How much one enjoys the overall experience of being immersed in a creative endeavor is a fairly complex subject, because there is a lot of hidden technical frustrations that each creative endeavor forces upon you, whether you like it or not. I’ll describe the ones that I deal with all the time below:
Music - In this day and age, you’d be a stubborn Luddite if you didn’t try to take advantage of the immense power and flexibility of modern Digital Audio Workstation and virtual studio software like Pro-Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Live, Digital Performer, FL Studio…etc, as well as advanced sample libraries that allow you to compose and arrange sophisticated orchestral pieces right on your laptop–something that would have seemed like science-fiction not long ago. But with such great power, comes giant headaches too.
When anything goes wrong, you could be troubleshooting your computer for weeks and months trying to hunt down the reason for a DPC (Deferred Procedure Calls) problem that causes your computer’s audio to not stream smoothly and stutter during playback, or a driver compatibility issue that’s causing one of your MIDI controllers to not be recognized by your DAW host sequencer. Update patches can also turn a smooth running system into an unstable one, and this is not just with the OS and driver updates, but even ones from individual music production software you use. Then there’s hard drive malfunctions, reinstalling the OS and all of your software (if you have an extensive virtual studio on your computer, this is extremely daunting because it’ll take you at least a whole week just to do this and optimize all your settings).
And yes, I’ve had to deal with all of the above, and I still deal with them constantly. I’ve just about had enough of all that bullshit. As much as I love music with all of my heart and soul, the constant technical struggles just makes it not fun anymore. While I could just revert back to using very primitive gear such as simple 8-track recorder and non-virtual instruments, they just pale in comparison to the amount of power and flexibility that a modern DAW system has, and I’d be perpetually frustrated at how I couldn’t perform tasks that a DAW could do without even blinking. It’s hard to go back once you’ve been spoiled.
When things go right, it’s really amazing though, because today’s technology allows you to do just about anything by yourself, and it all sounds damn good. The only limits holding you back are your talent and skill.
2D Art- I have mentioned before that I gave away all my traditional art supplies–oil paints, watercolor, acrylics, gouache, brushes, easel, charcoal, inks, pens, pencils, pastels–you name it, they’re all gone.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy traditional painting anymore–it’s just that I simply don’t have room for it in my studio because it’s occupied by musical instruments, and when compared to music, the process of creating visual art isn’t quite as exciting. With drawing and painting, the emotional feedback I get from it is much weaker than what I experience when I’m working on a piece of music or writing fiction.
Fortunately, the amount of technical bullshit one has to deal with in digital visual art is comparatively less, that is, if you aren’t doing 3D. Most computers can run 2D software like Photoshop and Painter just fine, and problems with tablet drivers are few and far between.
There is a certain sense of satisfaction when you conjure up images from scratch–things that don’t exist in our world, or interpret our world through your artistic expression. But what I’ve found throughout the years is that for me personally, I tend to have my artworks server a higher purpose, and that is storytelling (illustration, concept art). And because I’m first and foremost a storyteller, this means my artwork plays second fiddle to my storytelling. As a job though, it has always been more lucrative than everything else I do though.
3D Art – As soon as you touch 3D, you’re in a world of pain. The constant technical troubleshooting, the complex rendering algorithms and the babysitting of rendering batches, having to re-render entire shots because you forgot to turn something on or off in your scene, the strange anomalies that you can’t figure out unless you post on forums and solicit the advice of experts–they can drive you to madness. Overall, the amount and the severity of technical bullshit is much worse than modern music production.
3D is so labor-intensive that the number of hours spent to just create the assets necessary for a scene, then animate and render a few seconds of footage, is staggering. It’s probably the least productive in terms of ROI (Return On Investment) of time and energy spent, and the frustrations vs. the reward can be lopsided. This is why any type of serious production is normally carried out by a team or a studio.
There are those who are crazy enough to do entire productions by themselves, but just about every single one of them I’ve ever known about has stated after the fact that while they don’t regret the experience, they’ll never do it again because it was just too much work. Just about all of these one-man production guys are now happy to just be an employee working at a studio instead of dealing with all that daunting work alone.
