A better future (a programmer's first animated post)

Whatever else happens, you made a movie… Nobody can take that away. A hundred years from now, when we're all dead and gone, people will be watching this fucking thing.

Tony Soprano to his nephew (whom he murders over this movie in a few episodes)

So I made a 90-second animated, um, I guess it's a blog post. I don't know about a hundred years from now, but I proudly invite you to watch the fucking thing right now:

I hear that it's considered classy for animators, filmmakers and such to let their work stand on its own, either refraining from commentary or making it vague. However, anxious to secure my spot in eternity, I decided to rush my immortal masterpiece out the door, so I cut everything I could.

I then realized that I left out a delicate point which, despite my embarrassment, I must mention. Luckily, typing is much easier than animating, so the following afterthought was quick to put down [1]. Here goes.

The short isn't exactly a documentary, but real-life me did switch to a part-time job to free some time for animating, drawing, etc. I figured this mundane little step was a good topic for a starting filmmaker because it turned out to be surprisingly controversial. Here are some of the reactions I received:

  • "So you finally got fed up with the job?"
  • "Part-time? But everyone here needs you!"
  • "Wow, I'm jealous! I want to work less, too. They pay you the same, right?" No, they pay less, I said. "Oh. Ha-ha. Work less, get less. Interesting!"
  • "You should really work more, not less, while you're young. Futurists predict a huge global pension crisis, so save for your retirement!"
  • "I doubt this will fly with the big deadline coming. Who's gonna do all the work? Not me!" (This guy works part-time himself – very productively.)
  • "Doesn't your wife object?" (Actually, my light table is Rachel's gift. I don't know when/if I'd ever get one on my own.)

These comments suggest that many people want to work less, but something is keeping them from doing it. I can certainly relate to that. It took me 10 years to decide to work part-time – and then 5 more years to actually do it.

Why is it so hard?

My own reasons mostly revolve around money. Where I live, money is much easier to make programming than animating (good luck even finding a half-stable job working on animated features.)

Hence "I went into programming for the money", as I said in the short – as I always say. And initially I figured I'd work all I can and retire early – the opposite of working part-time and animating in my spare time ("settling for a fraction of the dream"). And you've just seen how I changed my mind.

But there's another thing, which I usually don't say and which I must reluctantly admit. You see, I came for the money, and then I started liking the getting paid part.

What's the difference between money and getting paid? There's a world of difference!

Winning a lottery is a way to obtain money without getting paid for a service. And spending your wage on designer clothes is a way to get paid without having any money left. The difference is this:

  • Money lets you buy things – food, living space, spare time, etc. It's about options.
  • Getting paid tells you the value of your service to whoever paid you. It's about achievement.

I like getting paid, I must admit despite the embarrassment.

Note that I'm not ashamed in the slightest to like money (options) and to have chosen a profession with the sole purpose of maximizing income.

Some people believe that you can't be happy doing something you don't love – and that you can't be any good at it, hence you won't make that much money, either. I disagree.

I'll tell you who my role model is, as a computer programmer. It's neither Bill Gates nor Richard Stallman. My role model is Alec Guinness, whom you probably remember as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. Wikipedia says:

In letters to his friends, Guinness described the film as "fairy tale rubbish" <…>

He was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be a box office hit;  he negotiated a deal for 2% of the gross royalties <…>

Lucas and fellow cast members … have spoken highly of his courtesy and professionalism, both on and off the set. Lucas <said> that Guinness contributed significantly to achieving completion of the filming.

Here's a man working on something he disliked because it paid – and delighting his target audience and colleagues alike. To me it shows that "extrinsic motivation" – money – is a perfectly good primary motivation, contrary to some researchers' conclusions.

I'm in it for the money – hence, I'll never get bored and lose interest, as long as there's money to be made. I'll dutifully work on the unpleasant parts necessary to get things actually done (and get paid). Not liking programming that much, I try to keep my programs short and easy to maintain and extend – so I can program less.

These are all desirable traits – and not everyone genuinely loving programming has them. Think about it. Who's the better henchman – the psychopath murdering for the thrill, or the coldblooded killer who's in it for an early retirement? Same thing here.

I'm your perfect henchman. Pay me, give me some time alone with your computers, and when you come back, you'll find them doing your bidding. Of this I am not ashamed.

Recently, however, I noticed that I'm no longer the coldblooded henchman I used to be, that I started to enjoy the thrill of the kill for its own sake. And this I cannot admit without blushing.

That's what getting paid does to the weak-minded. It warped my value system. The phases of my transition – or should I say my moral decay – went something like this:

  1. I program because they pay me.
  2. Programming is good because they pay me.
  3. Programming is good.
  4. Programming is good! I think I'll go program right now. Or read about it. Or write something about it. All in my spare time.

And there you have it. "Achievement" has been redefined to mean "that thing you get paid for".

