I can't believe this day has finally come. It's been a long, arduous, and often-times emotional journey, but today is the day that I can finally say I've reached the summit. And wow, what a feeling.
If you don't know what I'm on about (for which you can be forgiven, folk rarely do), let me give you a little bit of back story.
Last July, I released a track, promising Andrew I'd have the music video ready by August. Joke's on him, because I didn't say which August, so really this is actually about five months early... All joking aside, a monumental amount of patience has been exercised over the past seven or eight months, and not just from me!
What was supposed to be a project that lasted a couple of weeks rapidly took on a life of it's own, morphing into something that has been in the works for almost three-quarters of a year. Like the mountain range it derives its name from, this project has been punctuated by mighty highs and stomach-curdling lows. There's been times when I've closed the laptop at the end of a night's work feeling like the Van Gough of 2.5D cartoon rendering. There's also been times when I've wanted to throw said laptop through the window because nothing was going right. I feel like the latter scenarios may have outnumbered the former.
It's a journey that has been fraught with all sorts of hindrances; sometimes this was down to not being able to get a tree branch to look right or a lantern to swing properly, other times it was more technological than artistic. Several times I've gotten a little bit worked up over external hard drives making ominous clicking sounds, which believe me, when you're working on a project that's several hundred GB in size, that's not something to be taken lightly - backing up to the cloud isn't as simple a task as you might think (at one point, it looked like one folder would take 9 days to upload, and that's with a fairly (alright, barely) acceptable internet speed)! This project even claimed a laptop in its relentless magnitude. In true dramatic style, about three quarters of the way through, at the point in the novel where all appears lost for the hero, so to did it for me when the trusty machine finally caved under the pressure and died on me, which let me tell you, caused a particularly sleepless night! There were definitely times when I'd get quite anxious about potentially losing everything I'd worked so hard on, and being honest this was probably the most difficult thing about the whole project.
A lot of what I've learnt has been to do with perspective. I've found myself falling in love with pieces that I hated whilst they were being created, despite the fact that nothing about these pieces had changed in the slightest except for my own appraisal of them. That's a good life lesson right there. Finding value in things is so subjective, that you can even disagree with yourself over the worth of a thing. Another thing I've experienced is sometimes overwhelming creative jealousy, and bizarrely a lot of times that jealousy was actually aimed at pieces I'd created myself earlier in the project. It's a bit like looking at an old picture of yourself and wishing you still had that hair or waistline.
When a project takes as long as this one, it will invariably grow and develop with your skills, and as such there are definitely places where that skill disparity is quite pronounced. There are parts of the video that are more detailed or sophisticated than others, but I never let myself scrap the earlier parts as though in some way inferior. In a lot of ways those parts are purer, because they were created during a less complacent, neophytic stage in the process, and benefit from that freshness of knowledge because of it. It all contributes to the very detailed tapestry of exploration that this project has been for me, and I love each and every part of it equally, if for different reasons.
There are two main lessons I've taken away from this project. The first is one that resonates with the very essence of the track as it was originally conceived - that there are obstacles in life that can feel insurmountable, but the desire to overcome them can quite literally, if you'll excuse the very laboured imagery here, move mountains. On more than one occasion I've felt like abandoning this project because it felt like it was taking too long, or otherwise sacrificing some kind of quality for the sake of getting it done. I'm glad I didn't give in to those ideas, because the finished product is one that is so much more valuable to me than the time I might otherwise have saved by taking one of the easier paths. Sometimes good art just takes a long time to create!
I'm also glad I didn't sacrifice one of the most important principles I went into this project holding, which was that everything contained within it had to be of my own creation. I've done a lot of artwork, and I've always been proud of it, but because of the nature of using stock photos or royalty-free assets, it never felt truly mine. I'd never disparage doing art in this way, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could make something that was completely my own, and I'm proud to say I achieved that - there isn't a single pixel in that video that wasn't rasterised, painted or rendered by my own hand, and the pride in ownership I get out of that is so fulfilling.
The second, and probably more important, thing I learnt is that things don't need to be perfect to be worthwhile. This is of course something I've been espousing for a long time, but this project tested this principle of mine to the max. An undertaking as monolithic as this video is rampant ground for toxic perfectionism to wheedle its little way into your mind and start messing up the furniture. There are so many little details to obsess over, from frame-perfect animations to modelling relevant and cohesive elements to star in those animations, and it's here in the nitty-gritty that uncertainty thrives and can give life to darker variants. There are definitely places where I've noticed mistakes, but I've fought the urge to go back and obsess over them, instead embracing them as little quirks of a DIY project made by entirely one person - I'm not Pixar, I don't have a team of hundreds working with me, and therefore I should judge myself by a different standard. Plus, I think we can all think of digital works that have their errors in them, which much like saturation in the world of music, adds a charming level of human error to the mix, and, if nothing else, just goes to show that it was the work of a thinking, feeling, fallible human being.
Yes, this project took eight months to complete, but that's just because that's how long something like this takes when you only have your free time outside of working a full time job to complete it in. It didn't take eight months to complete because I was languishing over tiny details and panicking it wasn't good enough. Sure, there were times when things weren't going right, but I never took it personally, and my self-worth was never contingent on the video being a success. Maybe this is down to my being in a very balanced state psychologically speaking, maybe it's due to the fact I've been aware from the earliest stages that this is objectively good art with a unique style. What matters is that I never had any unreal expectations of myself that only this video could fulfil, and for this reason, I was able to make it to the summit rather than get crushed by the weight of it. I guess you could say that the crux of this is that despite it taking so long, and feeling so impossible, I stayed in control of it, and ultimately, brought it home.
So, as they say, better late than never, and better still to be proud of what it was that made you late. Please, enjoy the world I've spent so much of my energy on building, get lost in its mysteries, and more than anything, take everything I've learnt from this tempestuous journey and apply it to the things you want to achieve in your own life.
Let me leave you with a little anecdote, which may be the best piece of advice I've ever taken from anybody and so it would be awfully greedy to keep it to myself. A couple of years ago, I casually said to my brother that I'd love to be able to do animation, to which he said, 'well learn it then.' Obviously my response was, 'well I can't, it'll take too long, I'll probably be like 27 by the time I'm any good at it!' My brother didn't even look up from his computer to drop the most profound thing I've ever heard anyone say, and I'm still not sure whether he knows the impact it's had on my work.
'Well,' he said, casually slicing down another unfortunate monster on Skyrim. 'You might as well - you're gonna be 27 either way.'
And, what do you know, today I sit here, 27, with the quiet confidence that my brother was right. Don't tell him I said that though.
A Journey Like No Other: Himalaya by Ellipsis
The Music to Save The World playlist is sponsored this month by Himalaya from Ellipsis.
The journey begins; fresh Chillstep from Ellipsis to help you conquer your own mountain. Stream it now:
You can learn more about Ellipsis here:
About the curator - Andrew McCluskey
Matt Jenko is a university postgraduate and music producer with an unhealthy obsession with Rick & Morty and all things Game of Thrones. When he’s not in the studio (a rare occurrence these days), he’s fueling his passion for music either on the net or out in the real world. He likes being out in the nature (in the least strenuous capacity though, let’s be real here) and chilling with his cat, and he’s also pretty proud of his mammoth collection of books that he’s never read.