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Blog #001: The Origin Story

Posted 12/23/2019

I NEVER thought I would actually write a blog. That said, I hope you enjoy my blog. This is my first ever journaling of my story, but I feel the backstory to each creator is just as interesting as what they are creating. Additionally, it helps to just be writing about our experiences, no matter what they are. I decided to make this first post about my history - how I got into the world of digital media production.

It started back when I was about 9 years old. Like most kids, I was obsessed with bright, shiny colorful things. I still am, but at this time, it was a very simple 2D platformer called Monkey Shines. It had a level editor that allowed you to create your own maps and worlds. My Dad introduced me to Photoshop where I began creating my own assets for the game. I made my own levels, spending meticulous hours creating intricate worlds for this monkey to bounce around in - all with a mouse in the 1999 version of Adobe Photoshop.

The loading screen that would change my life

Fast forward a few years, and I became captivated by CGI in video games and movies. I was obsessed with the idea that, with this software, we can create an entire universe all our own - there is no limit. I was very fortunate that my Father was familiar with digital design, and CGI software. He acquired for me an educational version of Strata 3D. I'm not sure if the software is still around today, but it's where my obsession with 3D modeling and rendering began. I was 11. Not long after, I was using an educational version of Maya, back when it was still owned by Alias Wavefront.

I knew early on I would be an animator

As soon as I knew how to make shapes and set keyframes - I was writing movie scripts, creating really terrible animated shorts (some of which are still on YouTube) and for a number of my pre-teen years, I was completely invested in creating the worlds I experienced in my imagination. I remember daydreaming nearly constantly, one creation fueled the inspiration for the next. I was obsessed with the process.

I attended a project based elementary school called Merriam in Acton, Massachusetts, which didn't give us letter grades. They graded us on creativity, problem solving, and how much we gave a shit about the work. It was amazing, in retrospect. These days, I'm so grateful I grew up in an educational system where creativity was actually encouraged. In 6th grade, I remember I got to show my class a series of short animations I made about a guy named "Mr. Unlucky" who - as his name suggests - had terrible misfortune randomly befall him.

But my passion to animate wasn't appreciated in Middle and High school. My first term in 7th grade, I remember getting all D's and F's my first term cause I didn't follow the rules for any projects. The work was terribly boring to me, all I wanted to do was animate. The teachers said I would have to stay back a grade if I didn't get my shit together. I was on ADHD medication, which stirred up all kinds of internal ferocities. The influx of homework, hormones, and social stresses put my personal projects on the low end of priority. I had a movie I was working on, basically a rip off of terminator, but it never got finished simply because I couldn't handle schoolwork, time with friends, and create my own projects. For the first time in my life, I began experiencing depression.

I remember one day, I think I was 13 or 14, my brother, Evan, asked me "so what 3D projects are you working on right now?" and I had no answer. It devasted me. I had an unfinished movie, lots of random models and environments, ideas covered in digital dust, but I hadn't touched them in years at this point. I began getting into a lot of heavy metal, as it embodied the darkness and betrayal I felt. Eventually, I gave up. It seemed that my creative ambitions just had no place in the world, all that seemed to matter was I did well in school and went to work.

In the back of my mind doing all this, I still knew it was possible. I saw TV, movies, and video games that embodied what I wanted to do. It just seemed too difficult to get there - at least, at the time.

Then Everything Changed

In 2009, it all turned around. I graduated high school - barely. I went to my first few raves that year as well - which changed everything. I met countless colorful people who were nice for no reason, bright smiling strangers, inviting me to share what was on my mind at their after party, and all that made me feel heard. It was a breath of fresh air. I had been developing a love for electronic music - particularly psytrance - that brought me back to that creative space of unbound imagination. Around this time, I also entered into what would be my longest running relationship to date. My schooling was not yet over, but I had a rekindled appreciation for what I was learning - at 18 years old, I could finally be creative for school again!

I spent one term at a 4-year college called Mount Ida, then transferred to a graphic design program at Middlesex Community College, but ultimately what gave me the most value was my time learning 3D animation at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts in Waltham, Massachusetts. Sadly, it's now closed, but it was there where I learned how to use Maya at a professional level, I learned to draw with a Wacom tablet, and how to storyboard larger scale projects for clients, and myself. At this time, my creative spirit was invigorated again, but my mindset was not where it needed to be. I was going to a lot of parties, and occasionaly experimenting with psychedelics.

My advice to any young ambitious creatives is that you will have your whole life to go to awesome parties. Work hard, do stuff you'll be proud of later, and you'll have some really amazing things to share and reflect on when you do go out to parties.

