Work/Life: A Conversation with Ash Thorp

A few days ago, we shared the portfolio of designer/illustrator Ash Thorp. Ash recently finished a year-long tour of duty at Prologue, where he crafted much of the stunning work featured on his site.

In our email conversations, Ash mentioned that while working at Prologue, he commuted daily from San Diego—a round trip of several hours, depending on California’s legendary traffic. This left little time for his wife and child at home, but Ash justified the schedule by thinking of it as his “year of complete potential.”

That phrase struck me. Did the year deliver? If so, now what? How do you shift down from high gear?

I turned these questions to Ash, and he shared his perspective on things. I think a lot of you will relate to much of what he says, regardless of the marital status and number of dependents you claim on your tax forms.

Balance — it’s so damn tricky. Especially for a person like me who is always driven and excited to push myself into change and unfamiliar territory just for the growth and the lesson. That’s living life to me.

It would be easy if I was single — in fact it would be crazy easy, if I was only caring for myself and only concerned with my own wants and needs. Having a family is pretty easy; having a family and actually caring and loving your family is a completely different dynamic.

I try my best to be the best at everything I do in life, as there are no other options in my mind. That mentality is great at times, but it often leaves me drained and unbalanced in a very bad way. I have friends who have lost years of their children’s growth due to the pull of work, and that frightens me.

Kids need their parents at an early age, it helps develop how they think and work. It’s a great responsibility to raise a solid human being and that just breaks down to time. Almost everything in life can be remedied with time, and a good family needs lots of it.

Tell us more about your “year of complete potential.”

My year of complete potential was my way of looking at the pain and suffering I put my family through as a way of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It was a way of knowing that this sacrifice was going to yield great results.

It was my choice to work for Prologue and commute 7 to 8 hours a day and work 10 to 11 hours at the studio. Weekends were my only time to sleep and spend time with my family. It was my choice to believe in my abilities and know that a greater good would come of all the sacrifice. I always remind myself that with greater sacrifice comes greater reward.

I kept my heart as pure as I could and my intent on my work. I took on every job I could get my hands on to the point where people would shoo me away and tell me to slow down. I was on a mission.

Last year has set contrast for the rest of my life. I know now what I am made of and how far I can push myself. I could probably go further, but it would break my family and behind every great man is his family. I can’t break that bond.

So was it worth it?

Last year really did deliver. I choose to be positive — with the commute, the distance, the stress. I take on every job and challenge with a smile and did my best wholeheartedly. I think it showed.

I made amazing friendships with the people I worked along side at the studio. I’m so thankful for those who opened their hearts and homes to me on days I couldn’t get back home. You know who you are.

So what’s next?

The future to me is to be able to work with people I care about or want to help grow. I want to help clients or others with projects I feel strongly about or have a passion to work with. And I want to do this all while spending as much time as possible with my wife and 6 year-old daughter. It is a constant balancing act, and the key is an equal amount of all the ingredients.

Due to the fact that our career paths are so organic and subjective, time means nothing really and due dates mean nothing as there is no time on creativity. The time it takes to either make a million dollar idea or a million dollar wasted idea is really unknown.

Trying to control that factor will make one crazy; the best thing to do is to keep an open communication with those you love and make sure they are aware of what it is that life is demanding of you and to make sure they acknowledge that and support it, so that you can focus on the task at hand.

Was it hard leaving Prologue?

It was a bit of a shock to leave Prologue. I had a week or two where I was in real rare form, depressed, exhausted, not wanting to do anything but sleep and complain about things. I think that was a sign that my body and mind had had enough. I was getting concerned that it was getting worse.

Then, I just took control of my emotions and reminded myself of the amazing life and world I live in and to be thankful for everything around me, especially the people. Working those very long days at Prologue and commuting so far really changed a part of my personality, I feel, for the better and the worse.

Any last words for our readers?

With every sacrifice comes a great reward. I try to view my life with a positive perspective, to keep all my pieces together and in a row.

Life is what you make it and happiness is a choice. If you have a dream, no matter how big, obtain it and enjoy every second of it.

I also want to give a shout out to my amazing wife,  my daughter,  family and friends who I adore and who have been there supporting me through everything.

50 Comments

Sebastian Ariel Curi

wow. Awesome works and very eloquent person.

Filipe Carvalho

Wonderful post Justin. Sometimes we all need to look at the big picture.Really glad you posted this.

Anonymous

gorgeous top notch work and very inspired. one thing. kids need their parents at every age, even through teens

Birdy3000

Inspirational. Thanks.

