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This page is awaiting a major overhaul, but much of the less technical info is useful.

Business Tips

Don't let the number of animators in the world frighten you. Everyone has had access to green felt -- EVERYONE -- but how many became Jim Henson? Henson was a Christian Scientist at one time, so I can speak to this related issue. To get the most done, only express, do not seek to impress or compete. And keep the thoughts you have positive, nurturing and benign, not strategic. He had no competitors in his consciousness, he was only competing with the highest Christian/Golden Rule standard -- that is how to get the most work done.

Another reason to bother trying to set a high standard: there seems to plenty of room.

That said, the guts of creativity is more writing than form; puppetry comes pretty close to immediate feedback and is a kind of ideal in terms of efficiency. Its shortcoming is exploited by those animators who make completely different poses every few frames -- fast pacing. CG-puppet theater promises to realize a writer's vision on a shoestring budget, if your aim is to realize a vision, but the guts is still writing. It would be lying to say that one needs to know animation to produce a documentary or feature film or series -- writing and "people skills" and prayer and chutspah, maybe.

Know what you are doing and why. Raise the level of the art form. Exalt your fellow man. Make growing-up an active truthful joy.

The other thing that should be mentioned near the top of the page is that LIGHTWAVE 7 is currently available as a non-expiring demo with impaired modelling and no scene saving. Contact www.newtek.com or www.lightwave3d.com for details. Soon after they started doing this, another powerful software called "XSI" began offering a Demo CD; contact www.softimage.com for details. XSI is a $20,000ish program, though it has a limited tyro version for $800 and annual $1,000 maintenance, and from what I hear, it is INSPIRE's better in several ways, though it skirts the "leased" high-end software category. INSPIRE, while not perfect, is probably the best value under $2,000 for this reason: : there is more to it under $500 than any other program in that price range, and upgrading to LIGHTWAVE for $895, gives one particles, dynamics and a range of character and effects tools for $1400 which don't seem to be available elsewhere for less than about $10,000 at this time, to my knowledge. That is, except for "MAYA Personal Learning Edition" from www.aliaswavefront.com which lets one play with all the tools, non-commercially, and with watermarked results. It is in a non-exportable format, but allows saving objects and scenes.

If you feel you have a relevant vision that can rescue your fellow creatures from the mire -- there is shaky proof that 3D CG may be one way of presenting your suggestions. Animation skills, per se, may not bring you closer, since a writer may contact the "LW3D-DISC" newgroup on http://groups.yahoo.com and network with artists there and at individual companies without learning this form-focussed field. Heck, put your script on www.ebay.com and let someone else HIRE animators! Consider this route. Animator pages seem to agree: CG animation has a learning curve of many months. INSPIRE can get the student making animations within one day -- I had a great time my first day -- and some artists have reported being able to learn what they needed to as they needed to, but the artist's journey and the job skill are two diverging paths. The artist may embark on a feature with a skills set of a few weeks' exploration if the imagery suits them, where one trying to develop a "marketable job skill" competence is going to keep going back to the book, and will probably have to seek out a teacher, since the available Manual is very limited in key areas. (The Demo CD mentioned above includes a 1078 page Manual which has many insights and is worth perusing.) Manual shortcomings seem to be the rule in high-end graphics, and I have not encountered any six-hour all-inclusive video's yet though some very good video's exist.

Content should be king for all artists. The choice becomes whether to feed a project with very little exaltation for the audience using available means or go elsewhere for content. Film directors usually place the script ahead of the cast ahead of the producers ahead of the crew, possibly because this is the reverse order of how they can be replaced. Script first. If Lightwave can't play the lick, you go to a tool that can. One is supposed to place content ahead of form in this universe. That's when conscience and the infinite are on your side. The rest is all some shadowy caricature trying to find you a low-paying job, quick.

How does an advertizing agency run? A single ad agency may have only two or three employees from what I hear. The artists have a keen sense of what communicates the product or service to the users. A friend would pore through magazines looking for a weak ad with an ambitious advertizer, and when they found it, would bring it to their employer, and she would share it with others, to see if it was worth the effort. Although magazines like "Ad Week" make much of the process of "bidding" for a contract, bidding is apparently not the only way business is done. Perhaps the advertizer will ask for the agency to submit a bid at that time, or not. Although media buying advertizers -- billboards, radio, TV -- may be paid according to changes in sales through the medium of sales-commissions as long as media are purchased (through the ad agency), a "retainer" is apparently also a method used, as with lawyers. The ad agency is part of the annual budget of the advertizing business, and may be responsible for designing business cards and letterhead, as well as print ad copy and special projects. The company may "hold-off" on using the retainer, or have scheduled objectives. This is worth knowing either if one is considering the ad field, or working with an advertizer, or approaching a company with an ad, where the company in turn feels compelled to talk with the ad agency it is connected to by a retainer. Hopefully, they will allow for the ad outside of the retainer, and if it outperforms it, help one make some friends. INSPIRE is an excellent advertizing tool, though broadcasters will probably ask you to "bump-up"/re-render the animation to the 720 x 540 standard, by loading the files into LIGHTWAVE. You should believe in the product.

