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Creative Project and Exegesis

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Disney has always been a major part of my life. I grew up with Disney, watching all of the movies countless times, singing all the songs, and dressing up as all the characters. It’s always been a big inspiration to me, both creatively and in my personal life. When I began my creative project, I was pretty set on the theme/central topic of the project. It was going to be Disney inspired. There were no hesitations or second thoughts; I knew that whatever I did, somehow it was going to relate back to Disney. I had wanted to do a Disney inspired project for a long time, but unfortunately it hadn’t really fit in with any of my previous assignment briefs, but for this assignment, I was pretty much given complete creative freedom.

In case you didn’t know, I’m a photography student. Photography is my passion; it’s what I love to do and how I like to express myself. In particular, I have a keen interest in film photography. Now this might be a bit pretentious of me, but somehow I just feel it has more soul, and I love the way that you can really push the film to harness it’s full potential. So, naturally, my original creative project synopsis was all to do with Disney and film photography. I also have a keen interest in fashion, and actually collect old ball gowns and wedding dresses; therefore I wanted to use these dresses as part of my creative project.

So, the original creative project idea. I wanted to create a fashion editorial inspired by the Disney princesses, using the dresses I own. I didn’t want to actually physically replicate each individual princess, but rather the essence and moods of the princesses, and the movies themselves. I wanted to do this by experimenting with film and double exposures. Double exposing a roll of film is when you put the roll through the camera twice (shooting both times), so that the two photos are laid on top of each other. I felt that this would give the photos a mysterious, fantasy, other worldly feel, as if they were not quite rooted in reality. However, I knew that I would have time constraints, and therefore decided that I would produce the negatives in a darkroom, but scan and print them digitally, as working in the darkroom is very time consuming.

My original idea was inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s Disney Dream Portrait series, which was created in collaboration with Disney. The series features modern day celebrities as classic Disney characters. I love the feel of the series, the photographs are beautiful and realistic, but at the same time they feel as if they are not quite rooted in reality. However the thing about the photographs that really inspired me throughout the entire process of my creative project, was how the photographs bring a new side to the old loved tales.

Scarlet Johansson as Cinderella (Leibovitz, 2007a)

Penelope Cruz and Jeff Bridges as Beauty and the Beast(Leibovitz, 2011)

Taylor Swift as Rapunzel (Leibovitz, 2013) 

David Beckham as Prince Phillip (Leibovitz, 2007b)

The target audience for my original synopsis was extremely broad – it would appeal to women of any age who love Disney and the ‘princess’ dream, however, it would predominately appeal to girls aged 5-35, who love Disney and are interested in fashion.

I loved the original idea that I had for my creative project, and it’s still a project that I would one day like to pursue. However, during my creative process, my original idea was changed into a completely different idea, which I really love. The first change I made was that I decided that my workflow would be completely digital. As much as I love working with film, the reality is that this project had a time period in which it needed to be completed in, that didn’t really allow for hours spent in the darkroom, and that film is quite expensive.

The next change was the actual topic. As much as I loved my original idea, it was a very broad and time-consuming idea, and I felt that within the parameters of this assignment, I could not complete the project to the best of my ability. So, I started to contemplate focusing on one princess and one movie, which would be a much more approachable task, in the terms of this assignment. I had basically decided I was going to focus on The Little Mermaid, when I sat down to watch Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

I’ve always been quite inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I love the craziness and ridiculousness of Wonderland, and the characters themselves are all so intriguing. There’s also an editorial, shot for Vogue by Annie Leibovitz (who, you may have noticed, is one of my favourite photographers), inspired by Alice in Wonderland, that I have always loved. That’s when the thought hit me. Why don’t I shoot an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece?

Through the Looking Glass (Leibovitz, 2003)

The target audience for my piece remained relatively the same – it would appeal predominately to females aged 5-35, who love Disney and fashion inspired photography, however there would be more of a focus in a love for Alice in Wonderland, rather than for the princesses.

Changing the story of my project to Alice in Wonderland instigated one other change in my original synopsis – whilst I love editorials, I really wanted to explore the characters from Alice and Wonderland, rather than the fashion. So instead of shooting an editorial, I decided to shoot a series that would explore some of the characters of the classic story.

I was spoilt for choice when deciding which characters to explore, Alice in Wonderland has so many complex and intriguing characters, and I can’t help but wonder what made them the way they are. But the two characters, and the relationship between them, that really stood out to me, were Alice and the Queen of Hearts.

(“Alice in Wonderland,” 1951)

Alice is naïve, curious and rather innocent, yet at the same time displays a sense of self-assuredness and cheekiness. She is the central protagonist of the story. On the other hand, the Queen of Hearts is basically insane, chopping off the head of anyone who dares to defy her, and always seems angry. The Queen is one of the main antagonists in the story. The relationship between Alice and the Queen of Hearts is quite an intriguing one – the Queen of Hearts displays extreme hatred towards Alice, declaring ‘off with her head!’ (“Alice in Wonderland,” 1951) in reference to the young girl multiple times during their interactions. The Queen despises Alice with a passion that seems extreme in relation to the reasons she has for disliking Alice, and Alice appears to be confused as to why the Queen hates her so much. The traits of these two characters, and their complex relationship, inspired the theme of my series – the exploration of the background of these two characters, and their relationship.

