From nothing to something

Recently there has been a bit of a lull in the community-based animation projects. There was the recent and amazing installment of the Doodle Project but it’s been some time since we’ve seen something of the likes of The Wisdom of Pessimism or Dear Europe.

Thankfully, Andrew Vucko is here to reignite this flame and put together a stellar new film with an unbelievably talented group of contributors.

Not only are the visuals out of this world but the message is one that will definitely hit home with many working in the various creative fields.

From Vucko

Towards the end of 2018, I felt overwhelmed by the constant amount of good work this industry was putting out, and in tandem – was feeling the least inspired to create in recent memory.

I thought… what does inspiration mean anyway? A quick search for it online led to a surprise, the English dictionary defined it as “a mental stimulation to do and feel something”.

Thats when I realized online culture had been slowly leaning more into the ‘do’ and ‘execution’ aspect rather than the ‘feel’.

This project was a response to that, an insight into why our emotions are so important to the creative process, and really, like a ‘big bang’, plays the key role to bringing an idea from absolutely nothing – to something.

On top of that, this acted as a platform to collaborate with some of the artists that have inspired me and this community, for the past decade. I am so humbled to have worked with this team.

With the topic at hand, we wanted to hear from some of the various contributors to this film and how they deal with inspiration and at times, the lack thereof.


How do you define inspiration / what does the word mean for you?

[Seth Eckert]
An idea or concept that influences the way you approach creative problem solving. Inspiration can affect your mood and perspective in a way that helps you break the monotony of repetitive tasks, such as button clicking.

[Yukai Du]
Inspiration can be everything you see, you feel and you experience. It’s a trigger of your creativity and it makes you want to do something.

[Sharon Harris]
Inspiration to me is the strong feeling/emotion you get that moves you to action. It’s a very similar feeling to the ones I get when I’m watching the sunset and my heart fills with joy and anticipation for what lies ahead. It propels me forward with a sense of excitement and directionality.

[Molly Willows]
At the risk of sounding totally woo-woo, to me inspiration is the only way of being. Life itself is inherently an act of creation. Staying inspired with wonder and being creative is the world. It’s everything!

[Romain Loubersanes]
I think Inspiration is infinite and unique for everyone. It depends on how we interpret the message based on what we hear, see, touch, etc. It can be anything… a specific sound, a colour, a quote you hear, a weird shape you notice randomly. It’s not only from books, talks, videos, social media platforms.
Literally anything can be inspirational. It will create something unique within each of us, to use to explore in our own path.

[Antfood: Wilson Brown]
For me, inspiration is the intersection of clarity and will to create. It occurs in big and small ways, but in general I try to not wait for inspiration to strike, but to try environments where it naturally and frequently occurs. Taking walks, surrounding yourself with interesting people, books, art and ideas and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone all help.

[Daniel Luna]
Inspiration is that sweet spot between one’s own experiences, references, intentions (all the stuff that we are conscious about) and something deeper… less rational… a place where all these things magically amalgamate and resurface as ideas worth exploring. It doesn’t always come easy though.

[Henrique Barone]
I don’t see inspiration as a separate thing from the creation itself. I don’t feel inspired and therefore, I create. For me, it happens at the same time. In that sense, you can either see inspiration as an act or the creation as a thought. Sometimes the very initial spark can a thought, an idea; other times this spark can be an act, like a drawing or a movement. In both cases, it’s hard – if not impossible – to know what comes first.

Has tapping into certain feelings helped create more or better work and if so, how?

[Seth Eckert]
Emotion in story is powerful, however it can be a little harder to convey in commercial advertising. Simon Sinek’s golden circle points out that beliefs and emotions drive behavior more than a description of how a product or service functions. I don’t know if I have any metric to gauge if this approach to my work has helped me create more or better work. I do believe my work has become more impactful and has seen more return than it was before I started thinking this way.

[Emanuele Colombo]
Yes, especially regarding personal projects, which are always a bit hard to find time for. If these projects touch subjects that are personal for you or include anything that you’re passionate about, it’s more likely that you’ll give your best and you won’t lose your focus.