I should also mention here that I have been trying to sell print illustrations made using INSPIRE, as it is time to either make a buck or listen to God in a quieter place on the mountain. I have had the good fortune to befriend a commercial artist who has shared with me some of the basics. E-mail is how finished art is sent, but printed paper is still how print art is often marketed, and a full plate may be better to send than a single joke or cartoon. Some publications are incredibly cheap, so don't go anywhere near them or read them.

What should you be paid? If an appliance salesman spends $10 on a toaster he sells for $30, and your ad's expense roughly increases his price on the toaster to $12, but he sells 8000 instead of 4000, he clears $144,000 instead of $80,000. An extra $64,000 is worth how much? $6400? 900% is pretty cheap to someone accustomed to a mere 200% mark-up. If a movie helps keep a Cable station attracting paying subscribers and advertizers, that's a little harder to measure, but the rates for buying "airtime" advertizing are available from a variety of sources, and can run as low as $40 per 15 - 30 second spot for late night TV. www.adbusters.org/uncommercials/buyairtime/

If you like holiday special and animated series projects, two things leap to mind. First, the leading "networks" (when last I looked, ten years ago) had an "open door policy" regarding new series and specials. Pitch. Knock yourself out. The worst that can happen if you believe in the project is you make it yourself, never finish it, starve and die. There is a seasonal aspect to pitching the networks so check into this ahead of time, and one may be expected to use an entertainment attorney, to avoid bruising or being bruised. Use the search engines, and consider networking with other animators who may have been included in the process. Another way of doing this is to pitch your project to companies who would like to support it with advertizing, and then buy the time directly from the TV stations, or from "co-op's" that own large blocks of time like certain half-hour long commercials that shall remain nameless. Also remember you will be buying TV time weeks or months in advance. Decades ago, animators would display storyboards to executives, but rather than hypothecate what the current scenario may be, talk to those who know. A number of animators from companies like "Netter Digital" and "Foundation Imaging" can be reached through their websites or the "LW3D" yahoogroup, such as www.geocities.com/squirreldome/ or www.rowsby.com .

The "demo reel" has seemed instrumental for a few friends of mine who have gotten work, so I don't knock it. They've also demonstrated fine "people skills" and work habits. I have never hired animators, but I suspect a "portfolio" will have a wide range of elements which require familiarity with the tool, and will be entertaining on some level. In the past, this has sometimes lead to "festival shorts." These shorts can win awards for one's resume, and provide a lot of exposure. For some good demo reel suggestions, use the search engines. www.3dcafe.com recently published a CD about making demo reels. These shorts can be marketed to festivals, film theaters, TV stations or cable venues and intermediaries like www.hypnotic.com , www.atomfilms.com , www.Ifilm.com , www.odyssey3d.com , www.scifi.com ("Exposure") or others. The beginnings of a comprehensive list may be found on the links page . Although these entities will ask one for a CD-R with all the related image files and "wav" files when they add your work to theirs, they prefer to view a VHS tape for evaluation purposes, which is also what studio "human resources" people request. Since revising animation happens daily and hourly -- like websites -- I think a newbie who buys a computer or video card with a video-out connector will be that much more empowered, and not have to pester friends or school. The downside of these cards seems to be that some seem to work better than others with INSPIRE. See Recording .

"Selling" a short is a distinct learning curve from making one. Sometimes there hardly appear to be any buyers of short films, and then you realize the world is full of them. Okay, maybe not FULL of them. In recent years, a glut of sellers accepting nothing and "dotcom" buyers offering to remove one's credits and pay nothing may have temporarily suppressed reasonable pricing. If your work is pure enough, this is okay, the energy will come back. Go for it. In a very few cases, a very rich person begs crumbs from groups of paupers in order to sell them -- I am thinking of one show in particular -- and it gives one pause. So much cruelty -- do I really deserve this? Again, the Christian Scientists don't dwell on this -- they/we see "buyers" as reflecting qualities of support, imagination, intelligence and goodwill. Good search terms are "short film buyers," "film distributors," and "film markets." The mother of all short film markets is supposed to be http://shortfilm.gdebussac.fr/fcm2000/home-eng.htm or www.clermont-filmfest.com the Clermont-Ferrand Shorts Festivals, which is free to enter. Many other film festivals may be found on the links page and at www.awn.com , an excellent resource. A list of distributors, producers, TV buyers and other "players" and the names of all films produced for the past ten years have been listed in Quigley Publications' International Motion Picture Almanac annually since 1929. It is a delightful book, and is found in the best libraries and it is frequently back-ordered at bookstores. It takes the confusion that we call media, and dissolves it into a catalog of products and a catalog of buyers. Isn't that nice?

There are other directories, like the $40 Distributors list published by IFilm Publishing & Hollywood Creative Directory. I found about six of the forty short film distributors listed in a few hours by using conventional search engines. Try the search engines first. www.google.com has been pretty kind to this site, and consistently wins "Webby's". The short films market may be shaky for some time, due to factors already mentioned, but look for a more responsive marketplace in coming years.

