The Creative Process – How an Intricate Stop-Motion Animation Project Came to John Frame in a Dream

I just heard a fascinating interview with sculptor and stop-motion animator John Frame, who explained how his long-term project “The Tale of the Crippled Boy” came to him in a dream. Frame had been a sculptor for decades but had hit a creative wall, or more precisely had run out of steam, to use another metaphor. He had reached a point in his creative work where he just couldn’t create anymore.

Then one night he had a lucid dream in which he imagined an entire world populated with characters in motion. He somehow recognized that these characters were his own creations, and in that dream state he spent several hours observing this world. When when he woke up early in the morning, he captured it all in drawings and notes and storyboards and began his current stop-motion animation project. Did I mention that he had never done stop-motion before? But now “The Tale of the Crippled Boy” has become his entire creative activity.

You can see Frame’s initial animations here on Vimeo:

I have to admit that I’m not drawn to the creative product, fascinating and detailed as it is — too bizarre to appeal to me. But what I am intrigued by is the way the idea came to the creator — seemingly arriving out of the blue in a dream state. Everybody dreams, and I suspect that lucid dreaming is fairly common. However, the important thing here is that Frame got up and captured it all so he could turn the idea into a creative product. It’s also significant that the stop-motion product draws on his many years of work as a sculptor.

This experience illustrates what I think are some important lessons about the creative process, and it follows the ideas set out in my favorite book on this topic — A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young. Written in 1965, this is a brilliant treatise for anyone involved in creative work — Young was actually an advertising guy, but his ideas really apply to anyone in the arts. It’s only 36 pages. You can buy it for a few dollars on Amazon and read it in an hour or so.

Thinking about Young’s book and John Frame’s experience, here are some lessons I extract:

  1. Work very hard over the long term to develop your creative skills, whatever they are — design, writing, drawing, sculpture, painting, music — or skills that are creative but more commonly used in the business world, such as copywriting, graphic design, or art direction. I would also extend this lesson into areas such as innovation, science, engineering, and architecture.
  2. When you are up against a creative problem, put a lot of concentrated effort into analyzing the problem, doing research, brainstorming, testing ideas.
  3. When you are sick and tired of all that concentrating, take a break for an hour, a day, a week, or even longer. Do something else. Relax. Exercise. Go for a hike. Watch a movie. Read. Or go to sleep.
  4. At an unexpected moment an idea or a series of ideas will come to you. Be prepared to capture these ideas — have the tools you need always available to write down or draw out ideas that come to you. I always carry a pocket notebook and set of pens with me. Ideas often come to me when I’m out walking. Like Frame, ideas have sometimes come to me in dreams or just before sleeping or just upon waking up.
  5. After the idea comes to you, work with it and adjust it and figure out how to make it work in a practical way. It might be the solution to the problem you’ve been working on, or it might be the source of an entirely new and unexpected creative endeavor.

You can hear the interview with John Frame at The Story — his is the second part of that particular show.

ARB — 14 Oct. 2012

Why I’m Rude on the Telephone

I’ve been working hard to be more courteous when speaking by telephone with customer representatives. As part of that effort, I’ve been reflecting on what drives me to be rude and sarcastic.

One important factor is that I rarely call up some large company for a happy purpose — it’s almost always a problem. Whatever has happened — a billing error, a product failure, a problem with an order — 90 percent of the time, it’s the company’s screw-up.

So, when I have to call customer support, it’s an interruption to my work, and I’m already primed for conflict. The pressure to respond with asperity mounts to the extent that the customer-service experience stinks — having to navigate through phone-menu options none of which apply, having to wait on hold, encountering a representative who can’t help me with the problem or is poorly trained or is not empowered by the company to do the right thing for the customer.

Fortunately, I’m usually able to maintain enough perspective to recognize that the customer representative is usually as much a victim of the company’s abysmal approach to customer experience as I am. Like most of us, the rep is just a poor soul trying to make a living within the limits of the reality they are presented with. Unless the rep is as incompetent or uninterested in the customer as their employer is — in such case, the individual might warrant some castigation.

I often take the opportunity of the interaction to ask the representative to pass along my feedback about what is wrong with their company’s customer relations. Like throwing a stone into the ocean, but who knows, someone might listen.

I would have to say that most of the time my experience with telephone customer service is negative, but normally that doesn’t justify mistreating the human being who is trying to help me.

ARB — 6 April 2012

The Value of Being Wrong

I love TED Talks as a resource for encountering new ideas. Today I watched Kathryn Schulz’s insightful talk, “On being wrong.Schulz is a journalist known for writing about wrongness.

