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“An Artificial Life” By Bruce Woodside

A contemplation of an animators life in 4321 frames, from animator Bruce Woodside (Mighty Mouse, Lord Of The Rings, etc.)

(Thanks, Bronnie)

  • yo

    Wow this is real depressing ..

  • zoe

    This is a pretty chilling warning.

  • tony

    Is it me or is this the most depressing thing ever?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    How we all feel.

  • d. harry

    Preach Bruce!

  • Julian

    IDK, sounds like there’s other things going on in this guy’s life. If he can’t use the technology and resources we have now to start a project or at least try new things, but has time to make 3d animations venting off his misery and frustration, then I would say he needs to have an attitude change. But, I don’t know the full picture, so I’ll leave that for him to finish. All I can say is, it’s not just animation, I’ve seen types like him in many career fields, even some who are quite successful. Just constantly bitter and miserable about everything and it feels like there’s nothing that can make them happy.

    • The Gee

      Levi and Julian,

      You do realize that he animated what you watched, right?

      He didn’t just snap his fingers to make that. It took time and he (partially) showed what people don’t see when they watch animation (for instance the number of drawings/images).

      Give him credit for coming up with it and then taking the time to make it, and, for presenting a version of his reel in it.

      It is a film. It is his film.

      He’s worked on a lot where he can’t express himself like he just did and he’s worked on stuff where he does express himself.
      So, I don’t think I’m wrong to say that you both are probably overlooking the aspect that he did create this and is showing it.

      If he were some sloppy kid (which he ain’t) who dangling Popsicle sticks from strings and filming it with a camera phone and claiming to say the same thing (if that is even possible) then yeah, fire when ready. But, it is a far cry from that.

      I like the it. I’m glad that he made it.

      • Julian

        That’s kind of my point actually. He’s taken all this time to make some well done but pessimistic 3d animation of him complaining about how mediocre he is (when he clearly has talent or at least skill) and can’t accomplish anything related to his dreams when it’s questionable if he’s even tried. It’s a really downing video, especially to young hopefuls with low self esteem.

      • I didn’t know every animator had a responsibility to guide young hopefuls with low self-esteem into a field he/she secretly regrets entering him/herself.

        I don’t think he’s complaining about the animation industry as much a pontificating about life and choices in general through the lens of animation.

        And that fact he chose to express himself through animation implies he has hope.

        It’s quite brilliantly done, and anyone with any life experience has probably felt this way at one time or another.

  • Levi

    That was depressing. That guy needs to cheer up. I work on crap too, but man life is too short to just not try and do something more.

  • chocoboy

    He worked on the mighty mouse cartoon? i didn’t think that was cartoon crap.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I was amused he worked on Animalympics.

  • Austin Papageorge

    I wonder why Bruce Woodside hasn’t had an on-screen credit since 2002, according to imdb. I also wonder if that’s related to his bitterness.

    • A

      Oh man, people check that thing?! I should probably stop working and update mine.

      • Austin Papageorge

        I believe that is what you intended to type into the website box.

      • Austin Papageorge

        Also, I imagine that imdb is more commonly updated by fans, rather than professionals.

  • Nice film Bruce, putting a new spin on the “Demo Reel” with your own animation throughout. Many new stories to tell in the future!

  • I found this, which leads me to believe Bruce is the ‘glass-half-empty’ kind of guy —and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! Higgs knows I tend a very pessimistic view of things myself, and we many times need the downside view to take a hard look at where we’re standing.

    But you need to keep a glimmer of hope of optimism, even if you know it’s foolhardy —Castañeda called it your ‘controlled folly’.

    • He might seem like a pessimist or maybe just a realist. I remember he won a storyboard competition at the Animation Celebration (I think) with a beautifully executed piece about a guy running after a burning fuse, the camera pulls back to reveal the earth as a bomb. Bleak I guess, but it’s good to have someone point out the folly of our ways.

      I had the good fortune to work with him on a small project and his work was stellar.

      • “Optimists are useless and merely find hope where pessimists will work.” ~Ben Dory

  • bronnie

    Austin– Maybe that’s because from 1999 until his recent retirement from Disney Internet he was a supervising animation director.What and where are your credits listed, btw?

    • Joe

      Considering Jerry thanked “bronnie” for apparently submitting this in the first place, and you’re response here, I’m assuming you’re Mr. Woodside. Either that or someone close to him, since the Vimeo video was only posted three days ago.