I suppose it cannot hurt to have an "Award" on one's resume. I haven't given it much thought. Festivals that don't charge any entry fees for "Shorts:" Academy Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Annecy, Clermont-Ferrand, Depict.org (90 seconds), and many others. Do you need to transfer your film to VHS? That is the least of your worries. A local college should be able to help, or someone who owns a DVD player or a Canon GL; contact the yahoogroup, e-mail me.

I strongly recommend finishing one's film before even taking a moment to think about how it may be seen or sold. Although it feels uplifting, in my experience, too many of these conversations suck the wind out of one's sails. I even hesitate to talk about what I am going to do today, let alone the project that may only be half a model and a joke.

I have not seen very many "demo reels" that were comprised of shorts -- one infers because of the limited time available to employers to see one's "chops"-- but there may be a few good reasons to go the extra mile. Great shorts are still great films and sometimes win cash awards. They boost confidence, and I can think of one animator who has gone from producing a strong animated short to production-designing a "Star Wars" film. One can experiment with a very broad brush with a short, without diluting the integrity of a longer project. (If I remember correctly, an instructor at UCLA once said the longest a digression in a feature film tends to be is about 8 minutes -- I haven't checked this yet.) Some great experiments may not yet have the other puzzle pieces ready for a feature work, without compromising its tenor.

There are also some revoltionary formats for sharing one's good ideas, especially with the internet. For instance, one can create a website, and provide the character objects and script and initial animation files, and gradually add to the site, MPEG's and nice finished stills, trying to interest investors and other artists. Insane? Insane?! Insane?!?!?!?! INSANE!!!!! Ha!

It gives the animator a chance to explore their limits. It demonstrates the ability to create and time "business" and "direct" animation, staging, lighting, etc. and other skills more fully and shows how entertaining one can be. It pushes the envelope of the art form -- and animation has a VERY big envelope. I also think animation studios like it when an artist has a great quest or two; this is where some great projects come from. Five minute long videotapes can be purchased in bulk for under $1.00 apiece or so, with a little looking. www.thetapecompany.com carries these promotional tapes, as do other tape media vendors. One usually buys a minimum of ten or more. It is recommended that your demo short have a powerful first ten seconds, especially if it is going to exceed the three minute length reel viewers seem to prefer. That last tip from Sony animation guru Jeremy Kantor, who also recommends you pop your tabs. (At this time, it increasingly appears that 3D solid modelling can be affordably transferred to "Flash" formats. This opens up yet other venues for finished short films. Flash content providers would be best found by entering search strings on the leading engines.)

But why stop with shorts when the video market is crying for family features? In Europe, the animated feature even has its own convention, similar to the domestic WACFEST, called "CARTOON Movie Forum" and held in Potsdam. I first heard about it at www.awn.com .

The crisis for animators is that we tend to express our understanding of all of the aspects of the tool through a variety of short pieces rather than through a complicated but coherent sequence. We have to learn the tool before we can work-for/collaborate-with others, but the way that would seem to help best -- making a feature with others or by our lonesome -- pushes the boundaries of spiritual and emotional maturity. The story tends to be parable and prayer: how to increase the affection in the world. But seeking and finding a project, and procuring rights to it and meeting a schedule of landmarks related to it -- not for the squeamish. Because this issue of making features does seem to come up, I've put together a page of rantings on the subject at this link , which also leads to some related pages. Do you know a writer who might be willing to arrange good terms with you, so that two years' work produces from their contribution a $100,000 income for you? They may ask $30,000 or more and ancillary rights; but wouldn't it be worth it, if you laughed out loud when you read their work? See the writing section below.

The other day I ran into some filmmakers who wanted some suggestions on how to pitch their feature to investors. There are classes offered by groups like the "Learning Annex" that charge $49, and sometimes actually include a pitchiing section with somebody who has a reputation if not a bank roll.

On pricing: for commercials, it is recommended that you price yourself according to the business you generate for an advertizer, and not what other animation studio's may charge. (Advertizing agencies in some markets sell the "air-time" as the condition of providing the ad campaign, getting a price-break from the carrying sations as long as the ad campagin is running.) It is recommended that you price your feature according to the number of viewers who may take an interest in it and not what other studio's charge. It is recommended that you price your special visual effects according to the time it keeps you away from features and commercials which pay better.

And if you find that you cannot sell what you make with INSPIRE? Even when you make a spot for a cable show or business and GIVE IT TO THEM and their business increases? At least, it only took under $500 and a year or so of your life to find out you could not make any money in animation.

Public access still seems viable, and there are sometimes public interest owners of cable stations like school boards and public television entities who may provide "exposure" with reasonable terms. Members of the National Association of Broadcasters make sure that public service is part of their programming day in order to keep their licenses, I do not know if they pay taxes. Film students and animators are encouraged to make their first few productions for non-profit corporations. These corporations provide one a thank you note that may be used as a charitable tax deduction. And sometimes the non-profit will even pay one. The films produced -- anti-drug, bicycle safety, Golden Rule -- also provide fringe benefits of model inventories, animation path inventories, expensed computer upgrades, and an improved "portfolio." They also look pretty good on a resume.