Why is the Queen of Hearts the way she is? Why does she hate Alice so much? What has happened between them, or in the Queen’s past, that has caused her to feel this way? These are some of the questions I attempted to raise in my photographic series. I wanted to have a fantasy inspired mood to the images, as if they were not quite rooted in reality, and were surrounded by chaos. To help do this, I chose the setting for the series to be in the Tulgey woods, at the Mad Hatter’s tea party (I took some liberations with the story here).

The creative process for this project was quite a long one. It began with researching. Lots and lots of researching. A lot of this research was actually done without me even realising, and before I had even come up with the idea for the project. Watching the film and viewing all of Leibovitz’s images were an integral part of the research, even though I did them without realising I was researching (Young & Smith, 2014). Even though I didn’t shoot an editorial, the industry I was ‘working’ in was the fashion industry, as my photographs were very fashion inspired, and have a similar style to that of fashion photographs. I was comfortable working in this area, and working in this area helped to inspire me during my process (Franklin, 2014).  Next came the organising of the shoot. My shoot was largely a creative collaboration between me, my models and my makeup artist. Luckily, we all benefited equally from the collaboration, as for a creative collaboration to work, all members of the collaboration must receive

‘mutual benefit but at the same time, retain ownership of their achievement’ – (Mamykina, Candy, & Edmonds, 2002)

I retained the copyright of the photographs, and was able to use them for my assignment, whilst the models and the makeup artist all got free photographs to use in their portfolios. A win-win situation for all participants.

After organising the shoot, it was time to go out and shoot the series. The day we shot on was horrible, it was raining and stormy and not at all a good day to be carrying around heavy equipment, and trying to shoot models in full costume. I’m pretty sure we all looked quite mad trying to cover up equipment with umbrella’s whenever it rained, and running around like headless chickens trying to shoot whenever it stopped raining. That madness though, is all part of the creativity.

‘There’s a fine line between madness and producing something for which people might pay’. (Harman, 2014)

That shoot day definitely brought out my ability to be both playful and disciplined, and to alternate between fantasy and reality (Csikmentmihalyi, 1996). Technology was definitely important, and helped me to create my series on the day; I don’t know where I would have been without my camera and lighting equipment.

The final part of my creative process involved selecting the images to use, editing them and putting them in order. I chose my final images based on how well they were shot, and also how they helped me to create a ‘story’. I wanted photographs that would tell a story, but at the same time allow the viewer to come up with their own story, therefore the ‘story’ of the images had to be quite vague. The editing of the images was quite a time consuming process, because I edited each image in a multitude of different ways, so that I could compare them and decide which look I liked best. In the end, I tried to make the images have quite dark backgrounds, with lit foregrounds, as I think it helped to give the images that real fantasy feeling. I used mainly images that had movement, as I think that added to the partly chaotic atmosphere I was trying to create. Putting my images into their final order wasn’t too difficult – I simply put them in the order that I felt best told a story.

My creative project was interesting to me because it visited the same concept of Leibovitz’s Disney Dream Portrait Series – bringing a new side to old tales. I wanted to reinvent the story of Alice in Wonderland, rather like the musical Wicked has done to The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to encourage the viewer to question the backstory of Alice and the Queen of Hearts, and why they are the way they are. I don’t believe the Queen is necessarily evil, I think that there is something that made her like this, a reason why she wants to cut off everyone’s head, and I don’t think Alice is as innocent in this matter as she makes out to be.

That’s what I wanted to do with my series. Explore the backstories. I think there’s always a backstory, to absolutely everything, and just because you can’t see it or know about it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s something Disney has helped teach me, and a concept that I find ridiculously intriguing. I could sit here for hours and tell you the backstory that I imagined up for the Queen and Alice, but the truth is, I want the viewer to come up with their own story. I don’t want to be all controlling, I want this to be a series that can be interpreted in many ways.

I’m really happy with how my creative project turned out. I think the images I selected helped to create a ‘story’, however what that story is, that’s entirely up to the viewer. I believe I captured that other-worldly feeling in my images, and put a new spin on the story of Alice in Wonderland. I also think my creative process as a whole was extremely successful. Perhaps you don’t like the series, that’s all down to personal taste, but it’s a concept that I’m really passionate about, and I think that’s what makes something creative, passion. I also think my personality shines through quite a bit in this series, which although I wasn’t necessarily attempting to do this, is also something I think adds to the creativity of the work. I believe creativity is all about putting yourself wholeheartedly into the work, which I really did with this project.

I learnt a lot on this creative journey, not just about my chosen discipline, photography, but also about myself as a creative practitioner. That’s what creative journeys are all about, learning and improving. I’m not completely naïve, I know my project isn’t perfect, and that there are many things I could improve. Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to do just that, and shoot the theme again. If I were to do this project again, I would love to also explore some of the other characters, such as the King of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. I think it would be interesting to do a whole story, a photographic novel if you will, on the stories of the characters of Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps that’s a project for another day.

