Sometime in the mid 90s, I was absolutely positive that by the year 2000, I'd be working at Pixar (or a rock star). Like many people, I saw the value in 3D animation, and understood how it was going to change the face of film in the near future. For hours a day, I'd sit in front of my computer, teaching myself through tutorials, articles and a bit of trial and error, and I got pretty good too. However, mastery does not happen in a vacuum, and I took to the internet to find more inspiration. Being a fan of Akira Toriyama's Dragonball at the time, that was one of the first things that I searched, and found an artist going by the moniker Tomwoof. On a whim, I sent him an email introducing myself, and informing him that I was a fan of some of his work. I had been trying to wrap my head around modeling anime and manga characters.
After a while, I learned that Tomwoof was living in Singapore at the time, and we became the modern day version of pen pals. Over the years, we'd talk about art, life, relationships and inspiration. One thing that I consistently noticed was that the insights that he would share with me were unlike any than my friends in the United States had. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of these insights were grounded in the cultural differences between the two of us.
When I transitioned from 3D animation to film and visual effects, I turned to the internet once again. Since then, I've become friends with filmmakers and artists from the United Kingdom, Norway, South America, Africa, Asia, and many within the United States. Each online peer brought to the table a different set of values and frame of mind when approaching art. What I learned from all of this is that I wouldn't be half the artist I am today without exposure to different cultures.
"How do you say it where you're from?"
Every artist, writer and musician starts on the inside when they create something. "What do I want to say? What do I want to feel? What do I want to show?" But to interpret those questions into words, musical notes or images, we rely on our own experiences, where we live, who our family is, and what we've been inspired by. If I want to write a script about loss and hope, I'm going to draw on slightly different themes and values than someone in South Africa. One of the most apparent benefits to having peers from other cultures is that you can discover new ways to explore common themes. How do the Japanese interpret the concept of loyalty in their artwork? How is the Hero's Journey different in Italy than where I live? What can we learn from the Greek in terms of pacing? By stepping away from what you already know, you can find new ways to not only express yourself, but also broaden your horizons. It's even easier when those that you speak with are just as passionate as you are about your craft.
"What stories were you told as a child?"
You may notice that many Western (read: North American and European) stories follow similar structures. You'll find similar values and archetypes throughout, regardless of the genre. I believe that this is because of the common ancestry in our literature, stemming back to the Greeks. From the structure of the the three act story to the reinterpretation of fables, you'll find that many of the stories we experience today follow very similar structures and themes . Having contact with people with shared interests who grew up in different cultures offers a fresh look on telling the same old story. Furthermore, there are plenty of cultures that have stories that you may have never experienced before, which may spark inspiration in ways you haven't imagined. Get to know your fellow artists, you might find new ways to tell your own stories.
Opportunity knocks around the globe
It's not all about inspiration and the stories of other cultures, but also about opportunities. Extending your reach beyond your borders opens you up to new and exciting contacts in your industry of choice, and while not everyone can pick up and move to a new land, it's possible that you can find new freelance and consultant options if you look hard (and far) enough. In the Hitfilm community alone, I've heard of at least two people from the United Stated working closely (and even relocating) to Norwich, UK, where the company is based. Also, consider Rodolphe Pierre-Louis of Rodypolis.com, who moved to the United States from Haiti and is a terrific member of the Hitfilm Community. To be clear, I'm not saying that Hitfilm is hiring, but just in case, feel free to check out my resume, guys.
In this day and age, many of us are trying to find our creative place in the world, figuratively and literally. We may not all be in the right place, geographically, but don't let that be a hinderance in your pursuits to improve both yourself and your craft. The world is a big place, and there are people out there with similar interests, skill-sets and passion that can help you get to where you want to be. And who knows, you may learn a thing or two.
Speaking of international friends, here's a piece (one of my favorites) from Mjolnir VFX, a good friend from Norway and fellow Hitfilm user.