I have read conflicting information about "thank you note" deductions being able to be "carried over" or transferred. It appears one must cancel owing tax with them in the same calendar year it was owed. Fortunately, it appears that one may sell one's "business" to someone who owes tax, thus transferring the deduction. For this to work, one needs a CPA's cooperation, which means one needs to have a sum on the table that will be able to compensate them, such as a percentage of the $80,000 annual income of an accomplished animator. A CPA can help because this is tax law, and also because CPA's often know investors. CPA's can also invest in a for-profit project this way. One would need to discount $80,000 worth of high quality animation to assure "fair market value" to the charities, and then again so that the "business buyer" would reduce their tax by $30,000 or so. One hopefully will come out of a year's study with $10/hour or better.

I would love to "guarantee" either work for people who study computer graphics or a non-profit's interest and cooperation, but as the employment section below shows, that might not be prudent. Four competing software packages are vying for industry acceptance -- MAX, XSI, MAYA and LIGHTWAVE. There is a job board (largely borrowed from another website) here.

3D Studio MAX is used primarily for game development at this time, and I am not going anywhere near that road as a Golden Ruler. If you have a video game for students that teaches them job skills or speed-reading, I apologize, you are my hero.

Since I object to student loans, which are not freed by bankruptcy and which can cause immeasurable grief (albeit that they were created to END grief at a time when the Internet was a distant fantasy and unmarried women could not get ANY credit), I am fonder of www.softimage.com 's "XSI" and "INSPIRE," than I am of MAYA, though MAYA has aggressively networked with hardware developers and is widely acknowledged to be a highly valuable program. MAYA has an open UNIX architecture, realtime scene-file looping, and more bells-and-whistles than the Fisher-Price factory, but for over ten years, www.aliaswavefront.com has marketed its software in such a way that students go through a filtering process to get access to it, and then future access may be iffy, and I don't wish that on anyone. At this writing, XSI is priced with a student tier far below its professional licensing range. Both MAYA and XSI also have "maintenance" agreements that run annually, in the $1,000 range, when last I looked. MAYA sells "seats" to schools for as little as $80, while their comparable commercial software (with cloth) sells for $7,000. Students should know that the learning curve for MAYA is MUCH shallower/faster with a good instructor. www.friedman3d.com 's qualified instructors make MAYA look a load easier. If one's goal is a demo reel, one might want to hold back some money for buying INSPIRE or LIGHTWAVE, rather than be left high-and-dry. For my feelings about schooling in general, see the Newbies page. I should add that animation is a pretty hard-sell spiritually. The spiritual message is that the laying on of hands and absent healing disprove everything material, so why follow materialistic form through multiple upgrades of competing programs when life is based on spiritual/mental content?

Another program that is used primarily for feature animation and may "seem" out-of-reach is called Pixar Renderman and takes animation from MAYA or XSI and renders it with similar or different textures. To learn about Renderman, contact www.pixar.com or www.highend3d.com . Although PRMan does not seem to be a fixture at most schools, "BMRT" from www.exluna.org is a freeware toolkit that is used to learn some of the PRMan conventions, and ExLuna sells "Entropy" with many improvements over BMRT for about $1,000. I do not know much more about these high-end 3d "shaders," except that they allow for greater variations on model surfaces, like texturing all-the-way through a model with multiple transparencies, and that they seem to use text format and "flag's" like INSPIRE's "Object Lister."

If the impaired demo version components of LIGHTWAVE 7 get you down, work with them. I am told that an animator sent a demo-reel to one studio with an animation composed of box shapes arranged in the shape of a dragon. He was only interested in animation. The studio needed dragon animation, and he got the job. If you are not sure about the field of animation -- assimilating the tools takes time, studios ask for 2 years -- check out "Blender" downloadable from www.blender.nl , a freeware modelling and animation software, if the above discussion deprecating products discourages you. Three other well-known low-priced programs are "Cinema4D," which has been used somewhat for movies and is discussed at www.postforum.com , "Hash" aka "Animation Master" and "Amorphium" from the bankrupt www.play.com . When I recently attended a MAYA class of 20 students, five of the students were LIGHTWAVE users, four were fans of "Hash." INSPIRE, to my knowledge, has more features by 50% than any of these programs at the same or a lower price. A list of other free software can be found at www.techtv.com/dash .

Would PBS refuse the logo animation you designed and rendered out of hand? Perhaps they would. You can submit a storyboard to a non-profit corporation before producing the actual animation, as long as the non-profit does not need a specific deadline for delivery. One should not charge the full rate card to a charity, it goes without saying.

Does one have to start with a non-profit? Not at all, but it can be good for practice "pitching" and negotiating, among other things, especially if one is interested in being a "rainmaker" for a studio. You will research their needs, have some finished animation to share, bring them a short script and storyboard based on your understanding of what they want to communicate and what you know how to do (One should not offer an effect one has not already mastered). Surprise! They may not like it! Been there, done that.