Tom La Rock

Great work and great article. Would love to hear a follow up in the future on how this huge investment (hopefully) paid off.

Ben Bullock

Great article. Amazing work.

Ben Bullock

Great article, amazing work.

chrismartz

wise words, thanks.

Stephen Fitz

Great article and it seems like a fresh thread for the site beyond “more nice work from xx”. I’d love to read more about that boundary between work/life, and how that changes as a career progresses.

Matt Ciaglia

Great work Ash! And yes, balance is the goal!

Anonymous

really great, reminds me that i AM single and following my dreams could be a MUCH more difficult task in the future!

Anonymous

Hi Justin.

wow.  my hat is off to you.  this really hit home as a artist / company owner and father of 2 kids. thank you for posting an article about what how important our passion for this work is and how insanely hard it is to balance it with family.  i would love to see more of this kind of work / reporting / stories….

sincere regards,
tim crean.

Anonymous

good lord, man.  that’s some damn STAMINA.  6 hours a day of driving would wear me down to a nub in a week, let alone a full year.

i guess it’s good to push yourself to the limit, but i seriously doubt i’d be able to pull that off.

plus, the level of work Ash sustained during that run is stunning and truly inspirational.  excellent post!

Anonymous

Cathartic to read his thoughts on balancing life and work. I’m just now making my own transition, adjusting priorities for our newborn daughter. Right on the money. Yet time is money. He sensitively, yes eloquently, describes my own thoughts on sacrificing, or rather giving myself to such positive hopes. Freelance/contract work is very difficult to live, and often even more difficult to describe to family. Thank you for providing sustenance here.

Kim Holm

What a great read. So down to earth, yet sky high. Thank you both!

Jon

Awesome work! 

I-Nu Yeh

really Inspirational. Thanks. :)

Tagori Mazzoni

Yeah, he got the PMA! Awesome words, very inspiring, he sounds like a super nice guy to work with, sometimes that make the difference between work on a hard but nice 15 hour day and a hard as hell 8 hour day.

Mariano von Trani

great article – but then I have some critical words, too, as he`s speaking of the effects on his family but only slightly touches the health issues. 

I really hope he didn`t drive himself after those long days, I`m hearing of far too many people who lost their lives when they fell asleep due to fatigue, this is something we underestimate at a young age – I was close to it myself a couple of times… then I had a collegue (motion designer) who pushed himself so far, pulled so many all nighters and neglected his health, he ended up with kidney stones at the age of 21 when he had to pull the emergency break.and to conclude with – I don`t know if it`s worth to lose one year, within the last year, two people I knew quite closely died at a very young age. One collegue died at the age of 23 in the sleep – no illness, no drugs, nothing, she went home on friday and died on sunday…the other one, 32, was a classmate, found dead on her couch – both of them were sportive people. it`s especially painful as I knew of their dreams in life, the plans they have made, both personally and in their professions.- I`m not only speaking of the time you may have left, but also the time some of your loved ones may have left being with you.

just some thoughts…

Bran Dougherty-Johns

In many industries there are rules regarding turnaround time – the time between shifts so that a worker isn’t dangerously tired and overworked. In fact just this week the VES proposed an Industry Bill Of Rights which address this issue: http://www.visualeffectssociety.com/visual-effects-industry-bill-of-rights

It’s a start.

Edgardo Gonzales

One question, instead of commuting 6 hours/day for a full year, why didn’t he just moved; and still produce kick ass work, rested, and with proper balance between work/family? Makes more sense to me

Glenn Porter

http://i.imgur.com/NNvi7.jpg

Sorry, this is all I can picture

leonza

Good read!  

Ash is a really great artist and devoted father, He has been a complete pleasure to work with and being a father myself we’ve spoken about this topic many times.  Its refreshing for this topic to come up as most of my colleagues are in or will ultimately be in this situation were one has to sacrifice for the better of there family.  Long hours are unfortunately apart of our industry, but voices acknowledging this will hopefully shed some new light on how we can balance our personal life and work life.  I’d like to actually think one day my daughter would understand why dad has to pull 12-14 hour days.  This art form is an amazing thing, but at what cost one will never know.

Congrats Ash, I’m jealous your in beautiful San Diego…and now hopefully some well deserved rest!

