A HUMAN HERO
An exploration between narration and creative process
This article discusses the relation between narration, fairy tales, and creative process. In the introduction I'm explaining the reason of this research in connection with my graduation project, which can be outlined as the need to give structure to the creative process and help the artist in his/her artefact production. This is followed by a theoretical framework firstly of narration, secondly on the creative process. About the former, I'm defining the act of tell stories, underlying the actors and the processes involved in this practice and explaining some effects that narration may have on the human experience. In the following chapter I'm framing a definition of creative process and idea generation using knowledge primarily taken from semiotics. In the last part, I'm drawing a parallel between the fables structure written by Propp and the creative process, the latter being represented by interviews of young creatives. In the conclusions, at last, I'm closing this article explaining impressions and feedbacks I had on the exploration process.
My creative experience started as a communication designer first, and animator later. In both cases I found myself several times stuck into a moment in which I needed to believe that some kind of magical help would come, because I couldn't sort out my own problems. The latest project I worked on is a autobiographical project, which started as a fact-based story, but ended up (after endless crises) with a metaphorical representation of my life. This led me to ask myself questions about the relation between narration and identity-building firstly, and hereafter the relation between storytelling and creative process, which sometimes can be really struggling. This was extremely empowered by the fact that I was working on my story, creating this kind of narration-soaked process, in which I was telling the story of the narrative of a story that I lived. There had to be something interesting and useful in this shapeless bulk of concepts.
As soon as I started to think about the creative process and what blocks the person in the making I realized that one of the biggest difficulties, in particular in complex and long-making artefacts, was managing the fear of failing and the lack of self esteem, while keeping this kind of sense of faith that things will go the way they're supposed to.
It's easy to perceive the creative process as something mysterious, that can't be organized and controlled in any way. This may be true, but what if we could overlay on it a narrative frame to give it some kind of shape, if not a structure? What if this layer were the fairy tales structure proposed by Propp? Would this help us structure ourselves so that we could able to overcome the difficulties that come from the process of creation? And finally: How could I start a discussion about the creative process that is not step and tools based, but more open to interpretation and subjectivity?
Starting from this idea, I laid down some theoretical background first, to frame the discussion and define what I mean by narration and creative process, before going into a more experimental research. Consequently, this paper is structured in three parts: the first one deals with narration, the second one is mainly about the creative process, and the third and last one pushes together the two previous topics. The narration part starts by creating a frame of the topic, with theory by Pinardi and De Angelis. The discussion then moves to a constructivist approach outlined by Bruner, about narration and self image, with special attention on the way our stories can affect how we see ourselves. The second part will focus mainly on the creative process, with an attempt of definition with studies by Sennett, Lehman, and Bonfantini. In the end, I'll be exploring the relation between the creative process and narration, following the functions of the fairytale proposed by Propp to try to outline a parallel between a real life process and the fairytale, adding to it personal reflections about my last project and some interviews to creatives in different fields.
What I noticed about the functions of Propp is that they are abstract enough to be applied to a lot of different human experiences in life and work. This led me to realize how there are several very interesting analogies between the creative process and the fairy tale: the aim of this thesis is to explore the former with a narrative, subjective, and experience based approach, trying to bring to surface recurring patterns that could be interesting for others.
To achieve such epiphanous and unique ordinariness, we are required, as Roman Jakobson used to tell his Russian poets, to "make the ordinary strange. (Bruner 2004:696)
The intent is to be relevant for two different types of people: the first one are academics, the second one are creatives. The relevance for teachers would be to experiment new ways to convey the creative process to young scholars, that often try and fail in structuring an effective artistic pipeline. The relevance for already affirmed creative people could be the one to challenge established habits and suggest new approaches for their work.
One question that emerges with this theory is whether this whole text is useful. I will not pretend to have answers, this paper is an exploration between the creative process and the fairy tales and it could lead us nowhere. This path is not a toolbox, it is not a book with answers. It is a metaphor, a suggestion in which everybody could potentially see whatever they want. Richard Sennett, in The Craftsman, described how instructions sometimes are not provided in a step-by-step, objective way, but rather in a visionary and imaginative way.
Madame Benshaw had come to Boston, a refugee from Iran, in 1970. [...] Her English was poor [...] so I asked her to write down the recipe. [...] Here's the unadulterated text: "Your dead child. Prepare him for new life. Fill him with the earth. Be careful! He should never over-eat. Put on his golden coat. You bathe him. Warm him but be careful! A child dies from too much sun. Put on his jewels. This is my recipe." (Sennett 2008:189)
The recipe described was for Poulet à la D'Albufera, a quite complex recipe for poached and filled chicken, served with Vol-au-vent. Let's abandon our certainties and let's start this travel between reality and imagination, hoping that the reader will find it as interesting as I did.