Once you have a demo reel; that is a big hurdle overcome. (Animators re-do their demo reels annually at least.) A community college setting may help you hone your sales skills if you want to pitch a project or commercial, as long as you are supportive of your fellow students. They may help you cover all the bases like listing in www.la411.com or other industry directories like the Animation Industry Directory published by Animation Magazine www.animationmagazine.net . The school may have resources for making a high quality website, and links to the leading website examples. My first web domain was www.allthegoodnamesarealreadytaken.com -- I learned the hard way that the website domain name should directly reflect the business/philosophy. And that more important than having a hidden "META" list of keywords in the body of the HTML, or a copyright at the bottom of the page is to have the URL of the website visible on every page for folks who download it. If you find that you can teach your fellows as part of your learning experience, what goes around comes around. I have learned that many working animators also work as teachers. I do not recommend teaching animation per se though. This is glorified calligraphy. If you are going to be paid money to teach, teach what you want to learn -- how to meet girls, make money, boost your productivity, heal by touch, you know?

Another way to make the most of the gift to you of this wonderful software and skill is to share it with others as a kind of self-promotion. Give away ten seconds of your next film to your Mom, old teacher, cousin, co-worker. Be sure to reserve the option to buy back that minute at a certain price, possibly raising the price as it gets older; and put a note on it about whether it is "transferable" or not. If you think this sounds a little nutty, I was a stockbroker at one time.

The law is encouraging to entrepreneurs who approach individuals with $2,000,000 or more. Make a VHS tape of your "pitch" if you like, but be careful what you promise, because if you're prone to hyperbole, you will need to work through a lawyer. If you're approaching strangers with the same videotape, and you don't know how much money they have, you are not supposed to show it to them unless they say they have $2,000,000 or are experts in your industry or finance or will show it to experts they know or are intimate friends of yours, or you go to the trouble of becoming an expert in securities law. Even then, if your 29 year-old best friend asks to help you with your film, and made $50,000 last year, and has his own house, one is discouraged from asking for more than 5% of annual income or $2,500. (And they would be out of their minds to sue you for that.) If the same person wants to invest more, try to find ways they can contribute in other ways. (Perhaps they can contribute to your non-profit project? This is another reason why the non-profit approach gets my attention.) For instance, if an "investor" is also a landlord, or has a spare room, they can "board" you and invest 401K money in your project by using a third party Trust company, paying rent to themselves in exchange for equity, and reaping tax-free gains. I am not positive that IRA Custodian/trust companies are necessary; they typically take no responsibility when they vouch for the 401K cashflow and issue 1099 tax forms. Most states strongly discourage "finder's fees," because only stockbrokers receive commissions, and investors should know when a recommendation is sincere.

Some investors are adamant about investing in what they believe in, and would rather endorse a project that they feel will help the world than some multinational stock mutual fund that flies in the face of a world minimum wage. I don't want to make it look like the law is against you if you want to make a modest little holiday classic. But it is. Many circumstances won't go near securities law: loans are very straightforward, like granting an investor 100% of your film if their loan to you goes unpaid (you must reveal if you have credit problems), a "sales contract" for one or a group of buyers, or selling the production as it gets made.

And best of all, if you have a five minute pitch reel that took you five weeks to make (or five months), you have some gauge of how long it will take to make another twenty to sixty minutes, assuming you don't switch from close-up's on the pitch reel to crowd scenes for the longer project. If you only have three minutes, that is okay too, the point is that you will be sharing what you have instead of just promising for what you need. You will also sound more convinced and confident. Promising is not a good activity, it gnaws at your soul. "Never say never," is based on Scripture about only God being able to guarantee the sun will rise when it does. The best use of the pitch reel is probably to obtain either an upfront purchase of those three minutes, or an invoice to buy the remaining minutes if/when they become finished. For some people, that invoice then is proof that someone takes you seriously, and they may be willing to make when/if arrangements with you, based on it.

If you do not choose to make a non-profit kind of film, be it religious or pro-recycling or lunar greenhousing, may I suggest finding a comparable "win-win" arrangement you can bring to your investor. Your investor wants to endorse the ideas in your project, because that's what they're doing by investing with you personally, and your investor probably dislikes gambling. Is your project thoughtful enough to be considered a work of art? Can it be used for any kind of instruction? It helps if you are completely detached from your ego when you try to create an investment; try to create one for an artist you respect, and learn from helping them.

I learned from a photographer, Garry Winogrand, that one way to get started in art was to create something for a stranger on the condition that they use it for an advertizement. I tried this many years ago, going to a small shop, and being very awkward, I cannot remember a word of what I said. The gist was that the owner held all of the cards. If she liked nothing, too bad for me. Fortunately she did, and I had a piece of art for the portfolio.

If that little ad had brought thousands of people to her store, then I would've been in business, I suppose. Got a way to increase someone else's business?