      If so, just wanted to say your last sentence isn’t helping anyone. it makes you come across as bitter, just like Austin said.

      I found the most depressing fact about this short was the quality of animation. The 2D animation was OK, but the CG was actually pretty horrible. I feel like the reason Mr. Woodside has had such bad experiences is he never really learned the actual art of animation and instead focused on the technical aspect.

      • your neighbour

        Geecks can be so nasty!!

      • The Gee

        Oh, Joe!
        tsk. tsk. tsk.

        Don’t assume.

        Just don’t.

    • Austin Papageorge

      I did not mean any disdain for Mr. Woodside. I only found it curious that he didn’t have any credits added to imdb since 2002. I did not do the necessary research to find his linkedin profile. That clears up a few things.

      I am not an animator, nor do I work in the animation industry. I am only a fan.

  • hahah

    Great work Bruce. Someone has the ballz to admit what really happens when you work in animation. it ain’t all cereal bars, hawaiian shirts and stupid nerf gun fights in the office. It’s a depressing industry. Whoever doesn’t want to admit that is in denial or just hasn’t gotten to Bruce’s age yet.

  • I liked it. I don’t know if I’d take everything he says at face value about his career, but I do think he has something of importance to say. Time passes quickly, and careers are fleeting. The film speaks of a guy who never really got to fulfill his dreams in animation. You may think to yourself now you’ll never end up on that path, but how many people out there in animation do end up like the guy in the film, because of life and supporting a family and jumping around from job to job there was just never any time to discover what you really wanted for yourself? Many many people feel this way. I admire Bruce Woodside for speaking his mind and saying what many people his age would probably rarely admit. And it serves as a reminder to a younger generation to try and fulfill your dreams while you still can and give yourself meaning and purpose in your life. Because before you know it, like the film says, life will eventually cut to black.

  • Dori

    Instead of retiring from animation I started teaching, but I entered the business around the same time as Bruce and I have to say, I admire his willingness to put it out there. Is it just about animation, or seriously, about life and it’s eventual end? Didn’t I hear him say he wanted to talk about something meaningful?

    When Bruce and I started in the business making a film this long by yourself was next to impossible, given the technology, and outrageously expensive. Now any young animator with a lap top can make a film. All of my students want a career in animation at Disney, or Pixar, or Cartoon Network, or maybe Blizzard. I keep telling them it’s a day job, and for most of us, a craft and not art. I think it was a great day job but I don’t fool myself that all those hundreds of Keebler Elves and super heroins I drew were art. The trick is to find the discipline to keep doing your art at night, and on weekends, and during layoffs. It’s not easy to do.

    My first thought was like some of those above – wow, this is depressing. I don’t know if I would show this to my students. Now I think it would be a great way to start a discussion in my professional practices class this fall.

    Thanks, Bruce. Keep at it.

  • Hulk

    Interesting film and good comments. The grass is always greener. Those of us who completed our training in the late 90’s early 2000’s, inspired by some of this guys own work, might say “At least he GOT to work in traditional animation before the industry died”.
    I think a lot of us disagree with him that all his work was “cartoon crap”. There were some projects there with a lot of artistic merit. So he never felt completely fulfilled by the work. Neither did Bill Peet, Vincent Van Gogh or Beethoven. It’s really tough for some artists to see the merit of their own work while they’re doing it. His attitude may change some day. It all depends on perspective. He used this film to vent which is good. I can’t help but wonder if now that it’s out of his system, if he has a better idea of what he wants to accomplish artistically. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

  • Norco

    This little film is no more depressing or negative than anything Woody Allen ever did. Woodside makes a valid point and if young people just getting into animation haven’t asked the same questions, at some point in their lives they certainly will.

  • Dieter

    “Better a Living Dog than a Dead Lion!”

  • Rezz

    The thing I love about this film (yes it’s depressing) but not everyone will be a rock star, not everyone will be able to do what they want in the end or adapt.

    it’s the cold reality that we never really want to talk about or think it could happen to us.

  • james hill

    Simply awesome!
    I really enjoyed it. Refreshing to hear someone speak with an honest voice. Even if you agree with it or not is not really the point, its just his raw honest feelings presented as a personal short.
    I would certainly want to see more personal shorts from him and in doing so he may actually fulfill his artistic desires! Make some more sir!

  • Tom R

    How depressing, and it reflects my thoughts on the industry.

