Flashback Friday

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Here are some church media and children’s ministry guest posts I wrote previously for The Church Media Blog (From our friends at WorshipHouse Media) and the Kidzmatter blog (from our friends at Kidzmatter.com/Awana.org) that are still relevant and useful. Enjoy!


Seven Tips for Church Media Production

Ten Tips for Balancing Quality and Schedule

Transcendent Vs. Relevant Church Media


Five Keys to Building a Rock Solid Creative KidMin Team

The Power of Art and Media in KidMin


The Secret Ingredient to Your Overnight Success


So, I’ve been working on a book idea of late and it’s going to be a lot of work. One of the things with writing a book is you have to get people to buy it.

But before you get people to  buy it, you need a book store and/or website to stock it. But before you get a bookstore to stock it, you need a publishing company to publish it. Oh, but before you get a publishing company to publish it, you need an agent to pitch it to the publishing company. And finally, before you get an agent to pitch it to publishing companies, you need to research and connect with an agent. But before you connect with an agent, you need to write a really good book proposal about your book idea.

All of this got me thinking about what it takes to launch a successful creative project, be it a kids TV show or a book, or any other creative project. We often see the product launch of someone who “just came on the scene” and we think, “Dang. How come I didn’t do that?” We all have these creative ideas. Why don’t we act on them? Here’s why. It’s hard work. That’s right. Your secret ingredient to overnight success looks a lot like blood, sweat, and tears. Work.

The word passion means suffering. What do you care so much about you’re willing to suffer to see it birthed? What creative idea has enough clarity and potential that it’s worth spending countless hours on?

Pixar’s overnight success was 20 years in the making. I think that’s the norm. A long journey with lots of perseverance and a lot of pain that leads to moments of breakthrough…that leads to more suffering…er…passion to keep on going. I’m not being negative, just honest. It will never be easy. We need to get out of cushy mode and do the hard thing. There’s a phrase the Navy Seals use that is relevant if we really want to do something that matters. “Yesterday was the last easy day.”

So, what’s the upside? The upside is you get to experience the journey and do something that matters. If you are a Christian, this is where you discover your calling and your various assignments. It’s where you work on things bigger than you for purposes bigger than worldly success. It’s where true satisfaction occurs in the midst of hard work.

I have a friend who’s been working on a screen play for a feature film for over a decade. God keeps taking him back to this one project. It’s not usual for him to stick with one creative idea for so long but He keeps going back. After over a decade, he’s finally seeing some traction and it’s happening one step at a time.

So, the next time you see someone successful and a little bit of envy starts to rise up, remind yourself that their overnight success only took twenty years to happen. Find your passion, suffer for it, enjoy the journey, and keep working hard.

Foundations, Jello, and Ugly Babies

foundationIt’s been a very busy couple of months. We visual developed and produced English and Vietnamese pilot episodes for the International Humane Society, and have been eyeball deep in development and preproduction for an educational series for another international non-profit organization (which I’m dying to share but we need to keep it confidential until we finish producing season one).

All of this development reminds me of the last mission trip I took. For an entire week, we dug and poured the foundation of a church in the Dominican Republic. In previous trips, we built entire structures or did all of the finishing, but on the last trip all we did (as far as construction) was build the foundation and it was literally the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life.

Development for Animation is very much the same. It’s awesome work and we all love the blank canvas, but it moves slow and you have to get it just right. You have to consider the end game and make sure what you are measuring for the foundation is going to be adequate. You also have to dig hard and make adjustments as you go. Like concrete, it takes time to set. Like rebar, you must carefully build the skeleton correctly and make sure it’s going hold up under the pressure.

At the same time, development is like nailing jello to the wall. It’s formless and playable and doesn’t initially feel like it’s going to amount to anything. You have to trust the process and follow your gut.

John Lassiter and Ed Catmull of Pixar have both talked about how every one of their movies starts out as an ugly baby. The idea is that parents love their kids but new borns are usually messy odd looking creatures and it takes time to get cute. It takes time for a show to find it’s center, for characters to feel like they fit, for environments and backstories to feel cohesive.

But what a fun ride it is. I’m blown away that I get to do this for a living. It’s not easy work but it’s passionate work. Passion means suffering. You love something enough that you are willing so suffer to see it happen. So whatever creative work you are doing, enjoy the ride. It’s a journey not a destination. If you are just starting your creative career or education you may feel like the work is hard and progress is slow, but you are laying a great foundation for the future!

