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!

Character Design Course Review

DArriegaOne thing all artists need is continuing education. It doesn’t matter if you have an established career and have been working for years. Artists (and leaders) must continue growing in their craft and in other ways that stretch them.

I recently completed a Schoolism character design course from Pixar’s Daniel Arriaga and loved it. Arriega has worked on such films as Monsters Inc, Monsters University, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. He also worked on projects at Disney including Wreck-It-Ralph and (as art director) on Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.

The course covered topics like: shape language, silhouette, rhythm, design and composition, gesture and mood, exaggeration, character moments, and expressions and I really enjoyed his perspective on each of the topics.

Most lessons started with a famous artist highlight featuring the work of various illustrators, comic strip artists, character designers, or visual development artists who displayed mastery of the specific area Arriaga was going to cover in that particular lesson.

Next, he would show how that principle was applied in character design for feature film by showing specific behind the scenes examples from Pixar. I really enjoyed this aspect. Many of the examples he showed I had never seen (and I have just about every “Art of” Pixar book ever published).

Finally, Arriaga would demonstrate the principle and talk about the process. Watching an experienced master character designer draw characters while talking about his thinking process is invaluable.

I won’t give away much more than that (so as to not step on Schoolism’s proprietary toes) but I highly recommend this class to any serious character designer. This was an amazing class and is available as a “go at your own pace” course, or as a specific date range course (check dates/availability) where Arriaga actually critiques your work after each lesson. The second version is obviously limited and only offered a couple of times per year (and more expensive, but justifiably so).

I should also mention, that I am not affiliated with Schoolism in anyway. I don’t get any affiliate commission to recommend them. I simply took the course, really enjoyed it, and want to recommend it to any serious character designer. I’m definitely going to take more courses there myself.

Don’t Wind Up In A Small Mountain-Town ER! Go With Your Gut!

You may remember the series of funny Direct TV spots that ran this year tracing a cable users small reaction to a frustrating cable TV event that leads to a large scale bad situation.

Today as I was thinking through some milestones for my 2015 goals and a recent life event much like the Direct TV commercials (detailed below), it hit me how important one rarely talked about aspect of leadership and pursuing your calling is, and how this one small thing has big implications.

Gut-Instinct. It won’t scream at you. It won’t throw a fit. It won’t force you to take action. It’s not “fight-or-flight”. It’s a low simmer. It reminds me of “the still small voice” or “gentle whisper” the Biblical Old Testament prophet Elijah wrote about.

As I was analyzing one of my goals and thinking about how it logically fit into my plans, it struck me that I couldn’t explain why some decisions and opportunities seem to draw me more than others. I just know in my gut when the moment is right to pursue an opportunity. There’s an excitement and a draw that occur but it’s deeper than that. There seems to be a strong underlying mature passion and willingness to take on certain challenges.

Some opportunities look great on paper, but in my gut I know something isn’t right with it. By contrast, there are other opportunities that may seem less strategic, but I know in my gut that it’s the right call.

I can honestly say that every time I have neglected to go with my gut, the results have confirmed that I should have. Take this past Saturday for example. After four days of snowboarding at a Christmas family get together in the mountains of PA, we wrapped up our last run of the morning and were about to head in for lunch. My kids wanted to do one last run because we had about 20 minutes to spare so we went.

In my thinking, there was no logical reason not to go for one more run, but in my gut I felt we probably shouldn’t. Logic won out over gut and we went.

Twenty minutes later when we completed the final morning run, I had added a third degree (aka “type III”) separated shoulder and spending a few hours in a small mountain ER to my list of life experiences. Call it intuition. Call it gut-feel. Whatever it is, go with your gut and learn to trust it! It’s a God-given gift. Don’t wind up in a small mountain-town ER! Go with your gut!

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.

S.M.A.R.T. Creative Career Goals, Part 1


This post is an excerpt from chapter 18 of my book Calling All Artists. As we approach the end of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to start thinking about goals for next year. I suggest doing this in November before the holiday season begins so you can hit the ground running in January! Enjoy!

You’ll fail at 100% of the goals you don’t set.  —Mark Victor Hansen

Once you are clear on your calling, you set goals, plan your work, then work your plan. In order to plan, you have to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. I was introduced to this goal setting system last December when I went through Micheal Hyatt’s five day goal setting course. Prior to that my goals were usually missing on of these 5 very important components, but I didn’t even realize it. This simple system took my goal setting to an entirely new level.