    I started to question my career choice in my final year of college, and for the past year since graduating I’ve still been questioning my choice (main reason I’m unemployed a year after graduating…)

    I have a lot of “life goals”, and honestly animation isn’t really what I want to do for the rest of my life (if it were up to me music would be, but we’ll see). I enjoy it, sure, but my mentality towards it changed. I started to learn that there’s more to life than animation, and I’m glad I learnt that now instead of later on in life.

    Instead of portraying myself solely as an animator, I want to venture out into the other areas of art as well, including music if possible. I’ve got to stay open, and I’ve got to be optimistic for my future.

  • AnthonyA

    I think I see this as part of the same thing I see from my other artist friends: i.e. ‘all of my previous work is crap, what I’m doing is crap, I don’t know why anyone even looks at or buys my stuff’ – and this from visual artists (and others) of all levels.

    Sometimes that is true, but even the most talented people say this about their best works. I have no doubt L. da Vinci and Ruebens said this about all of their work. I believe it’s a side effect of their drive to achieve, to make the next drawing better.

    Perhaps it’s just a mid-life crisis, too? That time when people start to think about whether this really has been what they want to be doing with their life?

  • dan

    It’s like he saw my life and put it right on the screen!

  • Mike Johnson

    Cheer up, Bruce, if only because an animation aficionado like myself has derived (and continues to derive) great pleasure from projects you have worked on. Believe it or not, I have both Lord of the Rings and Animalympics on my tablet AND cell phone and watch them fairly regularly.

    I don’t know why you (or any other animators) got into the business in the first place, but I assume that there was a deep love of animation attached to your decision at some level. Perhaps that love became somewhat dimmed by the processes and people involved…there are plenty of arrogant and narcissistic people out there who make all kinds of jobs intolerable now and then…but if you keep your mind on the end result, which is that many regular people will see the films you have worked on and be royally entertained by what you have achieved, then perhaps that can be enough.

    What you call crap, others like myself call wonderful entertainment. On the other hand, the films I call crap will always be another’s wonderful entertainment. You can’t please everybody, but the fact that you ARE pleasing many people I hope makes it more worthwhile.

    Thanks for what you do…it has made my life a nicer thing to experience.

    And that goes for all of you who toil in this field. You keep making them, I’ll keep watching them!

  • It’s a tough balance. I’m of the opinion that happy people don’t build civilizations. But on the other hand, you need to learn how to take joy in the little things, and trying not to regret the path you chose. Otherwise it will be a real struggle keeping that black dog at bay…

    I mentioned in other thread how when I was young…er, my dream was to work in animation. For reasons I won’t repeat here that dream didn’t come true, and during several years I suffered from severe depression while I was jumping from job to job, where I usually didn’t last very long.

    Finally, I’ve managed to settle in a job where I was given the chance to prove my worth. The pay isn’t great but I get to work on my OWN ideas, and my own dreams & that’s my personal sweet-spot; whereas I’m sure other people would have to find a different balance depending on their personal circumstance —relationships, family, etc.

    I don’t know. My take is follow Alfredo’s advise (From Cinema Paradiso) whatever you choose to do, love it with all your heart, because life is short and every minute that passes is a minute that won’t ever return.

    Life is a fun trip because you can’t imagine the places it’ll take you :)

  • John A

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • Steve Ryder

    Ralph Bakshi should chime in here.

  • Frank Ziegler

    Loved it. Shows that there is a lot more time, thought and effort going on that most folks never get to see.

  • I thought this was wonderful. Yes, animation is viewed as a “fun” field, but after working in it for a while it’s easy to end up feeling like all of your work is “crap”–not due to the quality of your work or the popularity of the project, but because when you reach a certain age you start to wonder how much of your life’s work truly matters. Did you make a difference in someone else’s life? Was the world positively altered in any way because of your work during your short existence on this planet? At the end, will you look back and think you had wasted your time when you could have been doing something more important/relevant/useful/etc? Were those early mornings and late evenings spent hovering over a lightbox or monitor really worth sacrificing valuable time with your loved ones?

    Sure, you can say this is depressing, you can call him bitter and cynical, and you can poke holes in his cg animation. Fine. For my part, I think he has given us something beautiful. He has taken a part of his inner self that most people try to hide and shared it with us in the medium we all love, and I think that is something not to be taken lightly.

  • I’ve been thinking about this short film since seeing it yesterday. Powerful and chilling. Bravo. I can’t wait to see your next short!

  • nyanagala

    I don’t think the animation in this short is as important as the statement. i think he just needed to say something quickly, so the animation was simply a vehicle for his statement, as opposed to being spectacular.