Narration can be defined as a dialogic communication technique invented by human beings to create, organize, and transmit the kind of knowledge which is conflict-based. (Pinardi 2010) It is a dialogue because it involves two roles: the narrator, which is the one who tells the story; the narratee, which is the one who enjoys the story. There is a set of interactions between these two roles within narration, I will return on this later in this research. Let's come back to the conflict for a moment: it can be defined as a clash between two forces. It can be about the process or its preparation, its combustion or its end, it can be implied or explicit, physical or mental. The conflict is always there, without it there would be a statement, not a narrative. In fact Pinardi (2010) argues that the former is limited to reporting information to a receiver, so a process certainly less interactive but also much less emotionally engaging. Nevertheless, the author also specifies that forms with pure communication are almost nonexistent.
The narrative process is carried out in phases: the first, on which Pinardi pays a lot of attention, is the one of the emotional release. It is the moment when the narrator has to attract the attention of the narratee, which must immediately follow a pre-narrative to keep high the attention of the user, and repay his waiting. These phases can last a moment in a verbal communication, or a lot of time in the start of a film, in which between the announcement and the release of the film can pass even years. The institution of a trust pact is the next stage, in which the two sides start a dialogue to find a point of agreement: that is, to what extent the narratee is willing to blindly follow the narrator (because he trusts him) and, consequently, the extent to which the narrator can push the story without losing the trust of narratees. The later arrives the betrayal of the trust pact on the part of the narrator - for laziness, incompetence, or cowardice - the more serious will be the disappointment of narratee. And the longer he will remember the betrayal. That's why ends are as important as the beginnings. Many are the cases in which the trust pact is broken at the end, or it is too late to be reassembled.
Narratives can be reality or invention, or one of the many shades of grey between the two. In whichever type of story, the most important thing for a narrator is honesty: if it is stated to be true, he should do everything in his powers to make it faithful to its sources. Otherwise he could lose the trust of the narratees. The second element to keep in mind is that there is no objectivity, regardless of the type of story told. Pinardi gives the example of World War II: an objective event happened but does not exist any more: or better, it does so, but only through narratives, which by their nature tell only a part of reality, because it's impossible to do in any other way. A narration of reality is acceptable only if it is recognized as controvertible, which is basically saying that there's no true reality to be told. (Pinardi 2010)
When a creative builds a story, the narratee is himself. Even if this may seem an element that could ease the narration process, my experience says that it is, in fact, the contrary: we, as human being, tend to lie to ourselves, to deceive our true ideas and aims, in the name of self-preservation. This is why, in a creative process, we need others to give feedbacks, to be hard on us, to cut out all the exit strategies that we tend to build.
World making is an expression used to define several types of concepts. In this context I'm going to use it to describe the process in which an author builds an ensemble of physical and abstract values to describe a system in which the characters can act. This worlds, according to Pinardi and De Angelis, can be divided in two types: outer-worlds and inner-worlds (the translations are mine). The first one includes all the characteristics that belongs to the reality around us: this comprise for example societies, governments, geographical characteristics, planets, and universes. The inner-worlds, in contrast, include everything that deal with the identity of a person, what makes him/her as such. The conflict of a story should involve all of these worlds: in this way, instead of making one person fight a battle against something, we have a clash of worlds. These realms can be divided in several subcategories, to make their building easier and more effective: together, they form the Kosmos.
1. Topos (place in Greek): the territory.
2. Epos (word in Greek): the historical memory.
3. Ethos (character in Greek): the shared values.
4. Logos (speech in Greek): the languages.
5. Genos (producer of in Greek): the ensemble of the family relations.
6. Telos (to move in Greek): the aims of the community.
7. Chronos (time in Greek): time.
Needless to say, the more each one of these elements is fully developed, the more the world that is being created will be deep and multifaceted, bringing more complexity and more ease in identifying and making conflicts flourish. (De Angelis, Pinardi 2008)
Narration tends to have precise structures and rules that have remained stable since its creation. Given the extreme connection between technique and narrative, any changes to the structure of a narrative text affects always the value of the narrative. (Bruner 2004) The Russian formalism, a school that stressed the independence of literature criticism to other studies, divided every aspects of a story, which later developed into theme, discourse, and genre. The construction of a narrative takes place in stages: first, the definition of the conflict, this is followed by the fable, the concatenation of events: time, causes and/or consequences and outcomes of the conflict.
The timeless fabula [theme] is the mythic, the transcendent plight that a story is about: human jealousy, authority and obedience, thwarted ambition, and those other plights that lay claim to human universality. (Bruner 2004:696)
Following is the plot, the screenplay: the choice of the moments of a conflict is in fact the story, what will be narrated and what will define the narrative. Changing the moments of a conflict on which pay attention changes the story, and therefore the perception that one has it.
The sjuzet [discourse] then incorporates or realizes the timeless fabula not only in the form of a plot but also in an unwinding net of language. (Bruner 2004:696)
The last step is the genre: this is plainly a type (in the linguist's sense) of which there are near endless tokens, and in that sense it may be viewed as a set of grammars for generating different kinds of story plots. (Bruner 2004:696) The type, in a linguistic meaning, is a word that defines a concept that differentiate itself from the tokens, which are the objects in themselves.