New Timbuktoons Webite Launched!

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 5.39.38 PMI’m out of a major production vortex just in time to go to a conference we’ve been preparing for. What was the cause of the major production vortex you say? Well, first of all we have a bunch of projects in (a very good thing). Second, those projects don’t sit by idly waiting to be worked on while you launch an all new website.

Sean Copley, Timbuktoons VP of Brand Strategy, has been working on the site for months on the planning side. I knew we would put up a new demo reel, but the more we got into planning and development approaching the site from our client’s perspective, the more we realized we needed small demo reels for just about everything.

We also worked on some fun projects last year that we haven’t had a chance to show yet and we wanted to do them justice. After countless hours of pulling project files, writing copy, creating graphics and demo reels, the site is done! (Well, as “done” as creatives allow any project to be done. 🙂

So, gather your family, find a nice computer (preferably a mac) and check out the new site. There are still a few bells and whistles we’ll add and some cross-polination of the blogs (TBT site for studio stuff and project highlights, and this site for more posts and resources to help creatives thrive*)

*I’m teaching a 4 week course on my book in April then we’ll have lots more resources that will be made available on the blog.

Elements of Art: Form


Continuing in our series The Elements and Principles of Art, up next is form. When an artist uses form, he or she uses techniques to show 3 dimensionality (either real or perceived). A square is a flat shape, but a cube is a square with form.

Form is an illusion in 2D art like paintings, movies, or other pieces of flat art. Form is used in reality in art forms such as sculpture or other physical 3D art.

For the most part, artists use form as an illusion and there are various techniques used to imply form, mainly through lighting, contours, perspective, and contrast.

In these cases, the contrast of light and shadow can be used to suggest form, as can the simple contour lines as seen in the cube and cylinder above. Single, double, and complex perspective techniques, as well as atmospheric perspective, can all give the illusion of depth and form. Contrast of tone or color can be used to suggest form as well.

Understanding form is one thing, but learning how and why to use it is another. Starting with a basic understanding of what form is helps artists know how to talk and think about artistic choices.

Even in live action or CG films where form is native to the medium, there are certain scenes or sequences where the director intentionally flattens or enhances form to make an emotional connection to that part of the story or something the character is experiences.

The next time you watch a film, pay attention to form and how it is used by the director. It’s a great exercise in learning about form.

S.M.A.R.T. Creative Career Goals, Part 2


This post is an excerpt from chapter 18 of my book Calling All Artists. November is the perfect time to start planning goals for the next year! In part 1, I shared what S.M.A.R.T. goals are and the benefit to using this method. Here in part 2 I want to show specific examples and an exercise for you to work through to develop your own S.M.A.R.T. goals for next year!

Here are examples of 3 of my goals for 2014. Two are professional goals and one is a personal goal. Notice the specificity of each and see if you can confirm that each of the 5 S.M.A.R.T. components are present.

1. Identify my thought-leadership niche and start a blog by January 31, 2014
(I launched my first post on January, 15th 2014 and the blog has already gone through two major alterations.)

2. Write and release a thought leadership e-book by September 30th, 2014.
(The book officially launched on July 28, 2014.)

3. Plan and go on an adventure that helps others and is physically demanding by July 31st, 2014.
(I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic with my oldest son in June, 2014.)

For the sake of transparency, I have also missed a goal. I had planned to write and illustrate a children’s book this year as well. The skill of goal setting is a process of learning how to make sure your goals are Realistic. That goal by it’s self is realistic, but I discovered that all four goals together in the same year (along with client work, being a soccer dad and running a company) were not. Realistic goal setting helps temper ambitions so that we don’t take on too much at once. This skill, like any other, is honed and refined as you use it.

What I have learned is that it is better to have one to three goals that you can complete with a level of excellence, than it is to have too many goals that risk being half-baked or completely unobtainable. I also learned the importance of prioritizing goals so that the goals with the most important impact, or that are most strategic, are completed first. Pushing less strategic goals off until next year is not the end of the world.