If you’re still reading and interested in these blogs, even though you’ve finished your assignments and this unit is over, I would love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below. Did you like the series? Do you like the Alice in Wonderland story? What do you think about the characters? What is the backstory you came up with for Alice and the Queen of Hearts, based on the series?

Works Cited

Alice in Wonderland. (1951): Walt Disney Pictures.

Csikmentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity:Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Franklin, D (2014). [Creative Environments].

Harman, J (2014). [Personal Creative Process].

Leibovitz, A. (2003). Through the Looking Glass: Vogue.

Leibovitz, A. (2007a). Where every Cinderella story comes true: Disney.

Leibovitz, A. (2007b). Where imagination saves the day: Disney.

Leibovitz, A. (2011). Where a moment of beauty lasts forever: Disney.

Leibovitz, A. (2013). Where a world of adventure awaits: Disney.

Mamykina, L, Candy, L, & Edmonds, E. (2002). Collaborative Creativity. Communications of the ACM, 45(10), 96-99.

Young, A, & Smith, L (2014, May 20). [The Creative Researcher].

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Creative Project

So, I’ve just posted my creative project. Exciting stuff! I wanted to post it on its own, without any text, before publishing it with my exegesis, as I want you to be able to see the photographs as they were intended to be viewed – as a series. That’s it. No text or explanation, I want the viewer to be able to draw their own message from the piece. You can click here to see the series. I hope you like it!

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Painting the Roses Red


(Geronimi, Jackson, & Luske, 1951)

I’m currently finishing off the exegesis for my creative project, and this song from Disney’s 1951 film Alice in Wonderland (the film my creative project is based on) has been on repeat. I can’t get it out of my head!

Works Cited

Geronimi, C, Jackson, W, & Luske, H (Writers). (1951). Alice in Wonderland – Painting the Roses Red. In W. Disney (Producer): RKO Radio Pictures.

 

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Week 12: The Creative Researcher

I’m not going to lie to you – I really didn’t relate to or agree with this week’s lecture or readings. I found the guest lecturer, Tania Visosevic, to be a pretty interesting speaker, but the content of the lecture just wasn’t all that interesting to me. In fact, it was kind of icky (I’m extremely squeamish), and I don’t really understand how it related to the topic. Then there were the readings.

‘One view of art making is that it is fundamentally a research process. Each art object, performance or realized concept is sometimes seen as an experiment from which the artist learns and from which new ideas and goals emerge.’ – (Edmonds, 2007)

The readings started off okay, in fact, I actually found the first reading quite interesting. They key argument I took from this reading was that ‘art making is fundamentally a research process’ (Edmonds, 2007). As a creative practitioner, I never stop learning and researching. After every project, I’m always thinking ‘if I had to do this again, what would I do differently? How could I improve? What other techniques could I use?’ This allows me to reflect on what I did and didn’t do well, and improve my work. I often end up reshooting the same idea after reflecting upon my work, and coming up with a completely different product. The reading continued on to talk about ‘practice based research’ (Edmonds, 2007), where instead of having a keen focus on theory, a larger focus is placed on putting the ideas into practice. Whilst I thought this was quite interesting, I wasn’t sure as to how it really related to the topic.

Then we came to the second reading, which is where it all started going downhill. I learnt that because I want to be an ‘artist’*, I’m probably going to have to have more than one job, as artists typically ‘have multiple job holding patterns’ (Throsby & Hollister, 2003). I also learnt I’m going to be extremely poor, as the mean creative income (the money earnt in the creative field) for Australian artists from 2000-2001 was just over $17 000, and the total median income (total money earnt in all areas) for Australian artists from 2000-2001 was only $30 000 (Throsby & Hollister, 2003). Not to mention the fact that I am female, which means I’m going to earn even less, with the mean creative income for females being less than half that of males, and the median total income for females being $23,600, compared to $35 000 for males (Throsby & Hollister, 2003). Understandably, I didn’t enjoy that reading.

So I went onto the next reading – this time, I was learning about wicked problems. A wicked problem is a problem that is ‘highly resistant to any kind of solution’ (Crouch & Pearce, 2012). Basically, it’s a problem that can’t really be resolved. Horst and Webber have even suggested that ‘there is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem because the problem and the solution are the same thing and every time a solution is proposed it changes the nature of the problem’ (Crouch & Pearce, 2012). Every problem is essentially a wicked problem to some degree, as ‘tame’ (solvable) problems tend to sit in wicked problems (Crouch & Pearce, 2012). So not only have I learnt that some problems are essentially evil and impossible to solve, but now I’m learning that all problems are like this!

Now, at this point I’m thinking, great. So far, I have learnt that I’m going to work my butt off to be poor, and I’m probably not going to be able to solve any problems, because they’re all wicked. The first reading was a little bit interesting, but I was still a bit confused as to what we were actually learning about. Then came the light shining from above – Airlia‘s section of Liam and Airlia’s in class presentation on the creative researcher**.