The interesting thing, about this structure, is that is built around the idea that narrative is a word-based form of expression: if for centuries it could be considered true, right now visual arts, especially moving images are exploring new ways to conceive and develop stories.
There are three main drives to a narration: plot, character and theme.Generally one of them overcomes the others, but there are no stories which use only one of them. Plot driven stories are not about the character, but instead about the actions that he pursue, their causes and their consequences. The risk of this approach is that the story tend to be too linear, to have flat characters, and it can be hard for the audience to be engaged. One example of this are the James Bond stories, in which the title character seldom has a development in the story but rather a task to accomplish. In animation, one example can be David Wilson's short for Royal Blood's Out of the Black sound. Character driven stories, instead, focus on the evolution of the main personality. These are narration in which he or she starts as one person and ends up being another one, different. One example for this is Carnage by Roman Polanski, or Paul Driessen's Oedipus. The main issue of this kind of stories is that they can become very small and individual: it can be really hard for a lot of people to relate to them. The last type of drive of stories is the theme: life, death, love, or whatever else. Often metaphors are heavily used to represent the characters in relation of the world. In this context, animation is a very good medium for theme driven stories, because it allows a visual and narrative freedom that is elsewhere hard to reach. The risk of this approach is that it tends to become too much a pamphlet and it may be hard for the viewers to keep up with it. An example of this is L'Idée, a short film that Berthold Bartosch made in 1932.
A narrative can describe what is seen, what is not seen, and also what can not be seen. (Pinardi 2010)
According to some theories outlined by Propp or Calvino, the role of the fable goes far beyond storytelling for children to reach the initiation rites from the pre-Christianity European cultures. It is able to provide the child several tools to interpret the world and the problems he or she will have to deal with in the childhood and the adulthood. To do so, narration has the power to make us empathize with the story, that specific conflict or, by translation, with similar ones. The narrative, with its clashes, offers us the opportunity to find solutions to them without necessarily live them. To reach this goal, Pinardi (2010) points out how stories are required to be honest, so they can become liberating. These are the ones that do everything to not deceive, that seek to respect the narratees and the narrative itself. They are those which set the rules and respect them, and then take themselves as such, that do not have delusions of omnipotence or claims to affirm the truth. For my experience, the more we consider something to be true, the less we tend to see others realities, that may be more challenging and intriguing. It is as if we sets cages around us, to protect ourselves from the uncertainties.
Bruner is one of the most interesting academics who studied the role of narration in relation to the human being. In his approach, he stresses the importance of some kind of relativism towards stories in general: by this, he means that not only, as said before, a narrative by definition can be considered false, but also that certain stories could fit certain requirements by being untrue.
One did or did not visit Santander in 1956. Besides, it may have been Salamanca in 1953 and by certain criteria of narrative or of psychological adequacy even be "right" if untrue. (Bruner 2004:693)
In this sense, Bruner applies constructivism to the experience of narration and, as he writes, how the very act of storytelling builds up subjective realities which are the basis of the interpretation of our existence. world making" is the principal function of mind, whether in the sciences or in the arts. (Bruner 2004:691) By world making, I will here name the mind process by which we create a world in the aforementioned definition given by Pinardi and De Angelis (2008). Bruner draws a parallel between his view and the one outlined by Goodman in Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman 1978), coming to the conclusion that autobiography can be viewed as a set of procedures for what he calls "life making". Bruner lays down consequently two theses. The first one is that we seem to have no other way of describing "lived time" save in the form of a narrative. (Bruner 2004:692) This does not mean that there are no other forms to represent time: we can think about a clock, a calendar or some kind of cyclical system. None of them, though, are able to grasp the complexity of lived time and the causal relations of events. In this sense, narration not only is the only way to communicate a human experience, but also the only way to convey the know-how of the creative process. (Lehman 2012) In the case of animation, this is even more interesting because it allows the creator to conceive a narrative artefact using the same technique.
Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative "Life" in this sense is the same kind of construction of the human imagination as "a narrative" is. It is constructed by human beings through active ratiocination, by the same kind of ratiocination through which we construct narratives. (Bruner 2004:692)
Bruner's second thesis becomes clear when we think that life, intended as the period of time between the birth and death of one person, cannot be expressed in any other form than narrative. If we take this for true, then we would have a clear reason to think why the connection between the creative process and narration is so important. Not only we use constantly narration as an output of our creative processes, but the very act of making can be considered a story itself.
The heart of my argument is this: [...] (the) processes that guide the self-telling of life narratives achieve the power to structure perceptual experience, to organize memory, to segment and purpose-build the very events of a life (Bruner 2004:694)
This could be able to shape "life", intended as the personal experience of a human being by restructuring the perception we have of our own lies. Bruner adds that narration is not something that we should force into our experience, because is already part of our daily routine: the way we talk about our past, about what we did yesterday and about what we're going to do tomorrow is part of a bigger process.