Near the beginning, Schulz explains her purpose for the talk:

What I want to do today is, first of all, talk about why we get stuck inside of this feeling of being right; and second, why it’s such a problem; and finally, I want to convince you that it is possible to step outside of that feeling; and that if you can do so, it is the single greatest moral, intellectual, and creative leap you can make.

And here’s what I thought was a key insight from the presentation:

…trusting too much in the feeling of being on the correct side of anything can be very dangerous. This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world. And when we act like it is, when we stop entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong, well, that’s when we end up doing things like dumping 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico or torpedoing the global economy.

Here’s the video:

AB — 5 Nov. 2011

The Virtue of Small-House Living

Small house interiorOver at ThomasNet Green & Clean recently, I wrote a pair of articles about small houses, with a mix of interesting photos, statistics on home sizes, and quotes from Henry David Thoreau. Here are links to the articles:

Living in Small and Tiny Houses – Thoreau Would Be Proud

Want to Build Green? Start by Thinking Small.

(Photo: Tiny house interior. Credit: RowdyKittensCC BY 2.0.)

AB — 14 Oct. 2011

Is it true that the “Close Door” buttons on elevators don’t work?

Recently an acquaintance smugly told me that the “Close Door” buttons on elevators don’t work — they are just there as a psychological sop to make passengers think they actually have some control.

I didn’t contest this assertion — I had heard it before and wasn’t certain one way or the other. I was deeply suspicious, however — it smacked of the bogus rumors and conspiracy theories you hear all the time, or at least sounded like one of those things that everybody knows that just aren’t true.

So I was happy to learn today that Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope has already (in 1986) dealt with this critical question in his thorough and inimitable manner — he even interviewed representatives of the Otis elevator company and various elevator repairmen. See “Do ‘close door’ buttons on elevators ever actually work?

The upshot is that the “Close Door” button is not an evil conspiracy to manipulate people into pushing a fake button hoping for a reward like Pavlov’s dogs. That’s not to say that they always work — they could be broken or disconnected at the request of the building’s owner. Here’s another reason Cecil gives as to why these buttons don’t always seem to work:

The button really does work, it’s just set on time delay. Suppose the elevator is set so that the doors close automatically after five seconds. The close-door button can be set to close the doors after two or three seconds. The button may be operating properly when you push it, but because there’s still a delay, you don’t realize it.

AB — 9 September 2011

How to Get Into the Best University

Today, Peter Temes writes with characteristic brilliance about the competitive process for getting into universities in the U.S. Part of his message is that the admissions process for elite schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton is very good for those institutions and potentially destructive for the talented young people who strive to enter them — and even for many who succeed at that:

For better or worse – mostly, for worse – the most elite colleges spend millions of dollars a year to spread the appeal of their schools. They encourage bright students to apply, in order for as many as 95% of them to be rejected. And they know the ugly side of their business. They feel badly about it. But they serve the interest of their schools by keeping the selectivity of their admissions process as high as possible and razor sharp.

He lays out four observations to help young people and their parents and advocates navigate through the snake pit of university admissions, including

  • The importance of discerning the “easily observable criteria” for admissions at the top schools
  • The not-so-easy-to-understand role of diversity in admissions
  • The value of finding the best school for what you want to study
  • And the little understood “back doors” to some great schools.

AB — 2 July 2011

Great deal on this watch — save $58,000.01!

Here’s one of my favorite Amazon products — the Zenith Men’s 96.0529.4035/51.M Defy Xtreme Tourbillon Titanium Chronograph Watch! Generously marked down from $145,000.00 to $86,999.99!

Visit the Amazon product page to read some of the hilarious product reviews. One review titled “$9.95 shipping…..Outrageous!” says:

I had decided on this watch, but then I noticed the shipping charge. Outrageous! I’m shelling out close to 100k, and they want me to take care of the shipping too. Forget it!

Zenith Men's 96.0529.4035/51.M Defy Xtreme Tourbillon Titanium Chronograph Watch

AB — 8 May 2010

George Douvris Video Interviews About Terence McKenna

I just wanted to preserve and share links to a series of video interviews with my high school friend George Douvris, publisher of Links by George. As I understand it, these interviews were conducted in Hawaii recently. George is discussing his experiences with Terence McKenna.

First segment (scroll to the bottom for this video): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78893

Second segment: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78918

Third segment: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78919

AB — 23 May 2011