[Sharon Harris]
Definitely. This often happens when I’m working on a personal project. For example, when I’m illustrating I’ve often found the feelings of fear and skepticism are trying to drive me to create more or better work. Recently though I’ve realized that these feelings have kept me from my best work and hindered my other positive and productive feelings, like confidence and intuition — both of which have helped me create more and have fun in the process, which in my opinion equals better work.

[Sarah Beth Morgan]
Strong emotions and feelings are often what triggers me to create something new – to challenge myself. For me, anxiety especially sparks passion projects. I try to collect all of that intense negative energy and regurgitate it on paper (or my Cintiq screen!). Since my anxiety feels so “dark” in nature, it challenges me to illustrate outside of my more light-hearted comfort zone.

[Daniel Luna]
Yes! Even sadness can turn into something interesting if you manage to understand the feeling and put it to good use. Personal projects are the perfect outlet for exploring these deeper subjects. My last collaborative project, for example, was about learning to let go of friendships that lost their meaning. It talks about accepting that even beautiful things can come to an end. That core notion still makes me uncomfortable today but I believe it to be true and therefore worth exploring.

[Henrique Barone]
Yes. When I look back to some of my personal short films, it’s pretty clear that I was outputting a certain feeling I was having at that moment. Either confusion, loneliness, ambitions and so on. Sort of using the medium to talk to me and make myself questions. I think the more open you are to feel and really be honest about what you are feeling, the more this feeling will come across and the more people will relate. The hard job here is to be open and honest to yourself.

On a personal work level – say doing a short film – I don’t think that one can really plan on tuning into certain feelings and write a story from there. In my opinion, it’s always a subjective thing, a feeling that, in retrospect, you can see how much it affected you then. However, on a professional work level, the exercise is obviously to always try to get into the character’s mind and learn to tune their feelings, in order to deliver a believable story/performance.

So, the more you understand and tap on certain feelings you have, the more you will be able to fake these feelings onto a story/character.

[Rachel Reid]
I believe the goal of every artist is to express themselves through their work. It doesn’t matter which medium you choose or the scale of the project; usually one’s goal is to emote a feeling, whether it’s commercial or personal work. I always express how I feel through animation and it’s great when someone can relate to that feeling, or even better, find a whole new emotion behind it! It’s how we feel that drives us to be inspired in order to create something new. We al have life experiences that can trigger a plethora of emotions, so we create and say “Here you go world! This is how I feel!” We want to pull our audience’s heartstrings; to feel joy, sadness, or even puzzled. And when we achieve that, it drives us to create more.

With an overwhelming and oversaturated industry, how have you managed to stay inspired instead of exhausted?

[Stephen Kelleher]
I think it’s been said many times in many ways but one should not look to within their own field for deep inspiration. You have to look across disciplines, cultures, history and within yourself rather than simply what your peers are making. I think it’s important to remember that design / animation / art has always been a response to living in the real world. As people live their lives increasingly on a screen we’ve forgotten that and a lot of work can feel muted or strangled because of their limited pool of inspiration.

[Emanuele Colombo]
Music scholars defend that the healthy competition between Lennon e McCartney and each other’s influence over one another were the keys of the Beatles success. Lennon would have never written “Help!” if McCartney hadn’t written “Yesterday”, and the same applies to many other beautiful songs they wrote. That’s the reason why their records are so great, there just wasn’t any room for ordinary songs.

Healthy competition is a huge source of inspiration. Seeing other designers releasing jaw-dropping projects keeps me motivated to increase the quality of my own work.
It’s true that the amount of input we constantly see on Instagram can be overwhelming and it can prevent us to go “from nothing to something”, but it’s up to us to take a step back and focus on one single project you really believe in and come up with something great.

[Sharon Harris]
Recently I’ve started to set some boundaries in the way I do life. One of those boundaries is to step away from the computer or browsing on social media aimlessly or specifically for inspiration. Social media makes me feel unaccomplished, slow and that I’m not doing enough, which is why I’ve decided that when I’m looking for inspiration I need to step away from anything digital and go hiking or surfing or read a really good book. So far this has proven to be what brings the most inspiration to me.