(Narratives) finally become recipes for structuring experience itself, for laying down routes into memory, for not only guiding the life narrative up to the present but directing it into the future. I have argued that a life as led is inseparable from a life as told - or more bluntly, a life is not "how it was" but how it is interpreted and reinterpreted, told and retold. (Bruner 2004:708)
Summing this up: storytelling is an inevitable part of our lives, shaping and communicating them to the world. This implies also some kind of evolutionary approach towards life, in which what is today may not be tomorrow.
The man who takes the trouble to tell of himself knows that the present differs from the past and that it will not be repeated in the future. (Gusdorf 1980:30)
The self awareness of this fact is something extremely important that I also noticed when I interviewed creatives. One observation made by Viola Barth was "It's interesting to analyse the process, it brings to light behavioural patterns." In this game of reality building and examination of one's experience of life we could discover that we are not able to distinguish reality from narration, facts from perception, and history from fairytale. But in our case, Bruner suggest, this is not a problem, because In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we "tell about" our lives. (Bruner 2004:694)
#About the creative process
The creative process can be described as an ensemble of methods and habits one uses for generating, evaluating, and manifesting an idea. My approach on this divides it in two phases: the first one is about generating an idea; the second one is about creating that specific artefact.
The best description and explanation I have found about the the way an idea is created is the one outlined by Pierce and reprised by Bonfantini, Bramati & Zingale (2007) within the field of study of Semiotics. The latter defines three types of mental processes: deduction, induction, and abduction. The last one is the only one able to create new knowledge through three types of guessing: the first one is automatic, which occurs when we react in a mandatory and immediate way to an external stimulus. The second one is a selective abduction, which happens when we make a guess after analysing all the different options that we have. The third one, the most interesting in my opinion, is the inventive one: this takes place when we create the relation between cause and effect. To do so, we have again three possibilities: the first one defines the process with which we invent something by searching (and finding) the solution of our problem in a totally different semantic field. Whitney in 1966 applied mechanical techniques to film to create the very first "rendered" animations in history, such as Lapis. The second one happens when we connect two independent elements that have something in common: Paperman, produced by Disney and conceived by John Kahrs, which combine 2D and CGI animation. While the third type arise when we take into consideration the existence of an item or a principle for the first time. The latter three types of abduction are, according to semiotics, the only way to create, invent, do something new.
Generally, a creative process is an endless loop of thought and action with the intent of solving a human acknowledged problem or expressing a subjective world view. The essence of it is constant creation, communication and critique. The value it brings is that it'll almost always lead to a discovery (something similar already exists), a realization (I should be thinking about it another way), an invention (this is my 1001th attempt and I got it") or an inspiration (what if I put XYZ and 123 together?). The constant and open ended nature of the creative process generates a choice of which reality to pursue/build. (Bhilavdikar 2012)
To pursue the materialization of this idea, though, we may need to go through a process which is not always this peaceful. Adamson (2007) illustrates how craft is the catalyst of the union between brain, body and culture, stating that craft "only exists in motion". Adamson stresses the importance of movement within creation. In this specific context, their attention to this phenomenon is particularly important because we are (mainly) talking about animation, moving images: an art that requires craft and implies necessarily movement. Not only: he's supporting an idea in which the creative spark doesn't come from the person, but from the union of the human being with his body (that means, in other words, something material) and with culture, not only intended as something theoretical but as, also, tacit knowledge.
During making [...] the "inner material" (everything commonly ascribed to the embodied mind: thought, observation, memories, imagination, emotion) and "outer material" (the physical stuff the artist employs) interact. As the physical process develops imagination, while imagination is conceived in terms of concrete material" [...], this exchange creates a purposeful back and forth movement, which results in an art object. (Lehman 2012:11)
About this, Sennett (2008) writes how there are certain abilities that we have and that are harder to explain than to show. Those are some kinds of automatisms, those moments in which we don't think, we just do and create. To make an example of this, it is enough to think about something that is practical and that we do on a daily basis since years. For me, is cooking. But also, in the making of my last short, there was a moment in which I stopped working in a structured way and I started to visualize the story while I was telling it to myself for the very first time. This implies, in some way, owning the tools: I wasn't thinking about drawing, I was just telling the story.
Ten thousand hours is a common touchstone for how long it takes to become an expert. [...] This seemingly huge time span represents how long researchers estimate for complex skills to become so deeply ingrained that that these become readily available, tacit knowledge. (Sennett 2008:)
To come back to the creative process: there are definitely a set of mental processes that happen in the act of generating ideas, but in my opinion the act of making can create an output which is something else, greater.
#Fables and the creative process
My theory here is that fairy tales are able to provide an interpretation of the world in which no obstacle can't be overcame and everything is possible, if we have faith and the ability to harness the proper support by people or knowledge. To do so, I have interpreted in the most abstract way the functions of Propp to be able to adapt them to the creative process. I added to each function a quote from a person who experienced a weary creative process: Berry de Jong, animator; Inés Fernandes, animator; Jacklyn Cornelisse, photographer; Viola Barth, designer; and me.
