But when it comes to the small, stupid, simple things, I seem to have very ironically bad luck, particularly when it comes to animation.
When I was about 12, I designed a character called Monocle. He was a sort of satirical spoof on the X-Men character, Cyclops. He wasn’t exactly going to be the focal point of my creative endeavors, but he was certainly a character I thought people would enjoy. I developed a few (super simple) comics involving Monocle. He had a back-story, a team of heroes around him, and, most importantly to this story, a logo I was really proud of: A white circle surrounds a blocky “M” with a human eye in the middle. It had a sort of rune quality that I liked.
I developed this character for about five years. Then, in 2000, advertizing began for Monsters, Inc. The very first trailer featured exactly the same logo I had developed.
I would never have continued on with Monocle anyway. It was disappointing at the time, but life goes on.
2001 was the year I began development on a book that I am still developing, called Animal Control. The two main characters (for a long while, anyway) were named Jack and Dash. In around 2003, I found out that these same names were to be the names of Mr. Incredible’s sons in Pixar’s upcoming “The Incredibles.” Irony strikes again!
While attending Animation Mentor, I was developing a shot incorporating these two little “Star Wars”-esque drones. I had a whole pantomime bit using the gun-flaps of the drones almost like hands. It was coming along better than anything I’d done prior to this shot. Around that same time, I visited a friend at a major film studio, where he showed me a shot he was working on. It incorporated beings very similar to the ones I had made. Since I had signed an NDA, and despite the fact that I had created my drones before seeing the creatures created for this film, I was forced to scrap my idea in favor of something different – not necessarily better. Yet again, irony got the upper hand – and this time on a more professional level.
Recently, I’ve been developing a short film called Winsor. In the story, Winsor is a super villain who breaks into the headquarters of his arch-nemesis to steal his trademark jet-pack. I have been very happy with where the story has gone:
- It started as a superhero getting suited up in a Gundam-style suit and crashing into his closed “garage” door.
- It then changed to be specifically about the suiting-up bit. He was going to have trouble getting his helmet on.
- The next iteration was the same story, except the helmet changed to be a malfunctioning jet-pack.
- A friend pointed out that a super-villain was funnier than a superhero. So Winsor turned to evil. The pitch I sent to my mentor said this: “Winsor, a self-proclaimed evil genius, plans to destroy the headquarters of his arch nemesis by planting a bomb in the building. After flying in through an open skylight and planting the bomb, he accidentally traps himself inside with the bomb..”
- My mentor addressed that he wasn’t “accomplishing” anything – he had no real goal except “get the jetpack on.” Giving him a “mission” might be more compelling. So he was now stealing the jetpack.
I was recently pointed to another Animation Mentor student’s short film. In his short, a man sneaks into a top secret lab and steals a jetpack.
What are the odds?
My initial response was “I need to change his plight… stealing a jetpack has been done.” But the truth is, I really like my idea. At its heart, Winsor is not about stealing a jetpack. It’s about a super-villain wanting to vandalize and humiliate his arch-nemesis. It’s about trying your hardest at something, doing a pretty good job, and still getting shut down in the end – something I think all artists can relate to on one level or another.
I will not be changing Winsor’s story. I did not take the idea from anywhere else, yet through a process of story refinement, it’s ended up being similar to something someone else has done. My job now is to tell it in a new way, and to the best of my ability. Heck, James Cameron’s “Pocahontas in Space” proves that a good story is worth re-telling.
I now realize that these ironic happenings have been stepping stones. In the case of Monocle, it caused me to throw out something that was just taking up my time. In the case of the Incredibles character names, it caused me to rethink my characters and their necessity to the story. In the case of the drones, it caused me to develop a type of drone I’d never seen before.
In the case of Winsor, it has caused me to kick my brain up a notch to make something people will want to see. Even if they’ve seen it before, they haven’t seen it the way I’ll tell it.
I’m learning to embrace the irony.