Is a track record more important than a good story? There was not a website like this when I attended college, nor a book with comparable info, that I knew of. A personal track record might have carried a lot of weight. Here is enough info to make a competent production. The hard part is the ideas. Can your movie boost intellect, expand consciousness beyond the envelope of time, improve relationships more than most episodes of Oprah, help another being recognize their untapped potential, pass along a truth-seeking lifestyle of insane subjective experimentation in a sincere way? If you believe that dogs can smell and find gold for prospectors, what kind of intuitive capacity do you or I possess? How can this be dramatized or stimulated? If your thinking does not lean in these directions, perhaps it should, since if you can remember how the buttons of this 300 blade Swiss Army knife work, you probably are capable of much more than you realize. One hard fact you may need to confront, or help others confront, is that one able to master this tool is probably capable of much more.

Every time I think I have thought of all of the uses of computer graphics, something new and different shows up. I am not saying that there are high paying jobs here, just that there can be other uses. Instructional multimedia materials, which can range from courses in graphics or physics to instructions for buyers of everything from heavy machinery to lawn seed, small station "bumpers," TV commercials, video's like driver training/traffic school, newspaper explanations of difficult stories, "graphic novels," movie storyboarding (especially 3D), web site graphics, special effects, comics, comedy channel shorts, architectural business, investor materials like annual reports, and music videos -- to name a few. Some people want their websites to have ballroom dancing on the main page, with different characters moving at different speeds, every one a link to another part of the site. Yeah, okay, we can do that.

DVD's? Still sort of pricey at $3,000 for a short run of stamped DVD's; for more info, see "DVD" in the Glossary. The word on the street is that DVD is not going away, so we had better get used to this, and perhaps compose for MPEG. www.mpeg.org is a link to an MPEG-2 player. To convert "avi" to MPEG-2 (a standard typically used with DVD), get the BBMPEG program "AVI2MPG2," available from many sources. For sound mixing, try www.virtualdub.org .

I advocate tipping at fast food restaurants (or better, stopping buying from them, just as you would stop buying food from a slave-owner), and not buying "remaindered" or thrift items if one can possibly help it. Avoid buying products made in China, unless you know something I don't and have found peace there. One should want for everyone to earn a good living, or what kind of person are we? What goes around comes around. I know of many artists who would rather give LIGHTWAVE 10% or more of their earnings for as long as they have the software, rather than go scrounging for deals at Christmas-time or at conventions like "Siggraph" or through the Yahoo newsgroups. I suppose if one makes the offer, they have a clear conscience.

On a similar note, if your lifestyle is hedonistic and it keeps you productive, give that the credit. If your lifestyle is holy, your work should reflect that authorship.

I try not to get hung-up on one software versus another, though when I have a few hundred and there is a chance to buy something, I get to endure the torment of that. The self-talk of negative criticism is pretty toxic, and the most unproductive artists/teachers/students seem to have opinions about every software. In the big scheme, we are arguing over the difference between one kind of calligraphy pen and another. As LIGHTWAVE 5.6, INSPIRE has already been used on countless TV shows and feature films. Many of the best short films shown at SIGGRAPH have used LIGHTWAVE 5.6. If one cannot put together a demo reel with it, something besides the package may need to be dealt with. Spiritually, I doubt that the tool is the path.

Lastly, "Inspire" is intended to whet one's appetite. Getting back to "expensing" software, it is common for an animator to buy "Inspire," and then right away buy "Lightwave," once they realize the value of the software, and value the major improvements like the new dynamics and surfacing options, and uncomplicated licensing allowing "render farming." (MAYA and XSI also have this option now, I believe.) (There is an "upgrade" price to move up to LW7 from INSPIRE.) Once "Inspire" gets you work, its job may be over. Let it run on a second computer for Modelling, lighting or keyframing if you like. (This may help explain its relatively high resale value.) Another thing prolific animators appear to do, from the newsgroups, is get ever-faster hardware upgrades; "upgrades" is a misnomer, though, because rendering is CPU-driven, the motherboard and CPU get changed. A second or third or fifth computer may cost less than LIGHTWAVE when built from scratch or bought wholesale.

Software-obtaining Tips

Get LIGHTWAVE 7 demo version, non-expiring, from www.newtek.com . Go there first, so that you can approach this activity from a position of gratitude and cooperation. It comes back. I also recommend that committed animators purchase non-educational software. The exception might be a community college class where instructors are teaching high-end packages like LIGHTWAVE, XSI or MAYA for as little as $80 per semester. www.softimage.com also appears to be having a Demo CD offering at this time. Hopefully, it will include good documentation, which has been a strongpoint of XSI. It uses the Windows NT/2000 operating system. Recently, www.aliaswavefront.com has made "MAYA Personal Learning Edition" available. It is the first SAVING software of its depth, and many believe it changes the landscape significantly. It saves files and objects, for instance, though it does not export out of its own format to MAYA commercial, for instance. Some would argue, though, that early work will tend to be easy to re-do in any case.

You no longer need to make sure your interest in animation is genuine with a lesser program like freeware "Blender" from www.blender.nl (which I recently learned may no longer be available free) or "3D Pixel" or "3D Pulse Creator." Try to sell something using MAYA PLE, with every intention of giving some of the work to a prospective employer, for instance. Or use INSPIRE, if the project will allow it, which may be imported to LIGHTWAVE 7. You can learn a lot about dynamics, etc. in this way, though the lack of scene-saving can gnaw somewhat.