The hero in the tales is a person who feels the lack of something: sometimes it is something specific and well-defined, some others it is something intangible, undefined, which becomes clear only at the end. The hero has an aim and, however blurred this may be, it keeps the awareness in him that searching is the only way to find something. Thanks to this openness, he may come to meet every kind of help, such as people, tools, and information: it’s as though the path created itself, just by following it. The fairytale structure of Propp is divided in four parts (their naming is mine): preparation, in which the threat appears and the hero is called to action; crisis, in which the villain shows himself in all his power; fulfillment pt. 1, in which the hero receives help and faces for the first time the villain; fulfillment pt.2 in which the main character destroys the antagonist and receives his acclaim. Let's start.
This phase follows the creative leaving a situation of inactivity or comfort and does something new, putting at risk some of his belongings. This leads the discovery of new possibilities, but also new perils and enemies.
1. ABSENTATION - A member of a family leaves home.
Departure in fairy tales has the role to plant the conflict that will ignite the narration. In the creative process this could be the identification of the first step to take towards an aim, that sometimes is still unknown. The lack of someone is in some way the lack of that something that prompt us to create.
Networking also triggered me into expand my horizons and look abroad, look for the crazy opportunities that I considered impossible to be incorporated in my project. (Berry de Jong)
2. INTERDICTION - An interdiction is addressed to the hero
Creatives have boundaries: technical skills, brief, time, money, content. These are all things that prevent us to conceive whatever we want, sometimes for our own sake. And just as the hero feels that he has to pursue a certain path, the creative knows, sometimes, that the direction is right, even if everybody around him are sceptical about it.
The problem was, when I started with the project itself, teachers asked me all these questions: "Why do you wanna make this?" "What do you wanna tell people?" I didn't know, I just knew that I wanted to talk about that subject. (Inês Fernandes)
3. VIOLATION - The interdiction is violated and villain enters in the tale
In the moment in which we cross willingly the line that was given to us or that we gave to ourselves, we necessarily are in an unexplored territory. It is a place in which dark things can happen and we seldom have a lot of control over them. And that's the interesting thing: the more we tell ourselves that we like one thing that "we are this way" the more we become what we tell to others.
I made that switch to interactivity. Problem was, I never worked with that software before. So I was engaging into a huge risk: doing my graduation project using a software that I never used before. I guess that's also something that I like to do, just go for crazy experiments and challenges for my capabilities. (Berry de Jong)
4. RECONNAISSANCE - The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance
The moment in which we see that there are risks, and they start slowly to show, to lurk in the dark away from us, plotting to take us down. We are in a forest, we are into the battlefield. And it doesn't matter how much we tell ourselves we have everything under control, the truth is coming to come up.
It felt good to start to work with illustration, to get out of my comfort zone. I knew I wasn't that bad in doing it, when I was younger. So I also had the idea in my head that is wasn't so hard, that I could do it. I had a good feeling, I was really looking forward to it. What I forgot is that I'm not that good. (Viola Barth)
5. DELIVERY - The villain gains information about the victim
The more we need time to identify what us conspiring against us, the more the risks augment and we lose power to give it to unknown forces. So solve this a lot of time I rely on luck, fate, or just waiting for the right answer of my project problem to show.
For me it's really important what other people think of me, and even in the process, in the coaching, I'm a little bit ashamed to show something it's not good enough. Because of that, I lose some important time and help. (Viola Barth)
In this phase, the villain is the core of the action: it is the pivot, around which everything revolves. He tries to take the hero down, to make him fail his mission, firstly in a concealed way, later in an openly aggressive way. When the risks that the villain poses become clear to the creative, he is able to finally start the counter action.
6. TRICKERY - The villain attempts to deceive the victim
My interpretation here is that in the moment in which we start to doubt our own choices, that are becoming clearer in front of our very eyes. But, most of all, we see their consequences, making unavoidable to ignore our flaws.
When I felt fears, doubts, and insecure about my project I just tried to make myself aware of he fact that I could freak out about it or just, you know, take a walk, drink a beer, relax, just give myself a break, lie on the sofa for a while. And then I could get back to work and I was focused, and I knew exactly what I was doing. (Berry de Jong)
7. COMPLICITY - Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy
This is the moment in which everything that the villain has done to make the hero fail come into surface and make him/her crash. That's the fall of decisioning and optimism. We think we are doing good, but instead we are marching happily towards failure.
I thought to add more illustrations to make it more special. I said to myself: "Ok the main content is not perfect but I'll try to make it more exciting with more extras around it". But I imagined the whole time the design just in my head, I never tried anything on the computer and in the end, when I had everything illustrated and I wanted to put it together, I started to cry, really to cry. (Viola Barth)
8. VILLAINY - Villain causes harm to family member or a member of the family lacks something
The fall of the emotional level and the one of confidence leads to the damaging of something that is not us, which means our project, our process, or our personal life. We are overwhelmed by the things we have to do, the ones that we should have done, and the outcomes that are not how they were supposed to be.