If you have no need to animate anything complex or only need to deal with still images, and at the same time you are a good artist, then you can pretty much get across the same visual information by drawing and painting and skip all the technical frustrations of 3D. This is why I never focused on 3D for my personal works.
Photography – I would say this is probably the least frustrating among visual art because unless your gear is malfunctioning, photography is largely WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), and if you can operate your gear, understand composition and lighting and color theory, it’s really a breeze–assuming you don’t mind the physical act of having to constantly move lights, fiddle with lighting accessories, arrange and decorate the set, traveling to various location shoots, deal with the weather…etc.
Once you upload your images to the computer, the amount of technical bullshit is pretty much identical to 2D art. Artistically, it’s a lot easier than drawing and painting, since you don’t have to learn anatomy, figure, perspective, line quality, brushwork, nor do you need to train your eye-to-hand coordination in the same way that drawing and painting requires. If you do extensive digital retouching, that’s a different story though–you’ll have to be a bit more skilled in that department, but still nowhere to the level of a good artist who draw and paint with ease.
Photography can be a lot of fun, especially when working with people or traveling to locations, and because it can also be an intimate part of your life (if you’re one of those people who takes a camera wherever you go), it also tends to be more immediate and personal–if you allow it to be.
Writing - Writing is perhaps the least frustrating technically because it’s much more low-tech compared to everything else. Even a old typewriter or paper pad and pencil can get the job done. It is also the one creative endeavor where modern technology doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact on as with other creative endeavors.
The real challenge of writing is all on the inside of the person, and this is exactly why it can be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. When I write, I laugh when my characters laugh, I cry when my characters cry, and I live in the moment that I’m writing about. On a more abstract level, I have my values as a human being, thoughts on socio-political issues, and insights regarding the complex web of human behavior, and I can express all of them while writing. It is the most direct way to creatively express oneself possible, because your emotions and ideas and thoughts don’t need to be translated through another creative language like with music and visual art.
But when you fail, it’s a harder blow than failing at any other creative endeavor because it feels much more personal. When you fail in other creative endeavors, you tend to think that you haven’t learned enough knowledge regarding the craft or the theories, or practiced hard enough on your technical skills, but when you fail at writing, there are a lot less excuses because once you have a firm grasp of grammar and functional vocabulary, the rest is just all about you, the person on the inside. It is as if you, the individual, is defective or inadequate. You end up questioning your intellect, your imagination, your insight into the human condition, your creative voice and depth as a human being, and that kind of self-doubt can be very debilitating.
When you hit the mark though, there’ no feeling like it. You feel elated, cathartic, moved, intellectually and emotionally fulfilled, and overall deeply in-tune with not only yourself, but the entire world and all the souls that inhabit it.
I finally trudged my way through Dragon Age 2, and I was quite disappointed just like many others out there. I read some interviews where the writers defended their choices, and while I don’t have a problem with them trying a different approach to storytelling, I do think their execution wasn’t very good. There really wasn’t much emotional immediacy to the whole storyline, and it felt like you were playing a bunch of separate little games instead of one epic storyline with a compelling sense of gravity. DA2, in a way, felt like episodic television, where each episode had its own focus and standalone storyline. I suppose some people like that, but I never did. I have always far preferred continual storytelling where each episode ends on a cliffhanger.
Some of the gameplay changes were terrible too, such as not allowing you to customize the party members’ armor when you can customize everything else. The designers of the game said they wanted to force iconic looking costume designs, and I’m all for that, but they should have at least given far more upgrade options. Throughout the entire game, all the party members had their armor rating at around two stars, and that just pissed me off. Why couldn’t I have upgraded them to five-star ratings?