Anonymous

I had been through the same Situation last year and got toi the same conclusion, do what you do for love, for your loved ones, friends and family. I switched a loft in downtown LA for my old room at my parents house in Brazil because after working really hard for years i realized what it was important to me. I was a bit lost after the move but now im getting back on track.
The road behind me was rough and fun, I made awesome friends along the way and gained life experience.
Right now I trying to find balance between my personal and professional life. So good to know other peole got to the same conclusions.
Keep it up buddy, it is so hard to make a living in such a competitive field, we are driven by love, always but sometimes we have to choose what to love

Federale

The work is incredible, no doubt. A question here is: was there a smarter way to achieve this goal? Sometimes I think people tend to see things in pairs of opposites: “what’s gained vs what’s lost” – but  I think there are several things to consider. What’s the long term impact on creativity. Is becoming a much more desirable asset to a company worth this sacrifice- is it possible that there is a salary cap that can been reached and that some of the effort was wasted (as far as moving up in compensation, not creativity). What’s the impact to health and personal relationships? It seems a bit extreme and not something to be celebrated without some healthy questioning. In a world where personal recognition and career come first before health and family its a bit scary that no one stops to think…what does this kind of thing reveal about the industry?

Anonymous

Ash, you sound like a very dedicated and inspirational person and your work is very nice.  However, all I can think of is how delusional you and some of the commenters appear to be.  

First off, the premise of the article is quite misleading.  I thought it was going to be an article about work/life balance.  However, there was no balance.  It was all work (and driving)…for an entire year.

Several of your comments seem contradictory also.

 “I have friends who have lost years of their children’s growth due to the pull of work, and that frightens me.”  Then you choose to spend a year of your life away from your family.

“My year of complete potential was my way of looking at the pain and suffering I put my family through as a way of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”  This makes no sense.  Perhaps it’s worded incorrectly.  Wouldn’t spending a year of your life working just put your family through more pain and suffering?  And where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?  Are you able to retire now from all the money you made.  Or are you back in the same situation as before – looking for a job?

I was curious, did you quit Prologue?

You say with great life comes great reward.  What reward did you get other than some nice artwork for your portfolio?  Did you land your dream job afterwards?  Are you able to take a year off to spend with your family?  There’s a way to get nice demo reel material other than killing yourself.  The hours in our industry are long enough already.  I don’t think we need to be sacrificing our lives more than we already do so our employers can make more money.

Ash Thorp

I see all your points and they are all valid since you are unaware of the details and have only fractions of my entire story.  When you read this article and see my work and make a quick assessment of the information you take in, you lack the insight and knowledge to see the details.  There is much more to my story then meets the eye. I have been overly passionate with my art and being creative since I was a child.  I knew since I was a young boy that I desperately wanted to be apart of the creative world when I grew up.  I have never been the type of person to settle or to take a 9-5 job.  Its not in my nature.  I have been on my own since I was 14, and have adopted my daughter and married my wife in hopes of giving us all a better life.  To me one year of sacrifice was small in consideration of life’s big picture.  I was never brought up into money or had any type of hand me downs EVER.  I earned everything I have through hard work and determination, that is a part of my character that has got me through anything.My family and I are rooted in where we live, our core social group, friends, family are all down here.  My daughters school is here, my wifes job is here, our financial burdens such as our house we own is here.  We are rooted here and I think it would have been a much more selfish move of me to uproot everything we have made and been apart of over the years so that they could come up to LA and I would be gone working 10-12 hours a day.  To move was going to cause to many issues for my loved ones so I chose to sacrifice my time to commute and make my entrance to the industry.  Its certainly seams easy to ask… why not move?  Its not nearly as easy as one might think.  My choice to not up root my family was a non-selfish decision.If you are a parent and understand what that really means then you know that its about sacrifice.  I know it must seam contradicting to say that I want to be around my family and then leave them for a year to pursue seemingly selfish desires.  That is the image I feel you have gathered from your statements but that year of sacrifice for a person like me that had nothing and risked it all to show the world what I was capable of and trust my work was worth it.  This sacrifice will allow me to fulfill my dreams and to provide for my family in a way I couldn’t before. If you look back into anyone who has made any type of impact in history or anything worth noticing it took sacrifice to get them there.  That is what this article is about.  Amazing things have come out from my sacrifices.  I am closer to discovering balance in this industry, I have been able to meet and discuss the future with some of the biggest companies and people in this industry.  You will understand the fruits of my sacrifices as you witness them in the near future.Best of luck to you and your future as well and I really thank you for your thoughts and concerns.Best-Ash

Mojtaba Komeili

Ash, I really enjoyed seeing your artwork and no doubt it worth that sacrifices.
I think everybody has it’s own way of living and improvement but I agree with you that there will be no impact without hardworking.
 Your sacrifices has not wasted and I’m waiting to see more of your new work.