In the end, I had around ten hours left and of course I was too late to make something nice out of it. And the most horrible thing that could ever happen happened: I had to present something that I was really and totally not proud of, and that was really hard for me, because when I present it's really important for me to feel good with it. I felt like crap, like a failure. (Viola Barth)
9. MEDIATION - Misfortune or lack is made known
We are finally able to identify clearly the problem, leading us the way to solving it. This sense of failure and helplessness could trigger us to finally acknowledge those elements that brought us down.
My teachers were very talented and smart people. But at the same time they refused to allow me to make my own mistakes, make something on my own. They tended to tweak my projects into something else. My main ally was time, because between every class there was a lot of time. Every time I came back from one class, I had ideas in my mind that weren't mine. And finally I realized that they were mind fucking me in every step of the way. So I stopped to their ideas and I could take my power back. (Jacklyn Cornelisse)
10. BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION - The hero now decides to act in a way that will resolve the lack
When the problem is known, we are finally able to tackle it and face our project with more self-awareness (hopefully). What I've observed is that the more the creative face problems, the more he learns and grows: the biggest the threat, the deeper and more personal the change.
I did tons of storyboard. In that sense, that was the most difficult part: because I had this idea, this story, but I didn't know how to do it, I had multiple ideas, and then I had to say no to tons of them to just keep one and develop that one. (Inês Fernandes)
The first part of the fulfilment is about the hero leaving home, hence facing new problems, fighting the villain, beating him, being recognized for what he's done, and eventually coming back to the place he came from.
11. DEPARTURE - Hero leaves home
In this function, the hero leaves his comfort zone to achieve a bigger goal, resolve the problem or obtain back what went missing in the first function. Sailing for unknown paths leads in any case to discoveries: exiting and exotic new worlds, the awareness that we are terrible seamen and we're going to die in the middle of the ocean, or everything in between.
I decided to challenge myself and do all the illustration. Which was probably the biggest mistake that I could've done because it took me ages only to just find out which style I wanted to use. (Viola Barth)
12. DONOR - Hero is tested
A small problem present itself in front of the creative: however small and apparently insignificant, it triggers something that allows the hero to grow and to gain some essential knowledge or tools.
I wanted to make something more abstract, in some way less of a story and the biggest struggle was that I had to explain the story, I had to explain what happens. I couldn't just go nuts on this. I mean I could, but it was not feeling all right. (Inês Fernandes)
13. REACTION - Hero reacts to actions of future donor
The hero reacts to the test and overcomes it, in case giving up on some things that he thought were important.
I went through explaining the story, a very narrative part: girl meets bunny, bunny dies, girl sad, girl eats bunny, that kind of stuff. But that was not enough for me: OK, she eats the bunny, and then what? So what I ended up doing was cut the film in two parts: the first part is very narrative, the story of the girl and the bunny; then, when she has to accept that, she has to understand the cycle of life and I've made my 'go nuts' part, my freestyle part. The revelation, the spiritual part, I could finally animate a feeling or something. (Inês Fernandes)
14. RECEIPT - Hero acquires use of a magical agent
The magical agent in the creative process can be either a realization about a problem solving, or some actions from an external person that trigger some reflections or ideas about the project. The function 12,13, 14 repeat themselves in loop until the hero (the creative) possesses all the tools he needs to achieve his or her goal. This process is the gathering of the knowledge through small and apparently not challenging tasks: in the end, it's a learning process.
I was trying really hard to make this nice report and put in it everything that was connected. And then the deadline was coming and I started asking myself "What's relevant for my project?" "Why am I doing this?" "What's my drive?" And I started to think back when I was a 5/6 years old kid and I discovered the CD player of my dad and the Guns 'n' Roses' album 'Appetite for destruction'. I put that in the stereo and 'Welcome to the Jungle' started to play: I was like "WOA, what is this noise, this is beautiful" and there I found what my driving was. My passion for that feeling of what music can do for me (Berry de Jong)
15. GUIDANCE - Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search
Something external, beyond the main character's control, happens that takes the creative a step closer to his/her aim.
One day it was really hard to get myself at work, I was stuck. At some point I saw something that I really liked and inspired me and I thought "I had to try it". For me trying things, do something new, it's something that I really enjoy to do. So I put together everything that I had and suddenly they looked nice: I saw some good design, I started to enjoy to work and put things together. (Viola Barth)
16. STRUGGLE - Hero and villain join in direct combat
The main problem comes back: it's the moment in which the main difficulty we had to face give us the last throw of the dice, to be really sure that we learned the lesson.
