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Adam: But I think if we can make it work, it could be really important. I think one of the sort of founding ideas that sort of drove me to do Delve is sort of if it were like in the information age and the internet age we have access to all the knowledge the human race has acquired and accumulated over the last 5,000 years. But we’re not getting any smarter and it doesn’t feel like the knowledge is more accessible than it ever has been and if we could find a way to unlock that, to try to take anything as complex or as dry or people would write off and never engage with, if we can find a way to almost unlock the energy inside it to be as fascinating as that…because everything is fascinating, everything’s interesting but it’s not necessarily presented in an interesting way. And that’s this sort of thing, there’s great potential one day to have information fly a lot further and travel to more minds.
Chris: I’m a big fan of Abraham Lincoln and I have been for a very long time and I read this book in college I think called The Day Lincoln Was Shot. And it’s about the Lincoln assassination but it’s written as like a pulpy crime novel but it’s not exploitative, it’s very reverent. But it has that sort of pulse of a crime novel and that was pivotal for me in shaping my storytelling paradigm. And again, the Lincoln assassination is inherently interesting and even if you kind of take a very factual approach, it’s compelling. So maybe it’s not the biggest challenge but nonetheless this idea of communicating…and how many books have been written about the Lincoln assassination? I mean so many. But this idea of taking this historical event, you’re not writing a dramatization, you’re not writing a fictional version, you’re still just reporting the history but you’re doing it in a way that is equally as compelling as a screen play or a graphic novel or whatever. That has been fascinating to me for a very long time.
Adam: Absolutely. And I catch myself sort of thinking that same thing sometimes, what if the story of quantum physics could be as suspenseful as a Hitchcock film or as emotional as a great Pixar film? Like, what if we did that to try to apply those standards instead of just trying to act like…trying to produce some dry flat record of what happened. I think your Lincoln story is really interesting, because clearly that stuck with you and I wonder how much of it is because of that book.
Chris: It was real.
Adam: Yeah, exactly. And it’s very clear that storytelling is a very potent way for the brain to record and make sense and remember things. What I had the realization several years ago when I was trying to help my sister – I have a younger sister – she was studying for her sort of high school exams. I loved history but she really didn’t find any interest in it at all but she had this history exam, and her module was about South African history and the Apartheid. So I was trying to help her revise and she would give me her text book and I would sort of go through it asking her questions like, what happened in 1964 or who was this person, or what was this event. And she was really struggling you know, she was like, “Mm, I don’t know. Was it…” and she was getting it completely wrong. And then I turned the page and this name came up, Steven Biko and so I asked her, who was Steven Biko? And suddenly her eyes lit up, and she said, “Oh, well he was this capaigner in the 1960’s and then he was arrested and he was beaten up in prison and then he died,” and she told me all this kind of rich detail. And I put the book down and I said, “Maddie, how come you know nothing about South African history? How can you tell me so much about this one guy?” And she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, we just watched a film about him in class.” And for me, it was almost ohhh, if you can wrap facts inside a great story, they just get cemented in the brain so much more easier than any other way. So I think the potential is really exciting but it is really hard work but that’s what I like about it actually.
Chris: You have to live in an abstraction for so long or at least that’s what I’ve found in my own experience. You have to just get so comfortable with abstraction and then making almost like a sketch, a thumbnail sketch of just a gesture attempt of is this sort of a broad sweep, kind of like the armature of the story. It was like one brush stroke and is that it? No, how about that? How about that? No, no. How about that? No…and just making the very beginning attempts at how those many, many pieces would fit together and then it doesn’t work and it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work. Or it does start to work and you realize oh my god, it all falls apart at the end. I can’t tie these things together and it’s that sort of living in that, you can’t glue anything down for a long time. It all has to be just tacked on the board or whatever for so long and you’re constantly moving and then finally when it’s almost too late, you finally go okay, we just have to commit here and I found that to be the last final massive, massive edits and throwing away tons and tons of stuff and going, there’s no time! You’ve got to get rid of it!
Adam: That’s absolutely been my experience actually of doing a story design on these video essays is…I read something, a very short piece by James Cameron, the director. I think he called it strange days and he was writing about, he once tried to write a screen play for a Spiderman movie. I think he was one of the people who was trying to do Spiderman a while ago, and he sort of describes these early strange days of an idea. How everything is almost like the formation of the universe where everything is just vast, everything is a cloud of vapor and you’re flailing around trying to grab some sense of certainty somewhere. And it’s all just a gas, it all just goes through your fingers, and then as time goes on the gas starts to clump together and then you start to get some solid objects and suddenly in the last few days, you can say an idea can be like a vapor for months and then it’s like an exponential curve in the last days or hours, productivity goes straight up. And you can just write half a screenplay in half a day, and for me that’s been…I think it’s part of the challenge for any type of creative endeavor, it’s how well can you handle, I think it’s called the negative…what is your negative capability? I think that’s how Keats described it is how well can you tolerate not knowing? How long can you go on saying I don’t know the answer yet and I’m going to keep looking. You said you did those thumbnail sketches and is it this idea? No. Is it this idea? No, and you keep looking. That’s really hard because our brains want the obvious straight away and they will leap to the first…that’s why everyone’s first idea is almost always the one that gets made because our brains just look for closure wherever they can get it. And it’s so hard to say no even if I think I like that idea, I’m going to force myself if I set here even longer and keep looking. And I think that’s what I’ve found with this current essay has been a hard bit of sort of knowing that it’s not right and just being able to sit there for another week and sort of keep chipping away at it until I feel a new idea start to come through. I think that’s sort of an important part of the creative process.
Chris: In part one of our interview, Adam and I talked about how the comfort zone can also be the danger zone for creative people. When Adam started the Delve Project, he left his career as a radio journalist and moved to Paris. You certainly don’t have to do something that radical, but what is one new project routine or decision you could introduce to help shake things up in 2015? Go to ChrisOatley.com/Delve1 and join the conversation in the comments, and be sure to join us for the next episode of the Artcast, where Adam and I talk about becoming a lifetime learner, the storyteller’s moral responsibility, and how social media can confuse your creative process.
This podcast is a production of the Oatley Academy of Concept Art, Illustration, and Visual Storytelling. I’m Chris Oatley, your host and producer. Our editor is Kevin Chandler. Production support was provided by Travis Bond and Ânia Marcos. Our theme music is provided by StoryBook Steve. Recurring musical segments are provided by StoryBook Steve and (inaudible). We are a proud member of the Visual Voice Podcasting Network and you can find all of our available shows at ChrisOatley.com/shows.