This is how I ended up with a website dedicated largely to programming. Then a programming blog on the site and a similar blog elsewhere. Then came the ultimate downfall: open-source programs on GitHub, written during evenings and weekends.

And I don't regret the writing. Keeping readers' attention on my very dry programming-related subjects is a worthy challenge for any starting storyteller.

But programming for free? Me? If you're good at something, never do it for free! Oh, how the weak-minded have fallen.

Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to begin rising. So it was with me. Realizing that I've just programmed for free for several weekends in a row made me think. Hard.

"I can't believe you," I said to myself. "All this money-chasing at least made some sense. But programming for free? Why not draw in your spare time instead? What's wrong with you?"

"Not so fast," said self. "For free or not, at least here you are doing something you're good at. You know you're good – you get paid for it! Would they pay you for drawing? Not so soon. Maybe never. Even if you're any good. In fact you'll never know if you're any good. Not if you're never paid. Nor if you're paid badly, which happens all the time in those arty parts of the world, even to the best. Why not stick to things you're good at – that you know you're good at?"

Could you believe this guy? Well, I wouldn't have any of that.

"You shameless, hypocritical, baiting-and-switching COWARD," I screamed at self at the top of my lungs. "You always said programming was for the money – to buy time, to buy that bloody creative freedom you kept chattering about! And now you say I should keep programming because I got good at it? But of course I got good – I've been doing it all this time! I could have gotten just as good at drawing – I still can – if I have the time!"

"And you say that now when I can afford some spare time," I went on, "I should regardless stick to what I'm good at, which by now is programming? Are you hinting that I won't ever draw very well? Is that why you suggested a career in programming in the first place – because you didn't believe I could draw? Was that chanting about needing money one big lie all along? Tell me, you lying bastard! I'm gonna -"

"OK, OK, chill, man, CHILL!" Self looked scared and unsettled. He clearly didn't see it coming. Now he was looking for some way to appease me. "You know," said self, "maybe you're right. Remember how you're always proud of taking a long-term view? Of how you care today about things 5, even 10 years ahead?"

I smiled smugly. Indeed I was proud of my long-term-centered, strategic thinking. Bob Colwell – the legendary computer architect – once said that it's the architect's duty to think about the long term, because nobody else will. I so identified with that. (Colwell and I are both computer architects, you see – just, um, of different calibers.)

"Well," said self, "you should be proud. Too many lose sight of the future because of today's small but pressing worries!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I was losing my patience. "Thanks but no thanks for your brown-nosing. Listen, are you playing bait and switch on me again? What does this have to do with drawing?"

"But that's the point – it's the same thing," self exclaimed, "it's about long-term thinking! Sure, in the short term, maybe you're better at programming than drawing. But keep practicing and yes, of course you'll get good at drawing! Use your favorite superpower – your ability to imagine the future vividly, to practically live there – to overcome the temptation to stick to your comfort zone! Secure a better future today! Be the shrewd guy investing in a little unknown startup – yourself the would-be animator – to reap great benefits down the road! Be -"

"I get it. That's what I said though, isn't it? Let's practice – let's draw in the spare time."

"Sure. Sure! You're right," said self submissively. "I'm actually helping you, see? I'm telling you how to use your strengths to take the plunge!"

"Thaaaanks. You know what? We'll work 20% less hours every week to get some more spare time."

"What?! But, the money -"

"SHUT UP. Shut up for your own good. I made you enough money."

"How much is enough?" asked self.

Now he really got me worked up.

"How much is enough, he dares to ask?! How come you never told me? I was toiling for you year after year. When did you plan to give me some rest?"

"Well…" mumbled self. Obviously he had no answer. I should have known all along!

"Nothing is ever enough for you, isn't it?.. Well, listen up. We'll work 20% less hours every week. And every time you whine about the money, which you will, I'll say – sure, that spare time was an expensive present. Indeed we shouldn't waste it idly surfing the net. Let's draw! See? I'll use your bitching and complaining about the money to get myself to draw!" – I shrieked and cackled evilly.

"That's it," self whispered, "he lost his marbles. Talking to himself, too. Oh my oh my oh -"

"Shut your lying mouth. I'm not done. You'll find us a weekly drawing class. Also we're going to the zoo every week. I'll draw animals, and if you say nasty things about my drawings, we'll keep going anyway. Don't count on my tendency to follow inspiration rather than routine. I know how you can keep killing inspiration for months on end with your snarky remarks. Guess what – I'll still go. And -"

"OK, OK. OK! We'll go, we'll spend 20% of your salary so you can draw those bloody animals. Just calm down already. Sheesh!"

And thus my self unconditionally capitulated, and we lived happily ever after. Thus ends my treatment of that delicate point – the difference between wanting money and wanting to get paid.

Is the spare time – the most expensive gift I ever got myself – worth its price? You bet!