Airlia and Liam took a different approach to the readings in talking about the creative researcher, and instead talked about how research can affect creativity. Airlia talked about how research contributed to the making of the 2010 Disney movie, Tangled. Did you know that Disney actually hired a lady with a PhD in hair (yes, that’s right, hair) to help with the animation of Rapunzel’s hair (Young & Smith, 2014)? Or that in order to decide how Flynn Rider was going to look, basically a bunch of women sat around a table, looked at pictures of attractive guys and decided what they all agreed on made a man good looking*** (Young & Smith, 2014)? Basically, Airlia talked about how there are many different ways of researching that can aid us in our creative journeys. This idea really resonated with me, as it’s something I do in my creative discipline, photography. My inspiration for a photo can come from anywhere – a photo I’ve seen, clothes I’ve seen, movies, quotes, books, things people do – anything can be inspiration. All these things are part of my research – even when I’m not actively researching or looking for an idea, I am still researching!

Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Disney’s Tangled (“Rapunzel and Flynn Rider,”)

*Oh, the ‘a’ word. I use the term artist very loosely, because I don’t think it’s a term that can really be defined, and I think it can often be used in a bit of a pretentious manner (e.g. on every singing competition show in the history of ever – if the judges say you’re an artists, 99.9% of the time you’re just really weird and no one likes you).

**Sorry Liam, your part was really interesting too! Airlia’s just came first so that’s when I first really understood what the topic was about, and I was able to relate to her case study more as I love Tangled, whereas I’ve never actually seen The Hobbit, or any of The Lord of the Rings movies!

***That sounds like my kind of job.

Works Cited

Crouch, C, & Pearce, J. (2012). Doing research in Design. Oxford: Berg.

Edmonds, E. (2007). Research on and from within Creative Practice. Leonardo, 40(4).

Rapunzel and Flynn Rider.).   Retrieved May 25, 2014, from http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/17600000/Flynn-and-Rapunzel-flynn-rider-17617834-900-563.jpg

Throsby, D, & Hollister, V. (2003). Don’t Give Up Your Day Job: Australia Council for the Arts.

Young, A, & Smith, L (2014, May 20). [The Creative Researcher].

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Week 10: Creativity and Industry

It would be just my luck to be sick on the one lecture in this unit that I actually really wanted to go to. It’s not that the other lectures were bad, or that I didn’t want to go to them, but it’s always been my dream to work for Disney*, so a lecture by a former Pixar animator is kind of high on my ‘lectures to go to’ list. I was even more annoyed when Nicole told me how great it was, and how much I would have enjoyed it! But I can’t change the past, so unfortunately I’m just going to have to get over it. At least I still had the readings, which, by the way, I personally thought were the most interesting and valuable readings we’ve had in this unit**.

‘It (creativity) is…(and this may surprise you) absolutely unrelated to IQ (provided that you are intelligent above a certain minimal level, that is).’ – (Cleese) 

John Cleese brings up pretty much one of the most important ideas about creativity, in my opinion. It has nothing to do with IQ. Sure, you could have the highest IQ level in the world, but that’s not going to make you any more creative than a cockroach. Creativity isn’t about being ‘book smart’ (although that is not to say you can’t be both!), it’s about the way you solve problems, the ideas you come up with, it’s the ‘way you operate’ (Cleese).

I think this is such an important idea, especially in the society we live in today. I find that our education system places a higher emphasis on being ‘book smart’ and getting good grades (because we all know how important that A in Year 12 math’s is going to be in my photography degree, and life after that), rather than allowing children to be creative and just learn. Let’s take the scaling system that is used in calculating our ATAR’s as an example. Each subject is scaled against all the other subjects, regardless of whether or not they have anything to do with one another. So, physics and photography, for example, are scaled against one another, despite having few similarities. Someone somewhere has decided that Physics is harder and more worthwhile than photography***, so much so that I got the top mark in the photography exam, however it was scaled down so much that it didn’t count as one of my top four subjects. Now, I’m not saying that I can do most of the things physics students can do, because I can’t. But most physics students also can’t do what I can do (that’s photography, by the way). So how can you say which is more valuable, if a physics student can’t do what a photography student can do and vice versa? How can you sit there and tell me that my hard work is not worth as much as that of another student’s? Sure, physics may require a higher IQ**** than photography, but that doesn’t make it any harder. Are you trying to tell me that the higher level of creativity required in photography (this is an arguable point – in my opinion photography is a more creative subject than physics/science in general, not that I’m downplaying the fact that the sciences do require creativity, and some people in the field are extremely creative, I just personally think photography is a more creative subject – thoughts?) is not as important as a high IQ? I think Cleese’s point is 100% correct – creativity is completely unrelated to IQ.

This brings me to Cleese’s next point – the ability to switch between both the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ mode. Basically, the closed mode is the mode we tend to be in whilst working – we have a set task that we are aiming to accomplish in a certain amount of time, and we’re generally a bit anxious.

