believe you’ve got the right heart for it.
    Just keep swimming.

  13. Lynne says:

    My favorite Jaws story is that Spielberg had to ratchet up the suspense and horror without actually showing the shark because it never worked properly. Necessity is the mother of invention AND art.

    Speaking of movie extras, just saw that each frame of Avatar took 47 hours. Technology is also a double-edged sword.

    Hang in there Christopher though you may have some splainin’ to do to my granddaughter!

  14. Hugh says:

    “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

    I’m sure you will prevail and it will be wonderful.

  15. I know exactly what you’re talking about, and yes, it definitely happens at seemingly the worst moments. If I’ve learned anything in life through the loss of love and the death of hope, through watching dreams go crashing down into the dark places where we can no longer reach them, it’s that nothing is ever given to us, and if you want something, the only thing you can do is pursue it to the ends of the earth. If you give up, that’ll be on you. If you don’t, chances are you’ll eventually succeed where others would have failed.

    I’ve never been a mind over matter guy, or a positive-thinking guy, but as I go forward, I believe more and more that the things we tell ourselves really do matter, and that even though mere belief in your dream or hope for success does not guarantee those things, they really are the only means by which we have to get there.

    Godspeed, sir. Keep moving ahead. When you look back on all the obstacles you’ve managed to overcome and have this beautiful film as the end result, you’ll have no cause to regret the journey.

    • Xtopher says:

      Beautifully said, Michael. And I believe it too, that what we tell ourselves really does make a difference. I see patterns throughout my life that validate having an optimistic perspective, and those experiences tell me that things will come together exactly when they are supposed to; I just may not see it at the time. Hope you are well and still dreaming your fine dreams, my friend!!! :)

  16. Rob King says:

    Hang in there man, we’ll get it done one of these years.. :) BTW, Neil always steals my Birthday love, being on the same day as mine, it just isn’t fair. LOL Keep up the good work man and make it look good because you know it’s gonna sound incredible.

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks dude — and sorry I’m so late in saying it, but Happy Birthday Rob!!! :) You are truly the King of Sound, and we shall soon return as conquering heroes …

  17. Valerie McNamara says:

    Walls test how much you want what is on the other side. Climb over the wall, man! (or dig under it, or blast through it, or whatever you need to do). We ALL want what is on the other side!

    • Xtopher says:

      I like that, Valerie. And that is what I mean by ‘thinking sideways:’ to find some way to get past those walls that you may have never even thought of before! Thank-you!!!

  18. Margaret Johnston says:

    The creative process is rarely smooth. Great works of art have been years in the making! Keep going and best wishes.

  19. Elizabeth (aka Suzi) Skutley says:

    You know we’re all here pulling for you! I know the process will be well worth all the time and energy poured into it!
    Eagerly (and patiently) awaiting the final results,

  20. Andrea Zaugg says:

    I think the same can be said of life. Sometimes we have to be broken down to pieces in order to be built up again. And when we are built backup, we are stronger and better than before. I always liked the saying, “It is darkest before the dawn.”

    I am glad that you are continuing on the project in spite of the obstacles. It will be a success and it will be wonderful, because you are making it so.

    • Xtopher says:

      That is so true, Andrea; and that darkness makes us appreciate the dawn that much more. I am so grateful for your belief in this project’s potential!

  21. Nicoletta says:

    Great to hear that you still keep going. I think that kind of thing happens also in other sort of processes and is kind of inevitable if you aim to create something really new and different. So this problems actually speak for your project.

    Still looking forwad to the finished result (and sorry for my perhaps a little bit strange english),

    • Xtopher says:

      Thank you Nicoletta; I’m glad you can see that we are aiming as high as we can (and I think your English is just great)!

  22. Mirko says:

    Nice to hear about some progress. I can imagine it’s pretty hard to do creative things and then, at some point, reflect and think “What the **** did I do there? Should I keep on going or take another way, maybe back, before it’s too late?”. I’m glad you seemed to get over that and wish you all the best for the future progress.

    However, hoping this doesn’t come like a nitpicking troll, I wish there had been a bit more information about the actual progress. The project already is more than a year late. I don’t want to hurry you, good things need time. But I think some transparency would be nice for all the waiting backers. What has been done so far? What needs to be redone in different ways? What is still missing? Is there a rough estimate how long it will still take? How does the financial situation look like, since more time usually means more money required?

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks Mirko, and no, you don’t sound like a Troll. :) I just didn’t want to go into lists of things and get mired in my own frustration and anxieties, spreading the anti-joy around, you know?

      As for being late, I have to keep telling myself that this is an opportunity that I will most likely never again hold in my hands: to be able to create something without compromise, without looming deadlines and meddling clients to muddy the waters. I would argue that I want to see this film finished more than anyone else, but I’m going to do it right.

      By far the most frustrating element for me is dealing with the technical issues and processes that I don’t have the experience or skill-set to deal with (yet; I am learning as I go). Most of the creative and many of the technical aspects of making this film are elements I can control directly and involve talents and skills that I have to work with. But in those areas where I need to rely on others, I have had to be patient and go at a pace that they can provide (keep in mind that most of them have ‘day jobs’ and in many cases are donating much of their time). I am grateful for their help and for the privilege of collaborating with them; this project and the tasks I’ve presented have challenged everyone’s experience and proficiency to extremes.