I truly believe that to grow as an artist you have to spend time in the outside world near nature, books, family, etc. The more time we spend in the real world, the more we become informed and our curiosity grows.

One other important part to me has been to connect to the spiritual part of my life. It has helped with my identity and purpose in life. That alone has become a huge source of inspiration on how I live my life and work.

[Antfood: Yuta Endo]
Not always looking inside your own tiny industry, and looking elsewhere for inspiration. taking inspiration from outside the music/ad world and thinking about how it can translate to what you do. read books, watch movies, absorb nature, study science, eat cereal and then come back to your work

[Daniel Luna]
I find it energizing to see so many different approaches in design and motion out there but I think it is essential to have your own sources of inspiration out of the industry. There is so much creative work being done in other fields that it would be a shame not to look into photography, painting, sculpture, science, architecture, music, fine jewelry, etc. I have been getting more into 3D recently but still get a kick out of a nicely designed typeface or a beautifully lit architecture photograph. If you appreciate creative things why would you limit yourself to one small box?

[Henrique Barone]
I haven’t… But seriously, I toned down quite a bit the amount of being on top of everything that’s happening I used to have. Partly because I’m a dad now, partly because of things being way more spread out (the Vimeo bubble felt so cozy, eh?) and partly because – and thankfully so! – disconnecting or seeing the world seem to be the mantra of the decade, not only on Motion Graphics but on society as a whole. It definitely feels like we are living a new carpe diem.

But still, I totally feel bad sometimes for not having watched that new piece that new studio, using that new technology put out yesterday. We got so used to the Internet and to social media that it’s a constant exercise to get unused to it.

Is there a way to separate art from self? Should it be separate and what are some positive and negative aspects of that?

[Seth Eckert]
Art and self are intertwined.

It was once a part of your life, but it should not define who you are or what you are going to be creating next. We cannot deny the fact that your creativity at one time was manifested into a thing. There is no other you. Ego and self-righteousness in creative decision making typically results in linking art and self to a higher degree. It can be dangerous to get into that thinking pattern sense it can be self destructive. Unhealthy comparison creates insecurity which results in never being satisfied enough to move on. On the flip side of that, healthy comparison doesn’t always have to have a negative outcome, it can also be what drives us to be better.

We are complex beings and I don’t believe we can ever be defined by just one job or one period of time in our lives. The art we create should not define our self worth. Not taking yourself too seriously goes a long way.

[Pablo Cuello]
I try to believe that we can appreciate art independently from what we think of the artist, even though that’s not always so easy (or even right, maybe). It’s impossible not to make a judgement over a person, but I don’t think that we necessarily have to attach it to their work to enjoy it.

On the other hand, I find that trying to find out some characteristics of a person through his/her work could be a fun exercise. This could be even more interesting if we do it with ourselves: People are in constant change, but once we create something, it remains immutable. Therefore it becomes sort of an archive/reflection of how we were in that moment when we created it, so it allows us to travel in time in some way. Paying attention to how we solved a creative problem in the past, can remind us of ourselves in that time. This can sometimes help us to realize how much we’ve grown, things that have never changed (we like them or not), or aspects of ourselves that we might have lost and now would like to recover.

[Antfood: Wilson Brown]
No. Though it is possible to compartmentalize aspects of yourself and your art in their own little buckets.

[Antfood: Bennet Eiferman]
For art to exist, it must necessarily pass through a “self.” The nature of that self, though, is ultimately irrelevant. Certain artworks can be biographical or self-analytical and therefore heavily involved with or influenced by “self.” Other artworks can be purely aesthetic and in no way reliant on their creators’ sense of self. classic congress, slightly evasive

[Thea Glad]
Art and the self feels so heavily intertwined I’m not sure if it is possible to separate the two entirely.

However there are definite ways we can separate aspects of them to take care of our own health and mental wellbeing, as we so often compare and put our own value to the work we create and put out there.