It was around April and I encountered all of these problems that I couldn't tackle: you know, work with the limitations. Also the setback from people that were collaborating with me saying "no, we are withdrawing, we can't do it" reasons to not work with me any more. There was this guy that said to me "yeah one day we're gonna sit down and I'm gonna explain you everything" but right before the day itself he said "yeah you know, I'm not gonna do it, sorry" and also the company that was supposed to help me didn't answer any more to my emails and calls. And then I was in that mode "why didn't I make one fucking film, it would've be done already at this time". (Berry de Jong)
17. BRANDING - Hero is branded
The hero changes, something in him changes, he learns a lesson, he becomes something more. This is when we start to call ourselves those terms which previously were privilege of cool people we didn't know personally.
It was the graduation project I wanted to convey the excessive feeling of inputs on me, but everything that I did contained photography. I did a lot of things and none of them showed the feeling that I wanted. I went to this exhibition of Laurence Malstaf, and there was this installation, the "Nemo Observatorium" And that conveyed that feeling: the audience was feeling it. That was a breaking point, I said to myself "Maybe I shouldn't be a photographer." So in the end I decided to step away from photography and go into something else. (Jacklyn Cornelisse)
18. VICTORY - Villain is defeated
We did it.
I am not an animator, I am not a film designer. I edited for weeks my videos. I installed 16 televisions and everything was piling up to reach this point. I was crying that day because of some exporting issues, I was tired, it was half past seven and the academy closed at eight. I wanted to finish everything: I finally connected all the cables and the electrical system of the whole academy failed. I called the janitors, that wanted to kill me: but they helped me fix the power issues anyway. I plugged everything. It worked. I was jumping around of happiness, with them looking at me like I was totally crazy. (Jacklyn Cornelisse)
19. LIQUIDATION - Initial misfortune or lack is resolved
Everything seems to run smooth, we are even able to talk about it without having a nervous breakdown.
During the process of storytelling I understood that I needed the narrative part, and I made it. And just in the end I made the last part, the revelations. Now I look at it, and I'm like "yeah the narrative part doesn't need to be there, I don't like it, it's just there to explain things". It makes things clearer, but that's not what I like to do. (Inês Fernandes)
20. RETURN - Hero returns
The hero starts to come back to the comfort zone, heading slowly towards the end of the project.
What helped me in that was just some spirituality, some wise people that said to me just relax, believe in yourself, you are one with the universe. This made me feel a little smaller and put things in perspective. And it was my graduation, but it was 'just' my graduation. It's gonna go how it's gotta go. Cause if I worried too much I would have frozen, and that happened too often. (Berry de Jong)
The second part of the fulfilment take us in more dangerous waters: the hero thinks he's safe, going back at home, and having defeated the villain nothing left remains to do except enjoying life. But it isn't so. One in three car accidents happens close to home, when our defences are low, when we think we're safe, there the villain strikes. He learned, though, that he can't beat us by frontal fight, so he fakes to be something else. The fight here is taken on another level: if the first fulfilment was about taking down the villain with force and decision, here is about recognizing him while he's hiding between forces that we consider to be friendly.
21. PURSUIT - Hero is pursued
The difficulties keep on haunting the creative, even though he moved. They return, while the creative process is going on. They became more subtle, while we tend to be more serene in dealing with them.
After working on something so personal for so long, I couldn't look at it objectively any more. I was completely lost in all the storyline and every time I had to make a decision I would just show it to people and ask "what do think?" "what do you see here?" because for me, I didn't know any more what my story was communicating. (Inês Fernandes)
22. RESCUE - Hero is rescued from pursuit
There's this moment, often, when we don't really know what to do: we know that some things do not work, that we should do things differently, but we don't know how. Several times, something external happens and offer us the solution, on a silver plate.
I had been watching YouTube for an infinite time to find the right videos, I was writing my thesis, I was stuck on everything, and I was crying a lot. I had this moment in which I thought "I just want to crawl in a corner and die". It's when you sit in front of the computer, staring at the screen. The only solution is CMD+Q, Chrome, type n and Netflix opens, then binge watch one season of Gilmore Girls. After one weekend of this, I couldn't take any more, and I started to explain what the project was about to a friend, who said "Why don't you just do this?" and I answered "But if I do this, then I can do that, and then it could work" soon after I was unblocked. (Jacklyn Cornelisse)
23. ARRIVAL - Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country
This parallel may be a little bit stretched, but I'm going to push it out anyway. In my graduation project, I worked for several months on an autobiographical short, doing an embarrassing amount of storyboarding. After the pre production assessment, I was far too fed up with the project and frustrated by the narrative problems, so I decided to let it sink for almost one week. In the meanwhile, I binge watched Daredevil, the Netflix series. In the moment in which I came out of this tunnel, I had the solution of every problem, by coming back to the very core of my idea. And since it was an autobiographical project, it was in some way coming home. As I said, stretched. Let's move on.
24. FALSE HERO - False hero presents unfounded claims
The false hero is one of the most interesting functions of fairy tales. It's the moment in which the villain disguise himself to fake to be good, while plotting to make even more damage.