      Since you asked, here are some specifics to help paint a more accurate picture. We had determined that Zbrush would be the program to use for scultping and then rendering the high-res imagery of the characters that I would use to create the hybrid-style 2.5D animation for The Price. The main problem was hair, and for both the author and cat characters, that proved to be an essential element. We had tried various sculpted hair techniques, but they didn’t read properly or project the warmth and other characteristics that were intrinsic & necessary, especially for the cat. That meant exporting these models into a traditional 3D package (Maya) to utilize an actual hair system. After several attempts, we started to get results that looked right, but the models wound up becoming technically unsupportable (we only have 1 high end computer, not access to a state-of-the-art render farm) and unwieldy in practical terms as well — I couldn’t turn ‘Neil’s’ head and have the hair stay in place and not follow; fun things like that. 😉

      I had wanted to avoid all of the other issues in translating the models between applications, as they looked their best in Zbrush (where you can literally use millions of polygons — the building blocks of 3D modelling — to create your characters. Well, after all of this time trying to create the hair/fur we were looking for outside of Zbrush, they have now developed a hair system of their own! Whew! Full-circle, right? :) Some of the good news is that Pixologic (the company behind Zbrush) have been helping us directly and want to highlight our project as it nears completion, so things on this particular front are looking up.

      I hope this small glimpse has helped assuage your curiosity/fears about how things are going. With things as unpredictable as they are, I am reluctant to give a completion date, but I am trying my hardest to get it done in time for festival submissions this next year (so by September), but we’ll see how things come together. Thanks again for your interest and your patience, Mirko!

      • Mirko says:

        Wow, thanks for the lengthy reply. It would almost make a new blog entry. Keep on going, I’m looking forward to a really great movie. But maybe think about some more regulary updates even if they aren’t that great. In the months before this update, I really wondered sometimes if you’re still well or have to recover from a broken leg or burnout… :)
        Oh, and I have to agree with Jeremy: Try not to be too perfectionistic. You easily start spending 80% of your time with 20% fine tuning most people only notice if you show them comparision pictures and point out the differnces.

  23. Pat Kiewicz says:

    I think this sort of breakdown in a creative process could be the reason that Brian Eno invented his Creative Strategies deck (apparently now available in an app).

    We will continue to wait patiently!

    • Xtopher says:

      What little I know of Brian Eno’s solution (sometimes referred to as the Oblique Strategies deck) is that it seemed intended to help artists (especially musicians) to get past creative blocks. I have had those as well, but what I was attempting to describe is a phenomena that occurs somewhere in the middle of the process rather than at the beginning (where most instances of my creative blocks have happened), and is more about feeling like a disastrous collapse than a lapse in inspiration. At any rate, I thank you for your patience and hope you enjoyed the desktop image! :)

  24. Trish says:

    Thanks for sharing. You have a great outlook on what could have stopped you in your tracks. I actually go from elated to OMG during the part where everything breaks down because it’s an opportunity to learn more about myself and from others. It’s bit like being on the craziest roller coaster you’ve ever been on–the only thing you can do is enjoy the ride.

    And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

    We’re here to support you. I believe in you and your vision.


    • Xtopher says:

      And do I ever need/appreciate that support Trish; my thanks runs deep to you and everyone else who have sent such wonderful messages of hope and encouragement! And I agree wholeheartedly that those lapses help us to learn more about ourselves — brilliant observation! :)

  25. Trish says:

    Ummm… seems to be a blip in the security code logic. My first attempt I got the code wrong and then given a second chance, got it right. Both attempts were posted anyway. I’m really not that repetitive. 😛

  26. Catharine says:

    I have not posted before, just been quietly watching from the sidelines, but your angst prompted me to post with a word encouragement. I believe in you and the project just as much, or more, than the day I decided to help back the project. Hang in there I know that the finished project will be amazing.

    • Xtopher says:

      Well Catharine, I am so very grateful that you decided to share such thoughtful sentiments; your kind encouragement means more than you can know!

  27. Sioux says:

    Everything has its Price, right?
    I think it would have been spookily unnatural if The Price hadn’t exacted some kind of karmic toll on your creative passion. And it’ll be soooo much more satisfying when you get there, however much you’ve had to ‘pay’. Like you say, the value is in the journey and discovery. All the graphical goodies we might get now, that we wouldn’t have seen had these hiccups not happened :)
    So thank you for sharing! We’re all rooting for you and I’m definitely updating my wallpaper now!

  28. Cat Mihos says:

    so so beautiful, this new banner–
    i put it up on tumblr and people are going all gooey–
    thank you, this journey is always an adventure, and you are doing great things.
    love the JAWS inspiration, da dum da dum -da DUM!
    xoxo Kitty

  29. pharmcat says:

    I guess having backers adds an extra level of stress, but don’t forget it also adds an extra level of support :-) The finished film will be cherished even more for the hard work that has gone into it

  30. Jeremy says:

    Sending some positive vibes your way!
    Don’t forget not to be a perfectionist. You have grown to love the story and the project, but the creative process is growth and change, this doesn’t have to be your pinnacle, but rather a noteworthy branch on the trail of life. If we could all learn to accept our efforts as an ongoing process without our perception of perfection perhaps we would still have a Star Wars where Han shot first… :-)

  31. Matt says:

    This post is so true about how everything goes. I know you’ll pull it off and it will be fantastic. 😉

  32. Nnenna says:

    I’m still only a senior in college, but I know the feeling so well. My projects team just got off one of those slumps and it felt so hopeless. While it’s a bit scary to know that it never goes away, it’s kind of nice to know that’s it’s part of the process and not a failure on our part!

    Thank you for continuing to soldier on, best wishes!

    • Xtopher says:

      It really is a part of the process, something along the lines of having to taste the bitter to truly appreciate the sweet. Thanks for the kind wishes & I’ll send along some of my own for you and your endeavors, Nnenna!

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