wish I had photos, but didn't take any.
paul fierlinger gave a great lecture at school this past friday on making a career for oneself as an independent animator. his talk was frank, honest, engaging, and the result of a lifetime of taking risks, making mistakes, and enjoying great artistic success. he said things which may have surprised especially the students, but from the crowd surrounding him afterwards, it seems they took his words to heart - I hope so, in any case.
will write more about it if time permits, before the details fade from memory, but this was a very worthwhile event for a packed house of nearly forty people, and much respect to paul for sharing his story and his strategy with us all.
the short answer paul gave us with regards to monetizing independent animation was: Amazon.com. the internet behemoth, because of its vast reach, is capable of turning niche audiences into a sizable clientele group. so, whether your particularity is dogs, sailing, loneliness, or something else, there are enough people searching for a story that speaks to them within amazon's vast network that the numbers, paul estimes, will add up. make a deal with Amazon and let critical mass do its thing. the longer answer to the question of being a successful independent animator starts off with another short answer: if you want to make animated films, make animated films. the road may be difficult, but persistence, talent, self-discipline, and integrity with respect to your own vision are the elements that will lead you to carving out a path for yourself as an artist.
on a technical level, do your 10,000 hours. this notion is often quoted, but paul's particular take on it was to set a daily hour quota, I think it was 12 hours or thereabouts, over the course of two years, in order to meet that goal. so, this is in contrast to the more amorphous sense of time that the number 10,000 normally provokes...this is a pragmatist's vision of the time it takes to acquire a skill.
on a conceptual level, get a liberal arts education, whether through college or by seeking knowledge on one's own via books, and now, I suppose, the internet. as an animator, you will find yourself leaps ahead of your peers if you broaden your intellectual and aesthetic horizons to include ideas and influences from outside the Magic Kingdom. animators are often accused of "ghetto-izing" themselves: work that relies heavily for inspiration on work from within its own discipline risks a kind of inbreeding and paucity of original thought. we become fans, rather than trailblazers.
do not seek approval, from teachers, family, experts, or other sages. do what you need to do, what you require of yourself, make mistakes, and learn from them. asking someone what worked for them will not necessarily result in finding a perspective that will work for you.
my mental reaction to paul's words was two-fold: first, I imagined there were some in the audience who felt frustrated, or disappointed. those were persons probably looking for a set of instructions, for tips and tricks, for insider secrets that would get them ahead. a reasonable frustration, but not an interesting one. there were also those in the audience, again I imagine, who saw the stark and unadorned truth of paul's words for what they were, buttressed by a lifetime of strong-headed willfulness, and the courage to move forward under what were often very difficult circumstances. there's a bit of validity in both points of view, and paul's vision is certainly that of a single-minded individual judging the world from the point of view of very personal, individual experience, but wouldn't you rather err on the side of the recalcitrant artist than on the side of the perspective that believes that those who follow all the rules will be endowed with riches, success, and, somehow, magically, a creativity and an originality worth writing home about?
the strength of the message here lies in its authenticity; it is more a telling of a life story and its hard-won wisdom, than a methodology for success. once a person accepts that there are no guarantees, then the path begins to make itself visible, oddly enough.
no one said being an artist was going to be easy, and why should it?
the main feeling I had, listening to paul fierlinger talk about his perspective on not only animation, but life, really, was that, to be an artist, or even to truly be alive, one has to take risks, be original, insofar as your own story and experience are simultaneously unique to yourself and common to humanity. the problem in animation is that, while it is an art form, it is most often considered in the light of industry, a commercial endeavor, entertainment, even by many of its practitioners. the link between technology and animation goes back to its modern beginnings, with the invention of cameras and cinematic equipment. animation's evolution into a commercialized entertainment form can be largely, though not solely, attributed to one Walter Elias Disney, whose vision was focused squarely on the largest audience. he was, in his own words, a "seller of corn."
if you take risks based on your gut instinct, you will find a way to survive and thrive.
here's a link to paul's bio.