June 30, 2015

The Internet: A source of inspiration or an Achilles heal for creativity?

The Internet: A source of inspiration or an Achilles heal for creativity?
Billy Hanshaw Studio Motion Graphics Leeds UK

It may sound like an odd question. Indeed it’s something I’ve pondered over as Creative Head (balancing production schedules and creativity); swinging from the position of agreement to disagreement on an almost daily basis.

If access to so much stimuli and reference material online is bad for creativity – then surely this argument has to be supported by logical reasoning.  The kind you would expect to receive from a person of high standing – a Doctor perhaps.

And on that note, I offer my musings…

Let’s go back a couple of years. We created a titles concept for a well-known BBC sci-fi show.  It’s first outing was on Youtube; culminating with it being adapted for the show itself. Media hype surrounded the story of how a Youtube sensation became part of the show.  For those unaware of the story – we are talking about Doctor Who.

For some strange reason (probably only known to the Doctor himself) Doctor Who inspires an incredible degree of creativity from the written word to music to animation. And what better platform for publication than the world-wide-web – where everyone has the capacity to be an author in their own right.

Shortly after the official titles were revealed at the cinema and broadcast throughout the world, there followed a deluge of copies; re-creations online by amateur animators, students and professionals all striving to reproduce the official titles in all it’s cogs, clocks and planets glory down to the tiniest wood-grain detail on the TARDIS’ exterior. In fact you only have to browse the popular video sharing sites to see titles recreations for each and every Doctor incarnation.  It goes with the territory: the world of Fandom.

The Doctor Who title sequence and its many online versions is, ironically, a fitting example to illustrate my point.

I say ironically because at the studio, when we embarked upon this journey, we too attempted to make our own version of the ubiquitous time tunnel (or vortex, as it’s come to be known); a stalwart of Who intros.  In doing so we had one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments. A revelation of sorts, the key to originality that helped us shape what went on to become the official titles and also our approach to future work: the importance of an overall narrative.  A visual story that would hold true to the nature of the show; combining metaphor with literal depiction.

It’s a philosophy employed by the best in titles design.  Narrative is always paramount.

So what does this have to do with the internet disabling creativity?  OK, let’s get back on track.

We all know that access to the internet is like having the world’s biggest library, indexed and ready to peruse at any 24:7 moment.  The availability of sites curated with the coolest, on-trend, and most appreciated content enables us to feast our eyes and ears on the most popularist and therefore most fashionable creative output.  These are the kind of works that get emulated due to popularity and the perception of (a term I like to use) ’coolism’.

It can be, and truly is inspirational, seeing the work of talented individuals on sites like Adobe’s behance and collections on Pinterest assembled by specific search criteria. So why could there be a negative effect to this?

If we are all looking to the same websites for creative stimuli – clicking away for the cool stuff, what happens to innovative ideas?  Do we just end up with ‘me too’ creations – like the fan-made Doctor Who sequences that are brilliantly executed, but have nothing new (in visual terms) to say?

We’ve never before had so much information at our fingertips.  It’s what we do with it as creative practitioners that’s important.  Being truly innovative is one of the hardest pursuits any artist can successfully achieve.  It is said, that for the most part, any idea that appears to be new will have already been imagined by somebody else. While probably true, the perception that the idea is original is what counts: application and audience awareness.

Truth-be-known; creative styles fall in and out of fashion. Its cyclical nature giving birth to the occasional pastiche or an original take on a previous idea.

Just imagine, however, a carousel of images turning – a good analogy for our fashion cycles – the faster it gets the less likely we are to discern the differences between one image and the next; a homogenised blur.  The faster we are expected to deliver ideas, the more likely we are to plagiarise. Innovation gets sidelined.  Everything has the same look or sounds the same.

Budgetary constraints are usually the key factor that forces the hand. Time has always equated to costs and fees. When the clock ticks the dinero increases,  so an expedited delivery is always favourable. The true cost being originality.

And here’s another problem: Stimuli, reference and training material that used to be available to the creative industries only, are now available to all. So enthusiasts with indefinite deadlines can produce extremely polished, professional pieces of work, which clients are privy to as well.  Call it pixel envy if you like, but the perception of how long a piece of work took to create (by an enthusiast) is often lost on the client, and that leaves us professionals desperate, but unable to deliver to the same or better standard. It’s one of the reasons why here at Billy Hanshaw Studio we decided to apply fixed fees to projects.  Expectations are managed throughout the project on both client side and studio.

Our Who sequence brought us a level of exposure that we hadn’t experienced before, that we’ll be eternally grateful for.  To some in the industry there is the perception that we are a couple of enthusiastic hobbyists that had a lucky break. Our clients know differently. Alongside our Technical and Legal work, the explainers, corporate presentations and illustration work – we are still trying to break the regional/capital divide, determined to overcome the obstacle of being ‘up north’.

London – Soho specifically –  used to be the hotbed of the creative industry – and that perception still holds true to a great extent.  Ideas are not tied to any geographical location however; that is the greatest benefit of the internet from a creative viewpoint –  collaboration and shared ideas are possible on a global scale, at the click of a button.  Innovation is always possible. It’s the notion of “making it your own’;  ensuring that evolution wins out over plagiarism every time in the pursuit of originality.

Billy Hanshaw

Creativity , Thoughts
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