As a guy who celebrates originality, my head hits the brakes whenever I hear someone say, “Just do it like they did.” Because of this, I’ve sacrificed many good and useful creations on the Altar of Authenticity. But I’ve changed. The world’s full of inspiration, and it’s a miserly thing not to open your eyes and share in the wealth of it all. To pinch a phrase: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
What I failed to considered is that the closest pile of pilferable content is your own body of work.
Take a lesson from one of the greatest content creators of the 20th century: Disney. I came across this on BoingBoing a while back – they posted a series of animated gifs lifted from Disney films showing how Disney’s animators would reuse the outlines from various scenes to start sketching out a new movie. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Hand-drawing a full-length feature is hard work, and when you’re on a deadline it’s often best to go with what you know, and to go with what works.
It might even be the secret of their success. As praiseworthy and exciting as it is to break new ground with every venture, a growing business knows what their customers want and looks to find a way to meet that need as efficiently as possible. And to do it again. Rinse and repeat. Replicate the process.
I’d like to know if this type of duplication is still true for the new Pixar-era Disney productions. While computers take some of the cramp-inducing labor out of the process of animation, they create their own sorts of tedium. When you consider how easy it is to cut-n-paste in most programs, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that they don’t do a lot of self-borrowing from one film to another.
If it works for Disney, it’s something to consider. As I’ve mentioned in the past, to be heard over the chaos of the web, you’ve got to be yourself. But don’t forget to be yourself all over again. And again. And again.