S.M.A.R.T. goals are:
1. Specific: Your goals must be clear and detailed, not broad, general or vague.
2. Measurable: You must be able to measure progress toward your goals.
3. Achievable: Your goals must be realistic and attainable.
4. Relevant: Your goals must matter. They must line up with you overall plans and strategy.
5. Time-bound: Your goals must have a time frame and a target date or deadline.

I honestly didn’t know how powerful each of these components was until I implemented them into my goals this year. I have been setting goals for years, however I have found this method to be revolutionary. I wish I would have learned it years ago. It’s amazing what one small pivot can accomplish in a short time.

What I’ve found is that even some great goal setters and achievers, are missing one of these components. Leaving one component out won’t kill your goal setting but it weakens it’s effectiveness. This method just flat out works.

Next week I’ll share more from that chapter, but in the mean time if you haven’t read the book you can get it here. Goal setting really should come after the hard work of nailing down your creative calling. Stay tuned!

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.

Official Book Launch: Calling All Artists

forpostSee details and purchase options here.
(or go directly to Amazon)

Well it’s finally here. Six months in the making (although I could argue decades) with many late nights and early mornings, encouragement from my wife, kids, and great friends, I’m proud to announce the official release of my first book: Calling All Artists. (See printed manuscript from last week at left.)

After compiling and editing 210+ pages (39,790+ words), setting the master manuscript up with all of the correct styles needed for e-readers, uploading to Amazon it’s finally ready for purchase.

It’s available for Kindles (and Kindle app on iPhone/iPad and other devices) at


I was extremely humbled by these generous endorsements from some very kind industry veterans. Some also have some amazing interviews in the book along with several other TV, Feature Film, Broadway, Music, and Video Production veterans!

An immensely practical guide for the creative in all of us. Todd Hampson’s work has blessed me and thousands of others – his writing about the nuts and bolts of being a working creative will bless many more. Highly recommended!

Phil Vischer — Creator of VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible?

When someone with Todd Hampson’s credentials and experience talks about creativity, I listen.  In fact, his new book, “Calling All Artists” was the kick in the pants I needed to move forward on my next project.  If you live a creative life (and all of us should), then I recommend the book.  You won’t regret it.

Phil Cooke — filmmaker, media consultant, and author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do

Having been an adjunct professor in the cinema and media departments of two major universities, I know firsthand the positive impact this book will have on students.  Whether graduating from college or deciding what to do with your life, this book answers hard questions,  provides insightful information, and gives you life changing tips on how to make better choices and start a creative career in the 21st century.

Kathleen Cooke —, Co-Founder Cooke Pictures,

Todd Hampson’s “Calling All Artists” e-book is a GREAT tool for anyone just getting into animation or even those that have been in it a while and want to reinvent themselves and/or reignite their passions.  As artists, we are not very good at looking internally or into the future, so planning our careers is a mysterious journey.  Todd really gets you to organize your thoughts and aline them with your talents!  That is THE path to success for any artist!  Additionally, his optimistic viewpoint toward the industry, and his excitement about it, is a breath of fresh air we all need to hear!

Tom Bancroft — former Disney Supervising Animator, Director, Studio Owner, Character Designer, Author

Todd Hampson listens and delivers! I have personally had the privilege of working with Todd and his company Timbuktoons developing an animated series for kids. He and his wonderful team were able to grant my every wish, and then some. The information he shares in this book will absolutely help artists on their creative journey.

Cassie Byram — actress, singer, song-writer, and Executive Creative Producer, Oodles World Inc.

Needless to say, I’m really excited about this book, most of all because I think it is going to help thousands of artists discover their creative calling and how to thrive in a creative career. I’m planning a few promotional events to help get the word out about the book but I couldn’t wait to share the news. Please tell your friends and share this link ( on social media to help get the word out!



Calling All Artists! (NEW E-book Coming Soon)


If you are fuzzy about your specific calling as an artist, feel stuck or confused, want to take your skills to another level, wonder if you were built for something more, or if you need advice and direction from a trusted voice to figure out which way to go with your creative career, this e-book is for you.

To be honest, I hate talking about my experience, but I want to leverage every experience I’ve had in my education and career to help you discover your strengths, thrive as a creative, avoid pitfalls, and use your gifts to make the world a better place. In a career of over 25 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work in animation, illustration, graphic design, book design and layout, oversize print design, exhibit design, themed environment design, mural painting, art direction, visual development, character design, prop design, layout and background design, voice acting, voice directing, creative project management, IP development, motion graphics and compositing, sound design, writing, consulting, and creative coaching.