‘It’s a mode in which we’re very purposeful, and it’s a mode in which we can get very stressed and even a bit manic, but not creative.’ (Cleese)

The closed mode can be a very productive mode, in terms of volume of work done, but it’s not very open to creativity. This is where the open mode comes in. According to Cleese, the open mode is ‘relaxed… expansive… less purposeful mode… in which we’re probably more contemplative, more inclined to humour (which always accompanies a wider perspective) and, consequently, more playful’ (Cleese). A creative person has the ability to switch between the open and closed mode – they are open to their creative side, but are also able to knuckle down and get something done when it is required. Cleese describes this perfectly

‘… we need to be in the open mode when we’re pondering a problem but once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.’ (Cleese)

In order to come up with a creative solution or idea, we need to be in the open mode, but once we have this solution or idea we must switch to the closed mode in order to pursue it. This is an interesting idea to me, and one that I find quite relevant to my creative process. When I am working on a photographic project, I try to be open to any possible ideas or inspirations when I am coming up with ideas for my project. However, when it comes to getting the ‘work’ done, and actually planning and implementing my project, I have a very focused mind.

Now, being able to switch from open to closed mode may seem like a pretty easy thing to do, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

‘Because as we all know, it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking. And it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.’ (Cleese)

Especially when a lot of the time, you need to be in the open mode and be creative when you have clients/teachers putting time, budget and artistic constraints on you, which would lead to a closed mode, as this would make you anxious about a task that must be completed in a certain way in a certain time frame.  I think this is where our previously discussed topic, creative environments, comes in to the equation! If you are in an environment you find creative (I’m talking about an actual physical environment here), you will find it a lot easier to get into the open mode.

Whilst John Cleese brought up many other intriguing and thought provoking ideas about creativity, the ideas of creativity not being related to IQ, and the open vs. closed mode really stood out to me. So now, it’s time for the part I’ve been waiting for. It’s time to discuss Pixar (and Disney). I apologise in advance for the excessive rambling (and possible fangirling) that may follow. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, if you didn’t do the readings for this week (which I highly recommend you do, even if you don’t want to write about them, because they were so interesting and insightful), Ed Catmull is one of the heads of Pixar, and he suggests five principles to encourage creativity in the workplace.

  1. Empower your creatives: give your creative people control over every stage of idea development.
  2. Create a peer culture: encourage people throughout your company to create a peer culture.
  3. Free up communication: give everyone the freedom to communicate with anyone.
  4. Craft a learning environment: you’re all leaning – and it’s fun to learn together.
  5. Get more out of post mortems: structure your post mortems to stimulate discussion.

(Catmull, 2008).

These creative principles, to me, are a great way to run a workplace. They allow for an open mind (Cleese) and creativity, but also allow for a closed mind in order to get the task at hand completed. They create a working environment where everyone is comfortable, and allow for reflection on the creative process, two ideals that I think are imperative to creativity. I think Catmull definitely knows what he’s talking about in terms of workplace principles (exhibit A: Pixar’s success).

Catmull discusses how many people have a ‘missguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product’ (Catmull, 2008), and how it is the people, rather than the initial idea, that is imperative to creative success (Catmull, 2008).

‘Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems.’ (Catmull, 2008)

This idea is very important to me, as I definitely agree that it is the people working on an idea, rather than the actual idea itself, that will lead to its creative success. Let’s take Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse for example. Mickey Mouse himself was not a particularly creative idea. The idea of an animal with human characteristics was one that had been visited by many creatives at the time; even Walt Disney himself had already visited this idea with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who was basically stolen by Charles Mintz and Universal Studios, but that’s a story for another day – or later in this post). However, it wasn’t the idea that was particularly creative, it was the people who worked on it who gave it the creativity, and made it successful. The creativity came through not in the original idea, but in the look of Mickey, his personality, his interaction with other characters and his storylines. Had any other team created Mickey Mouse, he would not have been as successful as he was. And boy, was he successful. Mickey Mouse was basically the beginning of an empire.

Mickey Mouse (“Mickey Mouse,”)

‘If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organisation takes a big risk and fails.’ (Catmull, 2008).

Pixar encourages their workers to be prepared to ‘fail’, by having them show their work at every stage of the project.

‘Showing unfinished work each day liberates people to take risks and try new things because it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.’ (Catmull, 2008)

Creativity is all about being prepared to fail, and getting back up when you do. Disney and Pixar have highlighted this time and time again, and I’m going to give you not one, but two (two!) examples of this happening in the wonderful world of Disney. Arguably the first, and potentially one of the most major, setbacks of Walt Disney’s career, was when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit left the Disney studios.

The first Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon, Trolley Troubles (Disney, 1927)