Goal Setting Exercise
1. Take some time to list five to seven goals (in all areas of your life, not just professional) that you would like to accomplish in the next year. Spend time rewriting them with more specificity until all five S.M.A.R.T. goal components are present.
2. Once you have a draft of your five to seven goals, share them with someone you trust and get some feedback.
3. Refine and finalize your goals.
4. Put them somewhere you will see them every day.
5. List the next single step toward each goal and put a due date next to it.
6. As you complete an action step, write the next single step along with a due date. Rinse and repeat.
Remember that the only way to move a mountain is one shovel full at a time, and the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Start digging and start chewing and before long you’ll see yourself moving closer and closer to your creative career goals.

Elements of Art: Shape

shape2Early in my animation career, I heard visual development artists and art directors mention shape language. Somewhat baffled and intrigued by this term, I started looking into it. I had learned about artistic voice, color scripts, and other strange right-brained terms, but was not familiar with shape language.

Shape language basically refers to how the shapes in a piece of art (character design, background, object, etc.) intentionally tell you something about the story, character, mood, or tone (or all of the above).

In previous posts, I listed the elements and principles of art, then unpacked the first element of art, line. This brings us to the second element of art. Shape. Understanding shape will help you in all aspects of the visual arts. A good understanding of shape will help you break large complex objects (even animals or the human form) into it’s simpler shape components.

Understanding shape will help take the intimidation factor out of drawing and will give you direction in what shape choices you make when creating a character, prop, background, or other type of artwork.

Shapes are basically made up of closed contour lines. They are two dimensional and do not have depth (or Z-space for my CG friends).

Shapes can be positive or negative. Positive shapes show the contour or silhouette of an object. Negative space is the space around an object. We often think of positive space, but good artists are just as cognizant and intentional with negative space as they are with positive space.

Shapes can be geometric (triangle, square, circle, etc.) or they can be organic. Organic shapes are freeform. They have no rules and are random. Organic shapes reflect nature. Most objects including characters, props, and landscape elements can be broken down into organic and geometric shapes.

Once a basic understanding and use of shapes is integrated into your work, you can begin to understand and define more complex uses of shape such as the concept of shape language I mentioned above.

One of the clearest and most well defined use of shape language I use to describe or talk about shape language can be found in the animated film The Rise of the Guardians by DreamWorks. Each of the 6 main characters has a clearly defined shape language which carries emotional, story, character trait, and inter relational weight.

The book The Art of DreamWorks Rise of the Guardians by Ramin Zahed does a fantastic job of unpacking each character’s shape language, the reasoning behind it, and how it impacted the film. For a great primer on shape language, I highly recommend this book.

In the next post, we’ll look at the third element of art. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Elements of Art: Line

In my Art Direction 101 post I listed the 7 Elements and 7 Principles of Art. I want to write a post on each of them to explain their role in art direction for composition and motion media.The line is the most basic building block of an artistic piece. It’s basically a moving dot and there are some basic things to remember about how line can influence emotion and how it can guide the viewers eye.

As an artist, you are a story teller, a director, a puppet-master. You control where the eye goes, so it’s very important to understand how your line choices can impact your artistic vision for a piece of art (any art form: animation, video, oil painting, watercolor, illustration, graphic design, etc.). I’ll admit that when I was in art school and heard all of this talk about the elements and principles of art conveying and impacting emotion, I thought it was all heady elitist fluff.

The longer I’m an artist, however, the more I understand these principles and how they work. The more I analyze film and animation, I see (and feel) how these elements are used to guide the eye and effect the emotions. Here are a few tips.

Horizontal Lines
Horizontal lines convey calmness and serenity. Imagine a calm sunset setting with a horizon line with no tilt.

Vertical Lines
Vertical lines are slightly more dynamic and convey strength and alertness. Envision a soldier standing at attention, or a sky scraper in the middle of a composition.

Diagonal Lines

Diagonal lines are the most dynamic and convey action. Even in a still image, a leaning figure appears to be in motion. A tilted camera conveys action.


• Line can also give the illusion of form. Contour lines show the “edge” of a character or object.
• Lines can be organic and irregular.
• Line quality can also vary with different thickness/thinness of line. Thicker line has more visual “weight” and can be used for emphasis or guiding the viewer’s eye. Variety creates interest and feels more energetic.
• Cross contour lines show even more form. In addition to the outline, cross contour lines help “map out” the Z-space so to speak. Not so much like a 3D character grid, but finding contours that show the illusion of dimension.