I have also led creative teams; taught workshops at large events, executive produced, marketed, and sold animated DVD and online products; been a commercial and short format director; licensed artwork, characters, and content; developed IP’s for Timbuktoons and several other companies/organizations; worked with an agent, pitched concepts to major kids networks including Cartoon Network, Disney Television, Nickelodeon, The Hub, PBS Kids, and more; worked with government agencies, for-profit companies, and non-profit organizations; branded and/or rebranded local, and national organizations; incorporated 3 companies in 2 different states; developed financial plans and secured intellectual property investors; worked with intellectual property lawyers; interviewed and hired creative employees; worked on multiple interactive/game projects for all key tablet and phone formats.

If you are a “creative” of any stripe, this e-book was written just for you. If you want to find a sense of clarity, purpose, and passion, and if you want to develop a practical game plan to help you move forward with motivation and intentionality, you simply must have this e-book!

You were born at a great time. In many ways, we are in a modern day Renaissance for creatives. There are significant cultural, economic, and technological factors that have converged in this generation that provide an opportunity for you like no other time in history. With the number of new found opportunities for artists, supported by creative industry reports predicting continued growth, it is critically important for creatives to find clarity.

There are hundreds of ways to make a living as an artist, so it’s more important than ever to figure out exactly what you were built for. You need to discover your calling and identify your core creative marketable strengths, then you need to set goals, plan your work, then work your plan. This extensive e-book is designed to help you do just that.

Please share this with other artists and stay tuned. I’m putting the finishing touches on a release date and we’ll announce that very soon. I want as many artists as possible to know about this book because I believe it will change the trajectory of their career. More importantly, I believe it will give them a sense of purpose, passion, and motivation like they have never had before. I can’t wait to launch this e-book. Please help get the word out!

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How Mike Wazowski Can Help You Discover Your True Identity


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines identity as: “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual”.

Chances are you haven’t ever really thought much about this. Most people don’t until they face a crisis, major transition, or are facing some other decision that will impact their life in a significant way.

For some people their sense of identity is wrapped up in their career, for some it’s wrapped up in being a parent…or a soldier, or an artist…etc. But identity really goes much deeper than that.

Identity has to do with who you are at the core level as a uniquely designed individual. You are a one-of-a-kind masterpiece with hardwiring and experiences that no one else has.

Occupations, roles, seasons, and situations change, but your identity remains constant.

I always find that abstract concepts are better explained by specific examples. Since I’m an animation nerd, I thought I’d use an example from an animated movie.

Learn a lesson from Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s Monsters University. (Forget what you know about him from Monsters Inc. for a moment.) His whole identity was wrapped up in becoming a scarer. It’s all he thought about since he was a kid. His story arc (and Sulley’s as well) in the film is all about finding his identity.

This example is relevant to you and I. If you identified with any of the S5 categories I mentioned in an earlier post, I think you will relate to Mike.

You have a dream of becoming a certain type of creative, but you’re not 100% sure if that is your identity or not. Interest and desire do not equal identity. Identity is only found in the journey and is usually different that what it appears to be on the surface.

At a critical moment in the film, after several suprise wins in a fraternity competition, Sully realizes they have won through a combination of luck and hard work.

He realizes that their team does not have what it takes to win the final challenge. He turns to Mike and says, “You can train monsters like this all you want, but you can’t change who they are!”

Even the initials of the fraternity they belonged to pointed to how they were percieved by others and how they felt deep down. Oozma Kappa (OK). Their motto was “We’re OK!” That was their identity. We’re just OK. Nothing special. No real talent to share here.

Later, after coming to grips with the fact that he was not a natural scarer, Mike says to Sulley, “I thought if I wanted it enough I could show everyone that Mike Wazowski is someone special.”

Mike’s sense of self worth was wrapped up in his identity as a scarer. But his real identity was as a forward thinking coach. He brought out the best in others, taught them how to work as a team, and found a way to win. Infact, during one of the very last shots of the film, at the end of a montage of scenes showing how Mike and Sulley climbed the ranks from the mail room to the scare floor, just as they are about to step foot on the scare floor as official scarers, Sully looks at Mike and says, “Are you ready, coach?”

You’ll miss the line if you’re not paying close attention, but it punctuates Mike’s mature acceptence and celebration of his true identity.

All along he was bringing out the best in everyone around him. All along he was studying every angle of scaring. All along he was finding a way to win. But it took a journey of self discovery to understand his true identity.

I would describe Mike Wasowski’s identity as: “a fearless and unconventional, motivational catalyst”. If you were to put your identity into words, how would you describe it? Take some time to reflect and talk to others who know you well. Take a crack at writing out your identity statement. Try to use as few words as possible, write a few versions, sleep on it, then come back to it to come up w/ a final version.  Feel free to post your identity statement below. I’d love to hear from you.

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