One hurdle that has been particularly tricky to get past, but is so vitally important when it comes to art and the self is to make sure you have another creative outlet other than art. I cannot stress this enough, as a child, drawing was my main and favourite hobby, it’s what I did everyday – in class and before going to bed at night. Once I was in my early 20s and had started working in the London animation industry, I rarely desired to draw outside of work. What had once been my main way to relax had now become work and I struggled to find inspiration to pick up a pencil. This lead into a spiral of thinking that because I was not creating personal work, I was not processing. Finding another outlet and hobby really helped keep me with the mental block I was having.
I find exercise to be one of the biggest. Oh and slowly growing my collection of houseplants that I can take care of.

As I continue to work, a positive I welcome gladly is that the older you get and the more experience you gain, it’s easier to know where your boundaries lie, and can push through them.

[Daniel Luna]
Both are part of the same whole. One nurtures the other. I find it impossible to draw a clear line in between.

What are your main resources for inspiration? (places, people, things, books, websites)

[Pablo Cuello]

Haha, no, seriously (although that’s true). People that surround me are a great inspiration for me. And quite literally: Since I was a little kid, when I couldn’t think of anything to draw, I asked someone in my family for an idea or subject. It used to be an animal (I’m surprised I’m not an expert on drawing dogs now); people that are not into creative careers often don’t feel the pressure to be original (lucky bastards!). But it was fun for me to take an idea that was apparently simple, and try to find a way to create something crazy out of it. Many times, with the help of randomness, that it’s another source of inspiration for me: I find it really hard not to be influenced by the work I see, so trying to find forced relations between concepts that might seem apparently unrelated, helps me think in unexpected ways, and this often brings interesting results.

[Romain Loubersanes]
People watching, while drinking my coffee is definitely my best source of inspiration, so I’d say observation.

However I feel we all aspire to be truly unique in our work. For this I’m convinced we should trust more our own imagination instead of always looking to others work to be inspired. 
Listen music for example and see what happens, a lot of ideas will probably comes out of it, the only thing is that it’s a big challenge to put on paper what your brain can create in his own, but if you can do it, you create your own world.

[Sarah Beth Morgan]
As much as I hate to admit it, Pinterest & the internet are my go-to for everyday inspiration; when the job just needs to get done quickly (mainly for client work). But that’s definitely not where my best work comes from. The work I’m most proud of is inspired by unexpected sources – or reality itself. A slow motion video a friend took, my “Discover Weekly” Spotify playlist, a novel I’m reading, an intense emotion I’m feeling, photos I took while wandering a local art gallery – or even passages from an old art history textbook. Someday, I aim to be ONLY inspired by offline sources. But until then, Pinterest and I are still best buds.

[Thea Glad]
It’s mainly by surfing the web as boring as that sounds, but it’s the most accessible and got such a huge variety of everything! Back when tumblr was a thing I got most of my inspiration from graphic design, fashion/style and interior design blogs. Now that tumblr has pretty much disappeared, I browse Pinterest and Instagram for most of my inspiration. Oh and videogames!

[Daniel Luna]
I don’t look for inspiration on a specific place or media. Music, travelling, vimeo, watching animations with my kid (the perfect excuse to indulge on this stuff), books, instagram, video-games, art galleries… I am a total scatterbrain when it comes to resources.

[Molly Willows]
I’m currently out in the middle of the desert in Joshua Tree, California, with limited internet. Travel is my main source of inspiration. This morning my friends and I went to the desert haven of assemblage folk artist Noah Purifoy, an African-American whose early work was created with trash from the 1965 Watts riots in LA. Then he retired out in Joshua Tree and made this 10 acre desert oasis of political found-object structures that evoke visceral feelings in a starkly surreal desert landscape. We saw a rattlesnake catch a rodent in a cactus bush by a mountain made of toilets and smashed TVs. And the light, the heat, the craggy mountains. For me that kind of moment is pure inspiration!

[Rachel Reid]
People for sure. As a character animator, I want to explore and understand what makes us human. We are so complex. I even find myself to be a conundrum at times! I always study body mechanics so that I can understand how different parts of the body relate to each other, what’s leading and what’s following, and adding the rest of the principles of animation to make a character look and feel believable. But the inspiration, I find, is the thought behind the movement. Context for a character is important, but what about subtext? What’s driving that character to take action? Is there anyway I can animate a character’s thoughts? Are they nervous, excited, confused? Is the character an introvert or an extrovert and how does this characteristic drive their thoughts and behavior? The only way I can understand this is by observing people in real life. There’s no other way to grow a mental library of ideas other than to observe life and get to know people! I use my friends, family, the cashier at the grocery store, anybody as inspiration and reference for my work.