  • Bill Kroyer

    I’ve known Bruce for a long time, and in addition to being a great veteran animator he has, by nature, a rather low-key understated style of expression that one could mistake as depressive. He seems to be hard on himself here, but he is following a long and illustrious traditional trait of almost every good animator I ever personally knew (and this includes “legends”), and that trait is this: they were never satisfied with anything they ever did. If you ever listened to Frank, or Ollie, or Milt they could barely watch their old work – the stuff we study as classic. I’m not saying Bruce is in the Pantheon because he shares that trait, but I have experienced the fact that most people who get better do so because they are never satisfied. We all worked on a lot of projects that could have been better, but in the end you have to find fulfillment in the craft you personally put into each of your scenes.

  • Detective John Shaft

    Brother tells it like it is.

  • Ryan

    It’s a story, not a memoir.
    I like it. It says something, even if it pretends that it doesn’t, or doesn’t know what to say. I mean really, who does?

    That in itself is a compelling question to ponder.

  • To every young hopeful I say ‘don’t do it, if i had my time again I would be a plumber and make cartoons at night completely funded by the massive amount of cash I would be sure to accrue in my working day’. There is no such thing as a cheap plumber.

    Young hopefuls SHOULD be deterred

  • Meredith

    I think it’s true of most careers- seems all exciting and romantic at the beginning and then reality sets in at some point that it ain’t all fun and games. To some that’s a signal to make a change in direction, while others see a job as a job and choose to find joy in other parts of their life.

  • axolotl

    I was going to say something inspirational but it got lost somehow.=p (Curious, is there a rule about promoting your stuff in the ‘website’ box? Not trying to be a smart aleck, I just want to know for the future.)

  • That film really spoke to me…mostly because I’ve thought the same thing (I worked in advertising, designing junk mail for four years, so talk about making crap). The film is depressing, but I think it has an important message: if there’s something you really want to do, do it now and not later.

  • Nick Allott

    For me this is not depressing, he just got caught in a trap that is not obvious with foresight that many creative people get caught in. If this helps educate other artists on how to avoid this (and maintain one eye on making their own meaningful work), then it is as worthwhile a film as anyone can hope for. I hope this post helps some people to think more clearly about this issue.

    The film highlights the need to keep stepping back and look at the big picture. The process of so many arts are so engaging and demanding (drawing, music, programming etc), that it can be very easy to get caught up in and enjoy that process. To some degree this is important as it communicates care, beauty and expression. (I’m reminded of how many musicians I know that are great players, but have absolutely no rudimentary understanding of composing).

    Being able to create a story that is meaningful to you is a different skill altogether that needs its own development. Unfortunately, if you are working on process only all the time it can become incredibly weak. Ideally it is best developed and monitored alongside process and not completely sidelined.

    Someone in Bruce’s position though (if it’s really important to him), just has to step back and decide on the core message he wants to create and do it with complete disregard for artistry or quality (he has those skills, they don’t need more development). I wouldn’t even bother with animation, just writing and scrappy comics/storyboarding (until its really clear what he wants to make).

    He also needs to look at someone who has done things similar to what he might like to do:

    – take in and copy the ideas,
    – understand what the thought process was behind ideas (maybe with research)
    – study how they learnt and developed their skills,
    – and then create variations (starting with very small variations at first, both in terms of finished output and thinking skills).

    Once that is done, find someone else and do it again. Cross breed ideas from both people. Always keep a notepad. Copy, Understand, Vary.

    It will be very rough at first and will require a lot of practice (just like how we all started with drawing or whatever). Slowly the skills and ideas will start growing until eventually there will be more passionate, will structured ideas than anyone has the time to work on AND it will be explicitly clear what the process is to get more.

    If he just thought he would have some big picture but had no idea what it was, when did he think it would suddenly just pop into his head with no effort? I can empathise though that all this other work may be clouding his head space, making it hard to see beyond it.

    Still, its far from impossible. Like he said though, its all time and effort that needs to be spent and there is only so much of that. However, going through the process and knowing your working at something that is heartfelt and meaningful to you can be a great, rewarding use of time even if you never make it to the result. He has made some things and developed some skills already.

    It’ll probably be something that no one will ever pay you for, but there are other intrinsic rewards there. Its just a question of whether all this is important enough to bother with compared with competing interests.

    I quite like Austin Kleon’s little book on creative theft too.

    Thanks Bruce, your film really made me think, so for me it was very worthwhile.