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Chris: Yeah, something we’ve been talking about a lot lately is this idea of how everything changes in sequence as well. And you guys are talking about context and that kind of thing, even about the context of a linear story, a film or a comic or a children’s book, and the idea that contrasts can actually invoke emotion too. So if you go from maybe a real obvious choice would be like a really intense red or orange to a cool purple and blue suddenly. Or you go from a super bright color palette to a very desaturated color palette and the way that those shifts can also start to evoke emotion. And in fact, we’ll be getting into some very specific examples at the workshop, and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Three more questions here – there’s all this talk about common portfolio pitfalls and that kind of thing, and I think all that’s very helpful and I’ve written some articles that I think students will find helpful. But I’d like to look at that similar kind of question from kind of the opposite angle, kind of hold a mirror up to it. I’m trying to be like Brian McDonald basically. It’s what I do with my life.
Jenn: That’s a lifestyle choice.
Chris: It is. The only one. But anyway, when you look at the work that is still to you obviously student work or work of…I refer to these folks as pre-professional. And when I say that I mean, the work is obviously not quite there yet to the point that you’re like, it’s just a matter of time before you get hired somewhere, until clients start calling. And I think you guys know what I’m talking about, it’s not clearly student…it doesn’t look like beginner work, it’s pre-professional. It’s like you’re almost there. So when you see these kinds of portfolios, student portfolios, or pre-professional portfolios, feel free to focus in on either of those or talk about them both – what’s remarkable? What are the things that stand out to you within that context?
Claire: Yeah, for me what stands out the most is when somebody, kind of going back to what we were talking about in the very beginning is when they let themselves shine through in their work and that they haven’t given into the pressures of trying to look like a certain studio or what the other students in their class are doing, who they are and what makes them shine just comes right through. And that is just one…okay, that person you know is going to go somewhere but also, just as an artist it really is inspiring. And when I see an artist that I just feel very inspired by, like I can’t help but like want to try to open doors for them, you know? Just like, I want to see what you do! I remember seeing Leo Matsuda portfolio at Cal Arts when he was a student and he had also done this amazing short film for his end of the year thing. And it was amazing, it was just so so him and completely personal but he was able to also make it relatable for Disney, but it was still him in this way that was so refreshing, and I was so happy when he got accepted into Disney.
Chris: That’s awesome. How about you Mr. McDonald?
Brian: Well it looks a little different for me because it’s not visual art usually that I’m looking at, so usually it’s somebody’s writing or directing or something. It’s a strange thing because I wish I saw more of what Claire saw when I saw that work. But usually what I see is so much imitation. Like if you’re of a certain generation, you just want to be Quinton Tarantino, that’s just what you want to do. And you see a lot of that and you don’t see or I can count on one hand I think the stuff that isn’t regurgitated. I guess if somebody has a sense of a history and that’s rare, like occasionally, someone has a sense of history of the craft. And that history will inform you. So if you say Billy Wilder and they know who you mean. That matters, right? If you say Frank Capra, and they know who you mean, then that matters. Because it means they are able to look past the style differences of the time and see the real craft below the surface. So I wish I saw more of that, I wish I saw more people who understood the history of their craft and studied it. But I see very little of that in the last several years.
Chris: Yeah, this is interesting you bring this up because this is something I talk to my students about all the time which is, this is the easiest thing to do. With an enormous return on investment. Like if you were just to study only the films of Billy Wilder, like just Billy Wilder, or just go learn about Vincent van Gough and his approach to color theory, like the way he applied color theory to his paintings in very intentional way, like if that’s all you did, just that one person, just that one aspect of his craft, it would inform your work exponentially and all of that information is there and available. All of those movies are there, you can go get them all or at least most of them, and easily, so easy.
Brian: It actually seems like the internet has made information cheap. I think people can look it up so they don’t seek it out the way that we did before the internet.
Chris: Right, it’s always there so you can kind of…I’ll get to that later….
Brian: Yeah, it’s a strange thing but I think you’re right. If people just studied one thing or…
Claire: But I also think that it’s kind of rooted in this, what we were talking about in the beginning, it just kind of …well getting back to your thing about people imitating other people, that it kind of speaks to this feeling that we’re just blind to our own potential and our own talents. And if we could just take the time to study what other people have done and see it as what you were talking about earlier, that they’re problem-solving. And that’s why they got to where they are is just they’re problem-solving, and for people to understand that, then they could start finding this potential that lies in them.
Jenn: Yeah, it seems like that is a bit of a maturity thing as well, like learning those things. It’s following that interest, having that strong interest and following it. And not doing it because you have a class that you have to know this thing for, or someone’s going to ask you this in an interview or whatever, learning it because you’re immersed in the community, you’re immersed in the medium and you’re watching things and you’re interested. Like, who made this? Why did they make it this way? Where does this come from? And I think for me coming into it later in life, it’s something…I know there are holes in my knowledge but I’m really interested and I feel like I say immersed in what’s happening and what people are making. And because it is actually legitimately fascinating to me, and I think sometimes people stop and don’t ask themselves if they really are as interested in this thing that they say they want to do at younger ages as well. But like getting back to the portfolio thing, for me I agree with both of the things you guys said are totally dead on. I’m really excited when I’m surprised, and that just feeds back into like the imitation thing. I don’t want to see everybody doing the same thing because that’s the thing of the year and nobody wants to see that. So surprises are really cool and I mean that as much in like content and like the kinds of things you’re trying to say as well. It’s not like you’re going, I want to show love and so I’m going to show a very typical scene that you’ve seen a bunch of times and you know, it’s more specific than that. I want to show the love between this particular character and this particular character and their lives are this and this is where this is happening and this is the pinpoint of this moment exactly what kind of love they’re feeling and the nuance of that. And that leads to the next thing which would be specificity, both in the content and in that narrative but also just in the things that you choose to put into an environment the things that you choose to add to a character or not add to a character. Specificity is so important and I think it’s something that is missing for me in a lot of student work. It will be a mountain side or a hotel room or whatever it is, it’s like that’s a chair, and if I told twenty people to draw a chair, eighteen of them would draw that chair. And I think that’s a big problem because you really want to be feeling out every part of this world to make it authentic. I mean that’s what our job is as somebody with a visual portfolio like Claire and I would be looking at, that’s a really big thing. And then beyond that consistency, that surprise, and that specificity extends into everything that I’m seeing.
Claire: Yeah, and I would also add to that, that surprise and specificity, you don’t have to work that hard at it. If you just bring yourself, truly yourself, and who you uniquely are, you will be surprising and you will bring specificities that no one else would bring to it.
Brian: That’s exactly right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. What I find often is that people will come to my classes and all they want of me is different. What I’ve noticed is when people just want to be different, then they’re all different in the same way. So they’ll come in and they’ll say, well I don’t like Hollywood happy endings, so none of my stories are going to have happy endings, or whatever right? Sometimes that’s the way the story goes, sometimes the story has a happy ending. If you’re already deciding that that’s not what you’re going to do, then your only reacting and you’re not creating from a genuine place.
Jenn: There’s actually math about that, about how hipsters end up looking the same everywhere because mathematically if you’re somebody who raises your hand when everybody else’s hand is down or puts your hand down when everybody’s hand is raised, that’s just as uniform in its way as the other.
Brian: It completely is.