[1] When I say this was "quick to put down", I mean that it took hours, and pages upon pages of words written to be thrown away. (I accidentally published a draft showing all that wasted effort.) It's still way quicker than animating…

28 comments ↓

#1 Tanim Islam on 08.29.14 at 2:52 am

Hi Yossi, great animation. I wonder if you can make your voiceover louder and clearer?

#2 Yossi Kreinin on 08.29.14 at 3:12 am

Erm… volume could be louder indeed. Didn't seem so originally. Which means I shouldn't be editing sound with a custom equalizer setting… Unfortunately, YouTube won't let you change the video without changing the URL, and it doesn't have an "enhancement" for turning up volume without re-uploading. I hope it's not too bad.

As to clarity… that's my mildest accent in English, short of attempting to fake/parody a thick British or South American accent which will hardly make things better.

As faith would have it, I have an accent in all the languages I speak, so I just use the most widely spoken one. It would be just as bad in any of the others…

#3 PSO on 08.29.14 at 8:06 am

Bravo!

#4 mappu on 08.29.14 at 8:25 am

Congratulations on completing this project! So many people will never get to the finish line and so many people will never make such a hard decision to work less. I amongst them. But what do we do anyway with our savings?

#5 mao on 08.29.14 at 8:40 am

Just had a good laugh with the A-bomb part, awesome work! I was actually reading the draft when I accidentally hit "reload"- dang! Really enjoyed your creative process, reminded me a lot of myself. Hope to see more animations soon. Congratulations on following through with tough decisions.

#6 Dmitry Novik on 08.29.14 at 11:40 am

When i used to know you, I was convinced you are programming because you truly love it.

#7 Yossi Kreinin on 08.29.14 at 11:47 am

Thanks for everyone who liked this for their kind words.

@Dmitry: sufficiently advanced greed is indistinguishable from true love.

#8 b on 08.29.14 at 1:14 pm

Mazel tov!

Your drawing style has the same dry wit as your writing.

I heard animation was ungodly amount of work; how long did you draw for the short?

(BTW, I'll have to go the other way soon. From my experience, it's a hard thing to lose. Spending our productivity advances on junk instead of gifting ourselves and our loved ones time is IMO the single craziest thing we, collectively speaking, are doing.)

#9 Yossi Kreinin on 08.29.14 at 2:02 pm

Actually, computers make animation much easier than it used to be (Ralph Bakshi said 5x easier), even if it's entirely hand-drawn, because the editing still becomes much easier.

In my case it took me 4-5 months, but I lost a lot of time to idly surfing the net, and this is my first attempt at this sort of thing. I think 3 months worth of evenings and weekends should have been more than enough.

I don't think what I do is typical though – I'm investing more effort than average into some aspects of it, and cutting corners more than average in other aspects.

#10 Leo Sutic on 08.29.14 at 4:51 pm

Awesome decision. Too few people take the plunge, and too many end up never even trying to realize their dreams. Good one, and I'm wishing you all the best in your quest!

#11 Michael Moser on 09.10.14 at 3:37 am

Very cool animation, awesome; i for one am wishing you luck in both halfs of your day.

#12 Yossi Kreinin on 09.12.14 at 4:48 pm

Thanks!

#13 Tomasz on 09.12.14 at 4:57 pm

This video really does lift my spirit.

But now, maybe there are also guys in animation, who are in for the money. They're comfortable with their drawing career, but dream about something else.

I only doubt that this other thing is programming (or any other STEM job).

#14 Yossi Kreinin on 09.12.14 at 5:06 pm

Well, Con Kolivas is an anesthesiologist who dabbled in kernel development at his spare time, of all things… so people might be "dreaming about programming" during their day jobs.

Of course programming has enough money in it to support a larger share of people genuinely interested in it than many other occupations. So you simply don't have to be "only" dreaming about it, and hence I guess few do.

Also, an animator who's into programming may very easily make it a part of their job and their employer would rejoice. Inigo Quilez (who drew/programmed Brave's plants and leaves) is one example but I think in general there's a continuum between animation/interactive programming/clever rendering/programming and if an animator is into programming they'll find a way to do both.

#15 SB on 09.14.14 at 11:23 pm

Also, if it counts as STEM (whatever that means), there is a long illustrious line of people doing mathematics and science in their spare time from Pierre de Fermat (a lawyer) to (say) Hedy Lamarr (actress and femme fatale :).

#16 SB on 09.14.14 at 11:35 pm

BTW, frequent reader of your blog. The animation really cracked me up, especially the "animated something" in the end. The accent is great too, nothing amplifies irony/cynicism more than saying "money" with russian "н"

#17 Yossi Kreinin on 09.14.14 at 11:40 pm

Thanks; the accent is, well, what it is… Since most of my readers are from the US and the UK (unlike me, people tend to read in their mother tongues, mostly… go figure), and probably cannot spell "N" in Russian, it might actually spoil the act a bit for them, but I sure as hell am not going for a thick pseudo-American accent, and since I'm playing myself, finding an English-speaking voice actor would feel really moronic.