I was really happy at the beginning of the project, I was expecting to get compliments about it, because it was going to be that good. And I had this point in my mind when I though it would be amazing, and it turned out to be the opposite. (Viola Barth)
25. TASK - Difficult task proposed to the hero
Kill your darlings. Everybody experienced that: you work a lot on a project and then someone make you realize that a whole bunch of choices you made are wrong. And you know it's true.
There was so much in my experience and in my memories that I wanted to talk about but in the end I couldn't talk about everything, I had to make choices, I had to say "Ok, I'm gonna focus on this" otherwise it's gonna be a very confusing story, a very confusing movie. (Inês Fernandes)
26. SOLUTION - Task is resolved
So, kill them all. Be merciless.
So sometimes I took decisions and the doubt persisted through the project. "Should I have done it somehow else?" but I'm happy that I did what I have to do. I guess, you know, I think it's gonna become a nice movie. (Inês Fernandes)
27. RECOGNITION - Hero is recognized
This is really the moment in which the creative gets a recognition for his work. The very first time I felt recognized for the work and effort I was pushing myself into was when my first short, Bounds was chosen to be shown within Playgrounds Festival 2014. For me was a great and unexpected reward because It was the first time I did an audiovisual artifact with content of my choice, and it was appreciated.
28. EXPOSURE - False hero or villain is exposed
This is the moment in which the hero learn the lesson, push into the light the things that were hidden, destroys he fears and enemies. He's winning, and he knows it.
I think the most important thing that I learned is that there are things that I'll never be perfect in. I can be good in them, but I'll never be perfect. It took a lot to accept it, but I got there. (Viola Barth)
29. TRANSFIGURATION - Hero is given a new appearance
The transfiguration for me is the moment in which I started to call myself an animator, when I started to do the first small jobs with the title that I wanted to have. It was like a whole new identity was being given to me.
30. PUNISHMENT - Villain is punished
I think we can't punish an idea. Especially if it's ours. But what we can do, is recognize it and discover that, maybe, we can live with it.
31. ACCLAIM - Hero is rewarded or promoted for his/her actions
The hero is acclaimed as such. During the Master of Animation, my professor asked David Wilson to review our projects. My personal, small, but emotionally explosive acclaim was when he appreciated my project. Which was something that was absolutely beyond my imagination.
We arrived in the end of this weird travel. I learned several thing in this process of connecting dots and people. What started as an attempt to help myself sorting out problems in my creative process came out as something else, which is maybe less useful in a strict sense, but far more engaging and exciting than I expected.
The first thing that came from interviewing people is that everybody experienced the creative process in a different way. Nevertheless there are some patterns that could be worth exploring: everybody had a crisis, came out of that, learned something, and received some kind of recognition of his/her work. From this point of view, this research was successful: it did bring to surface some structural pattern in the creative process. This could help people which are experiencing this path by expecting certain events to happen: foresee crisis could actually bring benefit by, if not avoiding them, preparing the creative to face them. Forecasting future problems is something that happened to me in my graduation project: when I realized the mechanism I started to feel more serene about complications, as if they were part of the game.
Second discovery is that there may be two big groups of people: the first one tend to dramatize their lives (and therefore their creative process), the second one tend to live in a more rational and emotionally charged way. I think that the first group lacked several times some kind of light-hearted approach towards the process in itself: too many times the stress and the fear to not match expectations were far too high, leading to planing and emotional problems. While at first I thought that more rational people didn't live the creative process in a very narrative way, I've discovered that it's not so: Berry, for example, lived his process without really big emotional peaks (compared to Viola at least) but he followed the same patters said before. I realized that, while I was in the first group fro a lot of time, during my research (and my project) I slid more and more towards the second one while realizing that obstacles are part of the path, and it's our responsibility get prepared to face them.
The third discovery is that the creative process, in particular how people tackle their problems, is far more irrational and impossible to measure than I though. What happened with me, Jacklyn and Viola are excellent examples of this. Exactly for this reason, one element that came out quite powerfully is the necessity to have faith into the process and our capabilities. Precisely for the fact that this process is often irrational and able to trigger emotional patterns that are impossible to control, we may need to operate at a level that could seem absurd at first sight, such as the one of faith in something.
From a certain point of view, the exploration was not successful: I though that maybe this parallel would lead me to develop some kind of tool able to solve some problems in the creative process. It didn't. But what it did is inspire me: talking with people, sharing experiences and ideas was an incredibly broadening process, that I'm happy to have done. From this mindset, the exploration was at the opposite incredibly successful: It provided a gathering of information, emotion, steps, patters, all open to subjective interpretation. This was my aim: my contribution was never meant to be step and tools based, but broad, open, maybe blurry, but I hope anyway inspiring to me and others.
The final revelation is that, once I started to think in narrative and fable-based terms, I couldn't undo it: every process, every path, every development came back to some kind of Propp function. In the end, I guess it's true what Bruner said: I became the stories I was telling.
Berry de Jong - Animator
Inés Fernandes - Animator
Jacklyn Cornelisse - Photographer
Viola Barth - Graphic Designer
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