[Justina Leisyte]
Often, inspiration for an illustration concept comes from a rational/creative thought process. When I need to come up with an idea, I do some research to find metaphors or key visual elements that reflects the idea the best. In contrast, when I want to create a personal piece, inspiration comes from the things I see and from the feeling I want to reflect.

What are some personal ways of dealing with creative block?

[Stephen Kelleher]
Creative block means your eyes and mind have become detuned to the wonder that fills every moment, place and person. You’re thinking about thinking too much. Relax, go outside, call your mom, have a beer and enjoy the beach. Try not to think about your work problems but rather really engage in life, there’s a hugely enriching world outside of your laptop – that can be forgotten as it’s our portal to so many things these days.

[Emanuele Colombo]
Stepping out of our comfort zone is a great medicine for creative block, I think. When we reach a certain level of confidence in our skills, we tend to take roads we already know and run out of ideas in the long term. Trying new paths we’ve never taken before is a good way to revive that light.

[Molly Willows]
Drink water, go for a swim or a run. If that doesn’t work, drink whiskey or wine. Sleep on it. Get on a plane and breathe new air elsewhere :)

[Yukai Du]
Get away from screens and do something crafty like clays, pottery, gardening, etc.

[Romain Loubersanes]
I see 2 ways.

First, keep going, do something without really thinking, do it until something comes up. I can admit, it’s not fun because it can create a lot of frustration but it worked for me in the past.

Second, I took the advice from Lynda Barry, who said, “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” Simply put, use your hands, disconnect from your devices. Try any physical activity that is more “hands on,” regardless if it is related to art, or not.

[Antfood: Wilson Brown, Yuta Endo, Bennett Eiferman, Dalton Harts ]
Avoid banging heads against the wall and walk around and have a popsicle.

[Thea Glad]
Like Yukai said – getting away from screens is a great way to deal with the creative block. Go do something different!

Rock climbing(bouldering) has become my new favourite way of taking a break from a creative block, or work during lunch hours.

When I climb, my mental block gets transferred into problem solving and mixed in with my body and motor skills.I feel really refreshed afterwards and feel like I’ve got the energy to come back to work after a session. That and oh also – taking care of my houseplant..!

[Daniel Luna]
I have a hard time letting go but if I feel really dry I either go for a walk, bike ride, chat with a friend or read. Whatever helps giving my mind a break so I can have a fresh perspective when I am back to it.

[Rachel Reid]
When I’m experiencing a creative block, it usually means that I need to step away from the computer and gain new experiences. So I typically try to learn something new, like playing the piano or speak Spanish! Sometimes I’ll try to take a vacation and immerse myself in a different place or culture. Animation is observation! I have to stop and live life and have experiences so that I can be inspired to keep creating.

[Justina Leisyte]
For me, creative block occurs when I am experiencing overwhelming feeling of light anxiety or stress. Life is full of surprises, sometimes things are not going the direction you imagined. In these cases the best way for me to deal with creative block is to move my body and step back from the work. I usually go for a quick run or to a yoga class with a 15 minutes meditation the end. Exercise really helps me to stay mindful and present and be aware of my own thoughts and feelings.


Written & Directed by:

Produced by:
Molly Willows

A visual collaboration by:
Stephen Kelleher
Daniel Oeffinger
Sarah Beth Morgan
Henrique Barone
Daniel Luna
Jorge R. Canedo E.
Thea Glad
Yukai Du
Rachel Reid
Marcus Bakke
Emanuele Colombo
Justina Lei
Nejc Polovsak (Twisted Poly)
Yino Huan
DeeKay Kwon
Pablo Cuello
Romain Loubersanes
Simon Appel & Oscar Pettersson of Part 1
Sharon Harris
Seth Eckert
Andrew Vucko

Audio by:

About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.