#18 Eugene Zemskov on 09.16.14 at 8:03 am

Thanks for the post.

At the moment I'm performing some 'downshifting', trying to switch from full-time developer job to part time travelling/photography (two different domains, but for me they have almost always been interconnected).
My situation is bit different from yours; I assume that I would be able to make some money with photography, but never wanted to try – as an occupation it would be far more terrible thing than programming.
Also, I'm a kind of careless about future. In addition to not wishing a car or a fancy housing, I assume myself being able to work on _some_ job in my 60-s, thus not trying to save for the retirement (and after all, I'm likely to stay in Russia, where long-time planning is, perhaps, more risky than in the Western countries). All this gives me me some more freedom to act.
On the other hand – a new funny problem arises : to find out how much time can I safely dedicate to my 'hobby' (here I mean travelling). Before I supposed that working 6 months per year would be great, but now, having spent around 3..4 months as some kinds of holidays, I'm starting to feel exhausted with not working (not doing something that looks like a normal paid job).

Best of luck
Zhenya

#19 Yossi Kreinin on 09.16.14 at 9:16 am

Well, I'm guessing I could make some money animating as well, and I assume animating professionally might be a worse occupation than programming on net balance in my circumstances as well.

As to long-term planning in Russia… Indeed :)

#20 hraban on 09.28.14 at 7:09 pm

Hey congratulations, man. Good luck!

#21 Stephen Cameron on 10.05.14 at 9:40 am

Congratulations on being braver than most and really following your dream! Best of luck. I do have a hard time believing you programmed only for money — surely you enjoyed it sometimes just for the sake of it; nobody could be so good at it without enjoying it sometimes, I think? In writing that, I do not mean at all to suggest you haven't made the right decision. Again, best of luck! I've always enjoyed your insightful writings, and expect to continue enjoying them.

#22 Yossi Kreinin on 10.05.14 at 11:46 am

Thanks!

I do enjoy it, I just wouldn't do it if it weren't for the money. I also enjoy not doing it, as in, having written as little as possible while still making the thing work the way I want it to. A lot of my interest in programming was motivated by the dream of finding a way to make these things do my job, or at least more of it than they already do.

#23 Peter Lund on 03.13.15 at 9:05 pm

Consider making or buying one of these:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_filter

#24 Aristotle Pagaltzis on 10.01.15 at 5:51 am

So I ask with some trepidation (because my vague impression is that the answer will be a bummer – while holding out hope that maybe not after all)… how’s it going?

#25 Yossi Kreinin on 10.01.15 at 10:09 am

Well, I'm studying animation in an evening school, and I'm now working 3 days a week, so 60% of "full time." When I'll publish something I don't know. In the upcoming months I'll be working on my final project, which will be a short in Hebrew. In the meanwhile, there's a little clip I published at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ipfyo2lsNyc which is, well, a tad weird, but it's there, with English captions; this one I thought was "publishable", most of my exercises aren't, not really.

After the final project I'm not sure what I'll do. I have an idea for a nerdy-techy-semi-sci-fi kind of comedy series which would be done in English and I think I'll ideally need to cooperate with a real writer from the US to do it. I might however do something in Hebrew, I already met a professional comedic writer who might want to cooperate with me and this might compel me to turn away from my own idea for a while.

#26 Aristotle Pagaltzis on 10.02.15 at 8:24 am

Sounds good! I feared that your more recent articles indicated that your venture had quietly fallen by the wayside… glad I asked.

That is a tad… weird, yes. But having lived with a cat for a while now, it’s actually funny to me. Not quite sure what you were going for but I got something from it.

#27 Viktor Kirilov on 05.19.16 at 2:10 pm

We want a follow-up post to this – are you still drawing? Are you still working part-time?

#28 Yossi Kreinin on 05.19.16 at 5:21 pm

Yes, and yes; I hope to post an animated short within the upcoming couple of months. I've studied animation for a year, 2D and 3D, from that not a lot came out in terms of final products, it's exercised, mostly; the apex of my 3D sculpting capabilities is probably this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgyxRp0KYCM

I certainly exhausted my appetite for formal education (I had a feeling when I dropped out of CS grad school that my life is over and I won't learn anything new and from now on I'm slowly dying; only now having finished the animation program do I realize that I'm starting to live is the right way to interpret not having to formally study anything. This is not to say that I regret having gone through this – I'm very happy to have gone through this because I doubt that I'd have the energy to learn it all without the constant stream of deadlines on my own not to mention the importance of feedback as well as someone organizing the material for you. So it's nice to have done it, but boy am I happy that it's over!)

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