Bests

Andrew Hoeveler

Ash, I truly appreciate your dedication and sacrifice, as so many here certainly do. I, and so many readers, identify with fending for yourself and not being “brought up into money”, as well as your tireless dedication to the art and the craft. I hope that your story will begin the big thrust that is needed to bring the working conditions of our industry to the spotlight. We have no union rights as so many other workers in the entertainment industry do. We also have very little central communication within our industry aside from this blog.

To put it bluntly, I just hope that Prologue appreciated your devotion as well as your family did. I can say with certainty, that the founders of Prologue, as well as SO many of the other companies that I have worked for in Southern California were founded by people on the far other side of the financial spectrum as you describe of your own upbringing. If Prologue REALLY cared about your personal welfare, after working you to the bone every night, they would have rented out a studio apartment around the corner from the office for their employees to use in situations such as yours in which you are going the extra mile spending your health for their profit and portfolio. Or paid roundtrip for a cab to drive you back to your family every night that you work beyond 10 hours (already 2 past the legal allowance, but never mind that). There are several solutions, and though all of them take a small chunk out of the bottom line of these companies, they put a HUGE, non-monetary bonus on the side of the company, resulting in more devoted employees who will work even harder with less burnout.

So I ask EACH of us, shouldn’t we demand of these companies the same dedication to US and our families as we give to them?

I recently moved away from over a decade of freelancing as an animator/designer in Los Angeles to a full time position as Creative Director at a company that TRULY appreciates me in the smog-free and slower-paced Seattle area. Sure, I am not regularly working on as high-profile work as the fashion-chasing companies I used to work for in LA, but I am loving LIFE! And just last Friday, my work was seen by over a quarter of Microsoft’s employees at their annual meeting in Safeco Field. So it’s not like I’m just making DVD menus for B-movies (and kudos to those of you who are… I worked my fair share of those too, back in the day ;-)… I’m just saying there ARE other options, and we need to fight for our rights to LIVE WELL!

Peace.

Ash Thorp

Wonderfully put Andrew.  I couldn’t agree more with most of everyones concerns posted on here and I do feel that bringing these type of things to light and conversation will better help the lifestyles of everyone involved.

I do know that when I get passionate about a project I get very involved emotionally and physically and that could be an error on my behalf for wanting to dedicate so much to my work.  Life is about balance obviously and this article discusses the lack of.  I once read that life is in perfect harmony when you accept everything in moderation.  Its a mental state of mind I hope to develop during the up and coming years.   It might take time but honesty, trust and communication will get you so far in this world.

Best-

Ash

Jim Zito

Maybe I’m missing something, but couldn’t you have gotten a place where Prologue is (Venice, I think?) and stayed there four days and drove back for the weekends? Perhaps cost had something to do with it. Also, did you do this to bring this issue to light, or to get ahead in your career? I ask because it seems like you’re just feeding the beast. You’re demonstrating that spending a year away from your family, basically, to work non-stop has its great rewards. True it does. And you do mention some of the drawbacks too. But if the idea is to create an industry where this doesn’t have to happen, where you don’t have to sacrifice a great deal of time with your family to get ahead, then all you have to do is look at the comments here and realize that you’re not really helping. There are many encouraging words and inspired people here because of what you did. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing what you did. I’m just wondering what exactly the message is here. I don’t think we should pretend that this should be some kind of lesson. Just that in this industry, as of now, if you want to get ahead and make it to the “big time” and find some balance, you have to make a good deal of sacrifices.

Bradon

was there no option to work remote?  I understand in certain situations its not ideal for the employers, especially when animation is involved uploading lots of assets.  Considering it was mostly design which I think is easier to do remotely what prevented you from pursuing this?  or some combination half weeks commute. 

Juan Behrens

I’m mind-blown, can’t applaud you enough for what you said!
Thanks Ash!

Anonymous

I really appreciate the spotlight on balance. It’s not just the work. There’s the story behind it. Very glad to hear there is someone out there pushing to do great things on 2 fronts- personal and professional. Thx for this story!

Anonymous

I really appreciate the spotlight on balance. It’s not just the work. There’s the story behind it. Very glad to hear there is someone out there pushing to do great things on 2 fronts- personal and professional. Thx for this!

Carlos Florez

Awesome post, congratulations ASH, it was great to meet you and work together sitting right next to you at PROLOGUE. Keep up the great work!

Rafael Macho

Great work Ash and great work from Prologue like always!

But… I have a problem with this kind of posting: this is an article about ONE of the faces of our industry. Not every company has such practices. Some people will be fine working long hours, while some hours will have a focus on their family, health.Let’s not imply that great work only comes with suffering, it’s kind of sick, and twisted …Please, let’s have another interview with a great designer who has also a great balance in his or her life.