The relationship I was in began taking priority. We lived together for about 3 years. Creativity took backseat priority in the relationship, it was a very intense connection at times, I saw it was more important to make quick money and be a solid support for her. I did not occur to me until after this relationship ended that we absolutely cannot compromise our own dreams for the comfort or joy of someone else. At the time, I didn't know better. I was still drawing some, I even started building lamps after being inspired by a sculpture class I took at community college, but my creative drive was still largely shut off compared to when I was younger.

Some of the lamps I made

Late in 2013, I received a gift from my family that would change my life - a PC workstation to create on, which I am using as I write this today. If you've made it this far, I'm so flattered that you're invested! It gets even better! I began using this workstation for 3D modeling again, and started work on an ambitious project that I still reproduce today - the Cathedral of Consciousness, shown below.

This was an 8 month project, and you can read more about it in the gallery

Towards the end of 2013, my relationship ended after 4.5 years. I had become physically addicted to alcohol, was overwhelmed by loneliness, and dealt daily with the most intense depression I had experienced to date. I spent a lot of time figuring out who I was again, and what to do with my life. I was living with my family again, working delivery jobs I felt unappreciated at. BUT - my art was getting more and more ambitious. It was around this time I began working on "Psytopia", my interpretation of the psytrance festival experience, and also, my method of learning how to draw humans.

Early phases of "Psytopia"

Now, this is the project where I started to feel things shift. At this point, I had made the decision that I wanted to make a career of digital art - but I had no idea how. I just knew I had visions of things that captivated me, I attended a 3-day Fractaltribe event called Fractalfest in 2015, and that festival sparked the entire idea for Psytopia. I wanted to translate the trance dancefloor experience into a work of art. I would end up drawing around 88 individual characters for this project, many of them drawn out seperately, which ultimately extended the time spent on this project to around 9 months. But that 9 months was vital - Psytopia ended up being one of my most popular works, starting the momentum of my art career.

I literally choked on my coffee looking at how ridiculous the character drawings are. I swear, I'm much better at it now!

I officially finished Psytopia early in 2016. It was a monumental moment for me to finally put the pen down and say "I'm done here." I got to work raising money for a custom tapestry order from Third Eye Tapestries. I was back to being fully inspired and motivated to create as much art as possible!

Around this time, I had a very difficult existential awakening that got me back into animation. The first visions of Quantum Soup began appearing, and before the project was even called Quantum Soup, I made a short animation about a Giant Frog that sparked flame to my inner fire for storytelling.

Fast forward to 2016, and a major life change happened:

I moved to western North Carolina

At this time late in 2016, I had stopped drinking entirely. Time and time again, alcohol had completely fucked up my trajectory. I made an ass of myself countless times, regret was a very frequent emotion, I even got arrested for driving drunk, but I still drank. The final straw was when I got a free ticket to a festival my friend was playing at, and managed to lose $500 worth of artwork - including 4 Psytopia tapestries and numerous prints. The pain of regret was so awful that I decided to make a major change in my lifestyle. The first two months were exceptionally difficult. Once I actually moved to NC, it got a lot easier.

They say you can't heal in the same environment that you got sick, and I realized the truth of this statement when I was 900 miles from home, cradled in the beautiful mountains of Transylvania County, NC.

I had visited Asheville twice. I immediately felt that this city is home. I knew perhaps 8 people in the whole south east, including my 5 roommates, who were all from the North East. Our first house down south was out in the sticks, and we were all in a pretty similar situation. We had a spacious home with a beautiful backyard, we all loved psychedelic trance, and that environment ultimately inspired the first artwork I would fully produce in North Carolina, "The Psy-Cabin", which was the name we dubbed our home by.

My artwork "The Psy-Cabin" is inspired by this house

At this time, I still didn't have much of a vision of what exactly I wanted to do with my art career. But it didn't really matter - less than a month after moving to NC, I got a job as a designer and videographer for a company called Apeiron Center in downtown Asheville. They are still on the cutting edge of genetic health optimization. I learned a lot about physical health and how all of us as individuals are different in our needs for optimal health. Not counting freelance gigs, it was my first real job in media production. I was making more money than ever before, I was learning new things about health every day, I was completely happy being alcohol-free, I met a lady and began developing a relationship, the cabin was right down the street from Pisgah National Forest, where I explored an abundance of mountains and waterfalls every week. Life was really good. I truly felt like I had created my little slice of paradise.

The day I got my first real paycheck from that job, I remember driving home in absolute bliss. I was screaming and singing the whole way. I felt financially wealthy and self-made for the first time in my life. That feeling of genuine physical abundance is something I will never forget.