In Film, sequential art, animation it’s critical to think of how the lines play off each other from shot to shot. What emotion does the sequence need? Do you need contrast of affinity as you line up shots or compositional elements? (Contrast basically means “different”, affinity means “the same”). Is it a cross cut sequence between a peaceful meeting and a crazy car chase? Then the line choices should support that. Line also works in conjunction with other elements like space (flat lines vs. perspective).

There are 2 great books I highly recommend. Framed Ink, by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
and The Visual Story, by Bruce Block. Both cover line really well. There are also some great “art of” books for most of your favorite animated films that are great to read as well (mostly regarding art direction for that particular film).

Art Direction 101: The Elements and Principles of Art

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Years ago I taught a Visual Story Telling workshop at a youth performing arts camp after reading Bruce Block’s “The Visual Story” which is an industry standard art direction book for film and animation producers which talks about the principles of contrast and affinity, space, line and shape, tone, color, movement, and rhythm from a motion media producer’s point of view.

I so loved the book that I wanted to share it, but it hit me after teaching the camp, that I should have started at an even more core level that applies to all visual artists; the elements and principles of art. I wanted to share them here, then build on them in future posts.

An element is defined as: a part or aspect of something abstract, especially one that is essential or characteristic

A principle is defined as: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens

Art is defined as: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

I’ve seen a few different versions of the lists but most art educators teach a version of the following list. I’ve categorized each list from simple to increasing complexity (in my own opinion) and I’ll describe each element and principle in future posts.


Line, Shape, Form, Color, Value, Texture, Space


Balance, Contrast, Pattern, Rhythm, Variety, Unity, Emphasis

Stay tuned as we look at each of these in the coming weeks!

Key Advice From 12 Industry Leaders

In addition to 20 chapters of practical content, there are also 12 interviews with some key creative industry leaders in my new book “Calling All Artists”. One question I asked each  of the interviewees was this;

“If you had one overarching piece of advice for an artist trying to find their way, what would it be?”

I don’t have the space here to include their full answers, but I wanted to grab one or two lines from each to provide an overview. Even in these short statements, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience. These are in reverse alphabetical order (I thought that would be fair since they are in alphabetical order in the book :).

Note: If you would like to see a list of credits, click the contributor’s name.

The word Animation means the state of being full of life or vigor; liveliness. What could be more fulfilling and joy-filled than being part of a process that creates animation? So have fun!
Marcelo Vignali — Production Designer, Sony Pictures Animation

Try to always have fun and enjoy creating art. Try to turn even a small project into a great oportunity to learn and advance.
Narina Sokolova — TV animation background artist, Disney Television

This is not a career where you can be lazy. It requires determination to push you through your goals you must set, it requires passion, because you have to love what you are doing or you will give up to soon.
Stephen Silver — character designer, drawing teacher, entrepreneur, author

When does time stop and the world become quiet? That’s the discipline for you.
Ashley Postlewaite — Co-founder/Executive Producer, Renegade Animation

Study story structure. Write!
Michael Maurer — film and TV writer

I would say, be humble, be good at what you do.
Heather Martinez — director, writer, story board artist

My advice to writers would be to read scripts and watch cartoons.
Shea Fontana — Children’s TV writer, development and distribution consultant

Do it everyday. You’re competing with people who take art seriously. If you’re not serious, go sell insurance. It will be a lot easier.
Phil Cookefilmmaker, media consultant, and author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do

Build relationships by being humble, willing, and then once you get the job over deliver.
Kathleen Cooke — Co-Founder Cooke Pictures

Always bring you’re “A” game. Be the absolute best you can be in all that you do. It’s hard work, but again, it’s worth it.
Cassie Byram — actress, singer, song-writer, and Executive Creative Producer, Oodles World Inc.

You must have a tremendous amount of passion and drive to be in the business. You must also have an outstanding work ethic.
Amick Byram — feature film and theater actor and singer

To go out and do it. Don’t feel like you have to research, research, research.
Tom Bancroft — former Disney Supervising Animator, Director, Studio Owner, Character Designer, Author

There are 10-14 questions in each interview and some great back-and-forth discussion. To read the full interviews along with the rest of the book, click here to go directly to the Amazon page.