Joe Shakula

I commuted back and forth between San Diego and LA for a few weeks to work at a studio earlier this year.  Without a family I was able to eventually make the move… commuting for a whole year is insane.  Goes to show the level of sacrifice people will make to get the opportunity to work on the main stage.  Ash’s passion definitely shows through in his design work, great stuff.

Anonymous

First off, Ash’s work is outstanding. But I’m troubled by people referring to this article being about “balancing work/life”. Because this is a clear example of work/life IMBALANCE. It is entirely true that it’s hard to gain career traction & leverage in this industry without working your ass off for long hours, but we need to be honest with ourselves that it’s an essentially fucked up system that preys upon young childless and spouseless people, to the benefit of the studios (and their principals who usually make a very overly-healthy income). Exploiting recent grads is crappy enough, but the worst part of it is how it marginalizes those same people once they do get married and/or have kids and, like any half-admirable human being, want to eat dinner with their family.

I have seen how this story ends, how the person who leaves the studio after 9 hours’s story ends, as well as dozens of shades in between those. And it’s not the ending that all those 24 year olds working 14 hour days want to hear. “The ghost of Christmas past” is all I gotta say.

Ash, I sincerely hope it ends up being worth it and you get lots of well-paying, fun, freelance-from-home projects. 

This all comes from someone who’s been doing this for a living for 13 years, is inherently a workaholic (but luckily saw how stupid the system is relatively early and learned to prioritize my personal time), and doesn’t have a spouse & kids to disappoint in order to fulfill client demands. People in our industry seem to shrug their shoulders and feel like that’s just how things are and there’s no way to change it. Well there is… shops need to hire more people to work on projects. But that won’t happen. Because we give them overtime for free. You’d be surprised how easy it is to say “no” and leave after 9 hours. Then they’ll notice that they need to schedule in more people to get their projects up to the level of polish they want.

Another thing to try is come to an explicit understanding that you’ll be leaving after 9 hours and give them a slight discount on your rate. Trust me, it’s worth it. Just them getting it into their heads that you don’t do 14 hour days will result in them never planning milestones with that option in mind (because trust me, producers DO plan for that if they feel like you’re willing to). 

Shhh… do you hear that? It’s the ghastly moan of “Ebeneeeeeeezerrrrrrr Scrooooooge”.

Yussef Cole

This is truth. Though let’s not forget that it’s also the fault of clients & agencies shrinking project budgets and thus timelines. Not to mention the rat race of pitching endlessly for cheaper and cheaper spots. The system as it stands right now is not in great shape. And less freelancers for more hours is just a symptom.

Anonymous

Nice work Ash.

I’m interested in how that experience will influence your next year of work.

David Dimeola

Nice work Ash.

I’m interested in how that experience will influence your next year of work.

higapod

three more links to add into the mix: 

two posts by the recently featured Scott Benson
http://bombsfall.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-things-worklife-issue.html
http://bombsfall.blogspot.com/2011/09/worklife-issue-addendum.html

and My Baby and “My Baby” – Startups and Children as Labors of Love by Elizabeth Kiehner of Thornberg & Forester
http://www.women2.org/my-baby-and-my-baby-startups-and-children-as-labors-of-love/

Roger

Don’t get me wrong, I respect a lot this story, his work and what he has accomplished, nevertheless every year hundreds of people travel longer distances than Ash, leave their families and their homes too to start a career and pursue a dream in the motion design and vfx industry. Being that said what’s so special about this one? Are the other stories going to get a special article on the site? Are we opening a discussion about how immigration has nourished the industry and spawned wonderful pieces of work? probably not…

I just think we should all be a bit more reflexive about the stories we digest and try to see a bit more than the obvious.

isaac thorp

“time to shine”…  hahaha, love you Ash…   I Thorp, C Thorp &A H Thorp !!!!!

leo lamba

I can relate to Ash story. Myself too for many years lived in San Diego and comuted to LA for work. I did not drive back and forth every single day. I would spend the week there and coming down south on the weekends. One year I drove up something like 49 weeks of the year and put 35k miles on my car.
Now I work mostly remote. Looking back, career wise was a good choice but I really lost too much and the level of stress was huge. 
I am also familiar with Prologue. They do incredible work but unless you hold your position firm they will take advantage of you with long hours of work and small pay. There is a reason why they only serve free meals at night so they can keep people working long hours. Lame stuff. But that’s reflection of our industry being very fragmented and the artists never requesting a fair and balanced work conditions. 
That said Ash deserves credit for prioritizing his life to what it really matters. 

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