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CG Futures 2018_Alex Alvarez

CG Futures (formerly known as Gnomon Live) is a weekend-long gathering of VFX, games and animation people ranging from industry legends, through to students. A huge assortment of talks and demos take place across the three days, with plenty of opportunities to mingle, catch a drink, and form connections in a small community rich with digital creative types. While I was there I took notes on the masterclasses and demos, and I’m sharing them here, with permission. Here’s the first one, a talk by Gnomon founder Alex Alvarez.

Alex’s talk focused on what unites us, motivates us, keeps us going and some rather deep, existential questions of how we choose to live and conduct ourselves in the world.

As creators and practitioners within all of the creative arts, we share a love for comics, movies, animation, and the power of our enthusiasm acts as a prolonged motivator to keep us improving for all of our sentient and able years. We are a tribe with common interests, and our mutual inspirations are a unifying force. That this is an industry you can work in, and a supportive community as well.

inspiration, motivation, education:  evolving as a professional artist 

There are a range of people putting media productions together, with everyone on their own journey. Alex went on to speak about his own personal and professional path that had led him to this point. He dropped out of college and got a tattoo, got a job as a comic colourist for Image Comics, and started learning Photoshop (back then with no layers!) But then 1994 saw the emergence of movies like Jurassic Park and Mist, signalling the light-jump of 3D software, and practical effects giving way to photo-real digital VFX. Alex was hooked, intrigued, and wanted to learn the skills to work on these sorts of projects. He quickly realised there were no schools anywhere teaching the high-end software and digital techniques that were pioneered and shared within the industry, at that point in time. Slowly, the idea for Gnomon grew.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”. Picasso

Sometimes we forget that when we were a child, our creative outlets were done not for others, but for ourselves, not for recognition, but for fun. The pressure we give ourselves when comparing our progress to others leads to fear, and can quickly choke our creativity. As long as you enjoy something you can get good at it. I really loved this point and found the same myself, and as Alex said, these imposing looking digital packages, software and technology are all toys, they’re all fun.

“Where your mind wanders is where your heart lies”. Anonymous

Whatever you dwell on is what you should be doing. We are always searching for new things, new input. Be open to change, be receptive to where your mind goes and know that is what you should be open to. If you aren’t happy with anything in your life you can take steps to change it. This is where Alex started to drill down into somewhat more fundamental questions of who we are and how we define ourselves, using his own life experiences as a template. Gnomon was created as an expression of positive change, a recognition of what was needed at the time, and a movement toward uniting his heart with his mind. A place for people to learn from industry professionals, as well as his own desire to build a community to keep that learning process going. The credo of embracing change is a necessary trait in an industry like film and VFX, where methods, technologies, pipelines and processes never stop changing. The tools are constantly evolving, and the bar keeps rising. The Gnomon student demo reel was a reminder that there are always top-shelf students gunning for industry work. Complacency equals failure, and this fed back into Alex’s opening comments about the importance of maintaining enthusiasm for the work.

Alex then went on to refute the entrenched idea of 10,000 hours as a benchmark of mastery, with the hypothesis that the idea of mastery itself is misleading. Gnomon students work 80 hours per week(!) and reach this hypothetical level of mastery within their study period, and yet are required to continually grow, never reaching a lofty plateau where all is mastered. This acts, then, as a motivator to continue to improve to be a student forever.

“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it” . Salvador Dali

Originality is too highly rated, you need to be inspired by things and use them. There is no talent gene. Just time and taste. Time is clear but taste is not. Alex gave the metaphor of an art director as akin to a sommelier; for most people much wine tastes the same, which is why there is a lot of bad art (and wine) out there. Bad art is created by people who haven’t developed their own personal taste, as a result of experience, education, and a host of personal factors. Art directors have a developed ‘eye’ and a developed taste, a result of watching movies, playing games, travelling, looking at art, and thinking about why they liked what they liked, why they didn’t like other things, gaining a clear understanding of personal taste, and a wide range of things to sample from.

Then Alex brought up the necessity of meeting new people. This is, for a lot of creative people, akin to public speaking, bringing out fears of sounding stupid, feeling uncomfortable, and so on. But Alex really pushed the importance of this, that everyone has something to teach you, to introduce you to new things, music, movies, to support you, to get into the new things. He also mentioned something that I totally agree with and have said many times to students; that when people get hired, it’s largely about personality. Someone hiring you is deciding they want to hang out with you, so being able and willing to get to know people and relate to them is important on a number of levels.

“Work is life, you know, and without it there is nothing left but fear and insecurity”. John Lennon

By this point, Alex’s talk was winding down. A somber, reflective mood had passed over the audience.

He spoke about the importance of getting out, traveling and seeing things. natural things, man-made things. Pushing out of our comfort zone constantly. Combining work and passion. Embracing change. Seeking bliss. Engaging with the world and the people within it. I’d like to finish here with a quote from Alex Alvarez himself, which sums up his journeyman thesis quite nicely.

“We work in a derivative field. with infinite inspiration to draw from. We can never master everything… if anything.”

It kind of takes the pressure off, don’t you think?