In 1927, Walt Disney signed a one-year contract with Charles Mintz, who had married Margaret Winkler, the distributor of Disney films (their distribution outlet was now tied in with Universal Pictures) three years prior (Finch, 1988). The advertising for Disney’s ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ would still say ‘created by Walt Disney’, but, here’s the catch – Oswald’s name belonged to Mintz (who apparently picked it out of a hat) (Finch, 1988). After the first year of the series was extremely successful, Disney and his wife travelled to New York to meet Mintz to renegotiate the contract (Finch, 1988). Disney was expecting an increase in income for the studios, due to the success of the cartoon. However, Mintz actually offered a reduction of income for the studios (Finch, 1988). Disney obviously did not want to accept this offer, as the cartoons had been very profitable. Mintz decided to repossess Oswald, as the name legally belonged to him, and Mintz had convinced several of Disney’s best animators to take over the production of the Oswald series (Finch, 1988). Mintz thought if he could take away Disney’s best men, he would be getting the same product for a reduced cost (Finch, 1988), and would take away the ‘threat’ of Walt Disney. However, this was not the case. After this ‘failure’, Walt Disney and the rest of his team (those that were left) picked themselves up and moved onto their next creation – Mickey Mouse. Disney was still left with his two most important men – his brother, Roy Disney, and his best animator, Ub Iwerks. The studio had saved enough money to create the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, even without a distributor, and began work almost at once (Finch, 1988). Mickey Mouse is arguably Walt Disney’s most successful creation; he is still a major Disney character today and led to the creation of an empire. Proof that uncertainty (creating a cartoon on the last of your funds, even without a distributor), and the capability to recover, are imperative in the success of a creative organisation.

My second example is much more recent, but still involves the Disney Animation Studios. In 2009, we saw Disney making a return to their classically animated films, with The Princess and the Frog. The film was animated in the style of the old classic Disney films (such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), and was to be a step towards a second Disney renaissance. However, the film wasn’t as successful as predicted at the box office, in fact, it was a bit of a box office failure*****. This led to Disney making the next movie in their ‘princess’ series, Tangled, computer animated. Tangled was one of Disney’s biggest box office successes, which shows that if you can recover from a ‘failure’, even greater things can happen!

The difference in animation styles between The Princess and the Frog and Tangled (“The Disney 50,” 2013)

This change in technology employed at Disney, from classically animated films to computer animated films, leads me perfectly into Catmull’s next point – the importance of the relationship between art and technology.

‘Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.’ (Catmull, 2008)

For me, this point definitely rings true, as in my creative discipline, photography; technology is definitely a huge factor in terms of inspiration. We have progressed from film cameras to digital cameras, and now have incredible digital editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop. The things that we can do with photography today would never have even been imagined 10 years ago, just because of the technology we have today. This is not only true for photography, but also for many other creative disciplines. Catmull touches on how important technology is in terms of art and creativity, specifically pointing out the example of Walt Disney.

‘Walt Disney understood this [the importance of technology in terms of creativity]…He was always excited by science and technology’ (Catmull, 2008)

Walt Disney was always inspired by technology. Everyone remembers Walt for his creative genius, but few remember him for the technological advances that he created. A great example of this is the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie.

Steamboat Willie (Disney, 1928)

On October 23, 1927, Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer, and threw the motion picture industry into a spin (Finch, 1988). The sound era had begun******. Mickey Mouse was already well into production at this stage, but Walt Disney wanted Mickey Mouse to have a real impact, and he saw that the future lay with sound (Finch, 1988). ‘What he had in mind was a cartoon in which music, effects, and action would all be synchronized’ (Finch, 1988). Walt Disney soon realised that this would not be an easy task. In movies with live actors, viewers were amazed just to hear the actors speak, however Disney did not have these ready made stars that he could give the gift of speech (Finch, 1988). He needed to come up with a more creative solution.

Les Clark, who worked with Disney on the early sound experiments, describes the system that they came up with:

‘We worked with an exposure sheet on which every line was a single frame of action. We could break down the sound effects so that every eight frames we’d have an accent, or every sixteen frames, or every twelve frames. [Sound film runs through the projector at twenty-four frames a second.] And on that twelfth drawing, say, we’d accent whatever was happening – a hit on the head or a footstep or whatever it would be, to synchronize to the sound effect or the music.’ (Finch, 1988)

By setting a metronome to correspond with the accents, a rough sound accompaniment could be improvised (Finch, 1988). After presenting a rough copy of Steamboat Willie, with a sound accompaniment played by members of the Studio, to the wives and girlfriends of the Studio members, Disney was convinced that he had found the answer.

Disney travelled to New York, where he hired Carl Edouwards, who worked for the Roxy chain and had led the pit orchestra at the Broadway Strand, to provide the band and conduct the recording session (Finch, 1988). The first recording session was a disaster. Disney’s team had developed a system of indicating, via flashes on the screen, the tempo that the orchestra should play at. However, this system was quite crude, and didn’t work out very well with a full orchestra (Finch, 1988). Disney was forced to try again. This time, the Disney team developed a ‘bouncing ball system’, which indicated the accents as well as the beat, making it much easier for Edouwards and the orchestra to follow (Finch, 1988). The second recording session was a success, Steamboat Willie now had a soundtrack, and Mickey Mouse was ready for his debut (Finch, 1988).

Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon with synchronised sound. However, this was not the only technological breakthrough conducted by Walt Disney and his studio. He reinvented the way that live action and animation could be combined, with his tales of Alice’s Wonderland in 1923 (Finch, 1988). He created the ‘Leica Reel’ system, where the story continuity drawings could be projected in synchronisation with whatever part of the soundtrack had been pre-recorded, giving a rough idea of what the final movie would look like (Finch, 1988) (Disney used this in a similar way to how Pixar has the ‘brain trust’ (Catmull, 2008), and gets their teams to show work at every stage of development). Disney created a new field size for animation, ‘six and a half’, during the development of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The Disney team created a new type of multiplane camera, to give the illusion of depth, during the development of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. These are just some of the many technological developments we can thank the Disney studios for, and you can really see the keen interest that Disney had in technology, and the inspiration he drew from it*******.