Try making something with one of those and marketing it. Let the basic 3D software company make full price, and expect to make full price for yourself down the line. Maybe you won't even bother with this nonsense. Maybe you'll focus on scripting and animate with sock puppets and a camcorder, and sell that to headlight-entranced fastidious creative types. Then you can help others become independent instead of shackling them to a computer for two years like I am. ; )

Will Newtek or AliasWavefront give you the software free under ANY circumstances?

Here is one mental universe approach that MAY work for you. Want for Newtek to make more money, and accept the will of the infinite if this doesn't unfold. Don't worship Newtek, they don't heal the sick or raise the dead. So, how does one make Newtek.com more money? Once they sell the program, they're screwed, because that's the end of the income stream, except for upgrades. What if an animation studio were to say "I need ten chairs of Lightwave, and I will give you 5% of what my studio makes for the next three years if you promise to be nice to me"? That would be a dream come true for Newtek, wouldn't it? You may not be able to BUY Lightwave this way, you may have to take a loaner, but that's the approach. If Newtek doesn't love you, you may need to settle on something less useful from someone else. Hopefully, you will have a reel of some kind, and Newtek will be ready for you.

Call or write and pitch your 2-10% of the next 2-5 years' graphics income you make. Better for them to make that than scrape along. If you give it up and become a janitor, you promise to mail back the dongle.

Fun, huh? If you have any stolen software, destroy it before going down this road.

I should also mention here that there is a high-end stripped-down freeware version sort of similar/compatible with Pixar Renderman called BMRT from www.exluna.org . A search for "BMRT" in the "Software Tools" fourm of www.highend3d.com revealed some other toolkits that one can use to learn the art of "shaders" with -- such as modelling software. I should note, first, that PRMan is not Lightwave-friendly, and second, that the Windows 9x shader apparently leaves out many surface functions. Exluna has another commercial product called "Entropy," that is priced in the $1,000 range. Nevertheless, for those who believe this is an objective universe of protons and leptons and such, and that the more programs one learns the better, the "Blue Moon Rendering Tools" shader scripting package may fit the bill for starters. These shaders also seem to be invaluable for certain kinds of 3d stereoscopic rendering.

Stolen software has a few disadvantages: no one will want to hire you if and when they find out; you won't get very much done with it because the stories of good coming from ill are the exceptions; some has a high enough value to be classified as a "felony" which ends your ability to work many places, vote, hold office, etc. (I am told); and it usually takes greater effort to obtain than to try to make friends with a real owner. Thieves will ignore you when you say that you on't want it, and offer it to you again -- but don't go there.

Worst of all, in my personal experience and according to everything spiritual I have read, one craps all over one's soul when one steals a tool, and one cuts one's output in the process. And worse than that, there is some intense invisible stuff going on.

There was word that the new LIGHTWAVE 6.5b became a non-expiring Save-Disabled "demo" version when its dongle is removed. The rumor was true, and LIGHTWAVE 7 became the first program of its depth and quality to offer all of the components of a leading edge CGI program in a non-expiring impaired version, including watermarked rendering. As I understand this, if one's goal is to develop proficiency with the LIGHTWAVE tool, this sounds as close to being a gift as anything. The 200 point ceiling on modelling is a bore, since even a sphere will tend to have more than 200 points, but one can import "lwo" objects from sites like www.3dcafe.com for playing-with in the Lyout modlule. Also, the LIGHTWAVE CD includes a 1078 page Manual. Downside -- one will WANT the full version, and covetousness is icky. Did I mention the XSI Demo from www.softimage.com enough yet?

For many software contracts, as long as a piece of software is only used on one machine at a given time, it is being used legally. This means that if I sell it to a friend at 6pm Thursday, and he puts it on his machine and uses it until 6am Friday, and then sells it back to me, and it is not on my machine during that time, all is right with the world. Whether Windows98 or Lightwave. The temporary owner has to erase their copy afterwards.

Can I offer someone twenty bucks to rent their copy of some software? That's a weird area: one can offer to buy the software and then sell it back at a slightly depreciated cost, or minus a handling charge, if you want to be litigious. This sort of implies one simply fears or hates most people, doesn't it? So, no, renting is illegal for Windows, too, but selling isn't, and what we're really talking about here is whether you know anybody who trusts you -- which gets back to the beginning of "obtaining software." This also applies to programs like "Maya," "Max," and "Softimage," (they have pretty complex licensing actually) if they seem better suited to what you would like to do. There are many ways to become friends of companies with programs like Maya: a non-profit project that they can use to reduce taxes (this may require talking to some non-profits), an internship, "beta-testing" the next version of their software/having the free time to suffer, bringing a particular "plug-in" to the software company and asking them to put you in contact with a company that could use it; making models along the lines of the "specialty" of a company where you would like to work, where your models are pushing the envelope; writing an article or book on a particular aspect of using solid modelling graphics where the software provider could profit; NETWORKING with companies like TV stations or production companies and software distributors to be part of a "deal" providing training and content; and being on the watch for "deals" like Alias|Wavefront's "Test Drive" for two weeks of $5,000 Maya. (At this writing, MAYA had actually started giving away MAYA 2.5 30 day demo's with disabled saving, so that the only "cost" would be the $100 Windows 2000 professional upgrade required to run it. 9/16/00) www.aliaswavefront.com . A LIGHTWAVE animator might offer to trade a slew of tutorials made on an impaired 7 demo, for versions without watermarks using the real deal. When you approach these companies, bring nurturing, spirituality and protection, not your poverty. Bring them your willingness to add to their modelling inventory, beit fake fur, hair, period clothing, impossible buildings or water effects. Do THEY have a pet project that you could embellish to better approach investors? Some of them may be willing to create "get acquainted" projects for web sites or other content creators, and would love to have an intern produce these projects.