But darkness returns

I remember it was the day of the 2017 total American eclipse. My partner at the time and I were planning on heading to High Falls in DuPont State Forest to witness this cosmic event. BUT... I had received some cosmically-crushing news. One of my bosses sent an email to my personal account that they would continue with me on a contract basis - AKA - "we are laying you off." I tried to put it in the back of my mind, to watch the eclipse in awe and wonder with about 100 other people. We were directly in the line of totality, the whole event was exciting beyond words! But I kept re-reading the text of the email in my mind. We arrived at the base of the waterfall, there was a bit of cloud cover over the sun as time of totality approached, but only so much as that we could still see a bite getting taken out of the sun. For 5 minutes before totality, the sunlight left the sky at a staggering pace, stars began to appear as the sun dimmed, and the world slipped into twilight. Aside from the ever-raging waterfall next to us, the whole park fell silent - birds stopped chirping, people stopped talking, and then, the ring appeared. It was totality. Everyone erupted into cheer and revelry at this fantastic cosmic event. I remember looking around, it was so dark, I could just barely see my hand in front of my face. It was a magnificient, epiphanal moment I will never forget.

But I still had to deal with my predicament. I had to act fast, because my job wasn't all that was changing.

I was moving out of the psy-cabin at the end of September, to find a new place closer to Asheville. After a hectic few weeks, I secured a new place in Swannanoa, only 15 minutes from downtown Asheville.

In hindsight, I recognize fully why I wasn't able to keep my dream position at Apeiron - my boss always referred to me as their in-house marketing guy. "No, I don't do marketing, I do design and video", I would say. Whoops. Big whoops, I was naive, it hadn't yet occurred to me that great design and captivating video mean absolutely nothing if nobody sees it. And thus, my next chapter learning marketing began, in a weird double-wide house in Asheville's squirrely neighbor.

You can be the greatest artist on the planet but it means nothing if no one's heard of you

And even my 800 Instagram followers at the time had hardly heard of me. So I got to work on learning marketing. I absorbed everything I possibly could from every possible source, I followed influential teachers like Tony Robbins, Josh Forti, Grant Cardone, Gary Vaynerchuk, and everyone on the internet who had something useful to tell me. I would wake up early to apply to every job I could find on Indeed and Craigslist. I messaged 20+ musicians and record labels every single day to offer my services as an animator and designer. I created artworks at a rapid pace, for the sake of posting something new to get more followers. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. One of the best things that came out of it was my artwork "Deserted Digital", which was all about the struggle of creators going through the uncanny valley.

This artwork depicts the exhausting journey to the shiny colorful land of attention on the internet

Almost synchronistically, the day before I finished Deserted Digital, I was hired as a marketing artist for a company called MCM Brands that produced collegiate merchandise. It was almost a confirmation that I should produce artwork based on my emotions, life experiences, all mixed with my fantasies. The pay was less than I had been aiming for, the hours were rigid, but I didn't care - I was so elated to actually have a job. No more tedious hours spent DMing influencers and potential clients. No more shameless promotions to sell my art. No more selling myself short on project deals just to make money I so desperately needed.

I became a corporate wook

I haven't mentioned it in this story, but I had dreadlocks for almost 10 years. After settling in to my new role, one of my co-workers called me a "corporate wook" and I thought that was hilarious.

This was the guy handling design and marketing services and whispering to cats

I learned a lot as a corporate wook, too. I got to be in an environment where sales are king, how to fine-tune each part of the customer experience towards giving them greater value and growing our profits. I was part of a marketing team and I felt like my voice was heard, even though I was technically on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, I felt appreciated. I felt that my voice there truly mattered. I observed my boss and learned a lot about how to handle tricky, anxiety inducing situations. The folks on the direct sales side showed me how things work, and also how they could be better.

The Leap of Faith

I absorbed a lot of information from podcasts and lectures during my time at MCM. I had been making notes of how I would become wealthy through digital marketing of my artwork and animation. I wrote scripts for Quantum Soup in every slice of free time I had at the company, I was back in a place of near constant daydreaming. Eventually, I learned that if I did the right work, my time is worth a lot more than what I am being paid. I put in a six-week notice, because I had a lot to prepare for - including this blog, which took me over a year to actually start - and since, I've been going full-time developing my career as an independent artist and animator.

So far, it's been exceptionally difficult, challenging beyond any previous conception, pushed me to my technical and emotional limits, and it's more rewarding than anything I have ever done in my life.

And that's where this story begins.

And I will continue indulging this blog with everything I have learned on my journey. My intention with this blog (not just this post, but the whole blog) is to provide what has kept me inspired. There's more than enough tutorials, motivational talks, art business advice, and that kind of stuff on the internet. So my goal with this is to provide fuel for inspiration, how to get new ideas, what makes a work of art captivating to an audience, and how to find gaps in art styles that you can fill with your own visions.

Thanks so much for reading y'all! If you would like to read more, you can follow my journey on Instagram, where I will announce new blog posts. An email list is coming soon too, so you can follow all developments from Brett Warniers Media.