Now, it’s time to move on to our next reading, in which Disney/Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, identifies and discusses his ‘seven creative principles’. If you didn’t do the readings, here’s the quick rundown:

  1. Never come up with just one idea.
  2. Remember the first laugh.
  3. Quality is a great business plan, period.
  4. It’s all about the team.
  5. Fun invokes creativity, not competition.
  6. Creative output always reflects the person on top.
  7. Surround yourself with creative people you trust.

(Reis, 2009)

Whilst I think that all these creative principles suggested by Lasseter are extremely important and relevant to my discipline, there’s two that really stood out to me – ‘never come up with just one idea’ (Reis, 2009) and ‘surround yourself with creative people you trust (Reis, 2009).

Lasseter discusses how you must always come up with at least three good ideas – not one really good idea and two okay ideas, but three really good ideas out of which you cannot decide the best (Reis, 2009). The reason for this, Lasseter describes, is because ‘creative people often focus their whole attention on one idea. So, right at the beginning of a project, they unnecessarily limit their options’ (Reis, 2009). Lasseter describes how if you come up with three equally great ideas, you will be forced ‘ to think about things you hadn’t even considered before. Through this detachment, you suddenly gain new perspectives’ (Reis, 2009). This idea is very relevant to me, as I often find myself limiting my creativity in photographic projects by narrowly focusing on one idea. So much so, that often when people suggest things I can do to, or include in, my photographs, I am shocked, because the thought never even crossed my mind. Coming up with three equally amazing ideas is something I think could really help me get out of this closed, narrow focused way of thinking, and open my creativity up to new possibilities.

Lasseter’s idea of ‘surround[ing] yourself with creative people you trust’ (Reis, 2009) is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. Lasseter tells us that all members of your creative team must be ‘at least as talented as you’ (Reis, 2009). Don’t worry about being insecure if they’re more talented than you, because ‘insecurity and creativity do not get along with each other well’ (Reis, 2009). If you surround yourself with ‘yes men’, you are not going to come up with an amazing creative project, as you will only have the input of one person, with the rest of the team just agreeing with what they say. Walt Disney knew this, and I believe it’s one of the reasons that he was so successful. Disney knew that he was not the best at everything – whilst he was arguably the best story editor of all time, he was not the best animator, or the best business man, despite being reasonably gifted in both those fields. So he surrounded himself with the best of the best – animators like Ub Iwerks and businessmen like Roy Disney, in order to improve his works. If Disney had not had such a talented team, and instead had a team of ‘yes men’, the animation in the movies would not be so incredible, the studio might have failed due to business and financial reasons (in the earlier days they had a lot of troubles due to financial reasons, creativity can be expensive!) and we would not have the incredible creative works from Disney that we have today. Surrounding myself with creative people who are at least as, and often more, talented than me is something I try to do when working on creative projects. In particular, I work with one makeup artist, Courtney, who is absolutely amazing, and definitely way more talented than me. I have very limited skills in the makeup area, and whilst I can often tell her the sort of look I want for the makeup in my photographs, I generally don’t know how to create this look. Courtney brings the ideas I have in my head to life, and also often comes up with new ideas that I can incorporate into my projects. If I wasn’t working with Courtney, I have no doubt that my work would be not even half as good as it currently is (Courtney actually did the makeup for my creative project, and also some of my work examples, if you’d like to see some of her work). Surrounding yourself with creative people, who are equally or more talented than you, and whose ideas you trust, is imperative to creative success.

Creativity isn’t just one industry. It’s about combining different disciplines to come up with the best creative project possible. It’s about working with people who challenge you to better yourself, and encourage you to be creative. You need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and you must be prepared to work hard to succeed. Creativity is about the intersection and combination of multiple industries and disciplines to come up with a creative product.

If you’ve made it this far, and actually read this whole post, I wholeheartedly congratulate you. I think this is by far the longest post I’ve written. In case you haven’t yet noticed, Walt Disney is my biggest creative inspiration, and as soon as I knew our readings were based on Pixar, I knew that this post was going to be long, and very Disney orientated. Hopefully by reading this post, you’ve not only learnt more about creativity and industry, but also a bit about me as a creative practitioner and as a person, by seeing where my influences lie. If you’re still reading this, I’d love to know about your creative influences – who are they? Why do they influence you? Are you influenced by Disney in any way? Let me know in the comments below – I’m always up for a discussion!

(“Disney Castle,” 2009)

*You may have noticed by now I have what some people may call a slight ‘obsession’. Call it what you will. I might be a bit crazy, but at least I’m passionate about something!

**The fact that Disney (and Pixar) and Monty Python are two of my favourite things actually didn’t have much to do with this. Obviously that made the readings more relatable to me, but I think that the actual content, and ‘advice’, in the readings was the most relevant content, to me as a creative individual, that I’ve received in this unit.