Before LIGHTWAVE 7 made possible a job skill and animation package at once, this page referred users to blender at www.blender.nl . Blender 2.0 is strong in animation and game development. There are also free outdated versions of "Simply 3D" available from free offer sites and "Truspace 1.0" from www.caligari.com . Free solid modelling programs can also be found based on the VRML 2 virtual reality specification, which may be in the public domain. Another option is to start with CAD (dxf) or VRML 2.0 (virtual reality) objects and manipulate them in "Pulse Creator" from www.pulse3d.com . From the product description, "Pulse Creator" is an outstanding tool for begining animators, offering inverse kinematics and texture mapping in a VRML-like package. Some programs may also be found at www.highend3d.com with a little searching. The main reasons for using these freeware programs would be to determine if computer graphics was worthwhile to you. "Animation" is not for everyone. These companies are bending over backwards for you, so do what you can for them, either by joining a webring, circulating some artwork or recommending them to others. Also, it lets you have a feeling of accomplishment, and sometimes that emotional doorway makes all the difference.

And if one is looking to have 3-D modelling skills help make them a specialized web page designer, there are sometimes "demo" downloads of programs like "Dreamweaver" from www.macromedia.com and "Front Page 2000" from www.microsoft.com sometimes available. Most "browsers" are actually another software called "Apache." At this time, the animation program "Flash 4" is available as a 30 day demo download from www.macromedia.com . Flash-compatible programs using LIGHTWAVE are sometimes mentioned at www.newtek.com or www.flay.com .

To "crack" a program like LIGHTWAVE or MAYA, a version of the program must be edited which disables the communication routine with the USB or printer port "dongle," which is the e-prom chip included in the box when one buys the program. A non-cracked copy is usually useless. This is different from when a sales rep deliberately gives away dongles and "looks the other way," either to give a school's best students a boost or to lure a hot studio to consider switching. Presumably, the chip is sent calculations to perform from time to time, and interrupts the session if the solution doesn't appear, similar to a printer error. In LIGHTWAVE 7, instead of ending the session, a dongle-less copy of LW7 will revert to a 200 point, scene save-impaired demo version. If www.newtek.com does not have the CD available, get in touch with a local dealer. I was startled to learn that "cracked" versions of MAYA and LIGHTWAVE are in circulation already. I have been offered "cracked" software, but it breaks my heart to hear the offer, whether it's made by a stranger, a teacher or a beautiful woman. I don't ask for cracked software, and I have yet to be asked for a copy of INSPIRE, even though it is a dongle-less copy of the classic LIGHTWAVE 5.6. Of the working or actively studying animators I've met, all got where they had using software they owned. INSPIRE being new, they often had bought HASH.

Can a "watermark" be removed using paint programs? Spiritually, you are still stealing when the seller makes their intent known to you, unless we're talking the way Bill Gates' lawyers blackmail everybody to accept 30 page legal documents before they can use their software. Anyway, if you lift the watermark, you will probably look like an ass to the people you wanted to impress. So you know.

And lastly, if you are mystically inclined, help some other folks obtain and learn these programs. Or, if you are like me and have sometimes a couple of copies of one, like "CAD 3-D," "3D Pixel" or "Photo Deluxe," pass it along. Many CAD programs that output "dxf" files and have some modelling facility can be used when experimenting with modelling skills.

And if one does not own a computer? My first computer was bought out of a used-item newspaper, my second was borrowed from my sister, my third was bought for cash after a hard work experience. The first was given to a friend whose computer failed, the second was returned, the third is very handy. Two things one should feel no remorse about asking friends about: cars and computers; both are plentiful, lendable, expensable, appreciated. Who has a spare?

Can you build a computer from scratch? Two computer components take a little knowledge or trial-and-error: setting up the motherboard and its operating system, and adding hard drives. The rest seem to be a little harder than emptying the lint tray -- yes, that's an exaggeration. The trick may be asking around to see who you know who knows how, who can lend a hand. When I installed my second hard drive, I got most-of-the-way assistance from www.askme.com . When I started attending classes in 3d animation at the Abram Friedman Occupational Center in Los Angeles www.friedman3d.com , I learned that at least one of the students knew how to build computers from scratch, and had just built a dual Pentium four-drive machine. He recommended going to "computer fairs" to buy hardware, where a parking lot will be filled with genuine computer businesses unloading inventory.