The repeated levels was perhaps the most glaring problem. It felt like a slap against the face because it just reeked of greed and laziness. In the interviews, the people in charge said they had to choose between making more content or more unique levels, and my question is, why they hell couldn’t they do both? Why was the development cycle set so damn short to the point that they pushed out a lazy product? Did EA and Bioware need the revenue that DA2 would generate so badly that they had to cut corners like that? No, what happened was greed–plain and simple. They could have developed the game for longer and made it better, but they cut corners to push it out so they can make money, because they knew people will buy DA2 no matter what. You don’t see them cutting corners on the Mass Effect franchise. Why? Because it is considered a more premium product, so they wouldn’t dare to cut corners on it.
DA2 is the first time I’ve ever been so disappointed by Bioware. I have to wonder if this would have happened if they weren’t bought by EA.
I’ve been researching into Antisocial Personality Disorder lately for the book I’m writing, and I came across this very interesting paper on
sociopaths in the military. It essentially instructs leaders in the military on how best to manage and utilize the sociopaths under their command, so they could do the most good while causing the least harm.
Quickie Film/TV reviews:
Taiyou No Uta / タイヨウのうた (Midnight Sun) - I watched both the movie version with YUI, and the TV series version with Sawajiri Kaoru, and I much prefer the TV series. YUI is a terrible actress, and the kind of bad acting she got away with could only happen in certain countries like Japan, where as long as an idol is attractive, they are banked on to sell tickets. As much as I like YUI as a songwriter/singer/musician, I do not automatically support her in her acting. Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way, as she’s only acted once, and never again. Sawajiri Kaoru, on the other hand, is a far better actress. The version she played is a very different character–one with a much stronger personality and a lot more confident as well. I also think she’s a lot more attractive, but that’s not to say YUI isn’t cute in her own way. I’d say one is more glamorous and one is more subtle and natural.
In terms of storytelling, they’re quite different as well, and I think the TV version has much better developed characters. But in general, both are firmly in the camp of “fake and awkward situations” and “unrealistic dialogs” like many other Japanese dramas. I swear, there’s this strange deficiency in Japanese screenwriters nationwide when it comes to teen idol dramas–they have no idea how to write believable characters and situations, and there’s this exaggerated artificiality to their sensibilities. There are certainly exceptions, but the exceptions are few and far between.
The Return – Elena recommended this film to me, and after I watched it, I knew why it resonated with her. It’s Russian film imbued with symbolism and rich with allegory, and it’s the kind of film that is only as rewarding as you are willing to think hard about exactly what the director meant to convey. To me, the film is really about a father’s first and last chance to teach his sons valuable lessons about life, and regardless of his questionable methods and the sons’ defiance, those would be lessons the boys will never forget for the rest of their lives.
Ichi the Killer / 殺し屋１ – I’ve seen the anime version years ago, and always wondered about the live-action film. I liked the anime version better because the philosophical aspects were more clearly presented, while the live-action version obsesses more with the over-the-top ultra-violence. I’ve seen only a few other films by Takeshi Miike, and they’re certainly interesting. I haven’t seen any of his more accessible mainstream films though, and I probably should just for comparison’s sake, but I kind of don’t see the point, since if his mainstream “normal” movies are no different from any other mainstream movies, why bother watching them (unless the film itself is very good, I suppose). I guess it’s a bit like how you wouldn’t really want to see a typical mainstream film by David Lynch either.
Adventureland - A fairly entertaining indie movie about working at an amusement park as a summer job, and the various characters that work there. There’s some romance, and it’s nice seeing Kirsten Stewart not as Bella.
Caddyshack – I avoided this film for all these years because I have a strong dislike for pointless, crass, low-brow humor, but I keep hearing people raving about it as if it’s some kind of worthy classic. Well, I made myself watch it recently, and I was right all these years; to me, it’s just a crass, low-brow comedy without anything special. I honestly don’t know why people like this film. In comparison, I love Ground Hog Day (same director) and that’s the kind of comedy I prefer–something with meaning and worth beyond just cheap laughs. I have heard arguments that Caddyshack has hidden meaning, but I really didn’t notice anything worth commenting on that I felt was profound or meaningful, and more importantly, because the execution was so crass, even if it had meaning, it becomes irrelevant because the delivery is cheap and shallow.