***Which leads us to another debate – art vs. science. Which is more important? Well, I have the answer for you – neither. They both have their equally valuable places in society, and our society wouldn’t function if one of them wasn’t around. So I have absolutely no idea why our education system, and a large portion of our society, seems to place a higher value/esteem on science (the amount of times I’ve had someone say to me ‘oh, you’re doing an art degree, are you? That mustn’t be very hard’), or who thinks they have the right to say one is more important than the other. Without science, we wouldn’t have had some of the medical discoveries that have occurred, so many of us would probably be dead, and without art, we wouldn’t have much of the history and culture that we have, which would make for a pretty bland society, don’t you think?

****That’s another thing I have a problem with – the IQ system. I think it’s pretty stupid to try and tell someone how ‘smart’ they are, because it doesn’t really mean anything. You can be the smartest person in the world (in terms of your IQ score), and do nothing with it, or you could be the dumbest person in the world (in terms of you IQ score), and be extremely successful. My cousin is quite literally a genius, according to her IQ, and whilst she is very smart in certain subjects, she’s also probably the least smart person I know. Your IQ doesn’t really mean anything – it’s what you make of yourself that counts.

*****It’s actually a really good film though, so I definitely recommend seeing it if you haven’t!

******A practical sound system had actually been developed by Lee DeForest four years earlier, however the industry had fought shy of the new development (Finch, 1988). Now they were forced to face it head on (Finch, 1988).

*******An interesting fact about Disney getting inspiration from technology – one of the reasons he built Disneyland was because of his love of trains. He had a fascination with trains, and after building a small train track in his yard, he decided he wanted to build one at the Studio. However, Walt ‘got to thinking’ there wasn’t enough room at the Studio, and it wasn’t long before there was a Disneyland (Finch, 1988)!

The train at Disneyland (“Disneyland Railroad,”)

Works Cited

Catmull, E. (2008). How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity. Harvard Business Review.

Cleese, J. John Cleese on creativity.

The Disney 50. (2013). Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01813/princess_1813539i.jpg

Disney Castle. (2009). Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lht6nvmVc81qhfc59o1_500.jpg

Disney, W (Writer). (1927). Trolley Troubles: Universal Pictures.

Disney, W (Writer). (1928). Steamboat Willie.

Disneyland Railroad. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from https://secure.parksandresorts.wdpromedia.com/resize/mwImage/1/630/354/90/wdpromedia.disney.go.com/media/wdpro-assets/dlr/parks-and-tickets/attractions/disneyland/disneyland-railroad/disneyland-railroad-00.jpg?29042013121510

Finch, C. (1988). The Art of Walt Disney: The Walt Disney Company.

Mickey Mouse. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://disney-clipart.com/mickey-mouse/mickey-mouse/mickey-mouse-14.jpg

Reis, D. (2009). John Lasseter’s Seven Creative Principle’s. Animation Magazine.

 

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Creative Project Update

So, I’ve just realised that I have a backlog of creative project content that I haven’t yet uploaded. Seeing as our blogs and projects need to be finished tomorrow, I thought I better get into action, and get to uploading!

Basically, the last you heard about my creative project was when I wrote my synopsis. Quite a lot has changed since then! I have still kept with the original Disney theme, however, I decided I wanted to explore one particular movie and it’s themes, rather than touching on a range of movies. Originally, I was going to do a set of photographs inspired by The Little Mermaid, as I have some ideas inspired by the movie that I would like to shoot. However, the night that I decided I was going to shoot a Little Mermaid inspired piece, I sat down and watched Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland got me thinking. The crazy characters, the world of Wonderland, the creatures and critters and intriguing storyline – Alice in Wonderland basically embodies what I believe to be creativity. It was decided. I was moving away from the Disney Princesses, and I was going to shoot an Alice in Wonderland inspired editorial.

But did I want to shoot an editorial? I love fashion, it’s true, and fashion photography is the field I want to have a career in. But fashion photography isn’t necessarily always shooting an editorial – there’s also series’, advertisements, and many other types of photography within the world of fashion photography. Whilst I think you could have a lot of fun shooting a fashion editorial inspired by Alice in Wonderland (a lot of the outfits in the movie could have amazing interpretations in real life – Annie Leibovitz’s Alice in Wonderland Vogue editorial is a perfect example of this!), I really wanted to take the chance to explore creativity. Therefore, I decided to shoot a series of photographs, which would explore some of the themes and characters in Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to slightly changing the topic of my creative project synopsis, I also had to make one other difficult decision – the decision to go completely digital with this series. In my original idea, I was going to experiment with film and double exposures, however due to time and budget constraints (film and photographic paper are expensive!), I decided that I would be able to produce a better quality series using the digital medium.

So there you have it. A bit of an update on the synopsis for my creative project. I know this has been very brief and quite vague, but I don’t want to give too much away before I reveal my final project! Plus, if I tell you everything now, then what would I have to say in my exegesis? For now though, I’ll leave you with a bit of a clue as to what my series might look like – the picture below was one of my biggest inspirations for the shoot!

(“Alice in Wonderland,” 1951)

Works Cited

 Alice in Wonderland. (1951): Walt Disney Pictures.