Research trips and sketchbooks

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Sometimes you need to immerse yourself in a new environment in order to shake things up creatively. Ed Catmull in Creativity Inc. describes how important research trips are filmmaking. “Ultimately, what we’re after is authenticity. What feels daunting to the filmmakers… on such trips is that they don’t yet know what they are looking for, so they’re not sure what they will gain. But if you think about it: You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”

Being open to the unexpected allows your brain to create renew pathways of possibility so new ideas can be planted. Catmull continues “when people go out on research trips, they always come back changed… Research trips challenge our preconceived notions and keep clichés at bay. They fuel inspiration. They are, I believe, what keeps us creating rather than copying.

So how do you collect, reflect and develop these new creative thoughts? In ‘A Thousand Pictures a Day,’ a behind the scenes of the “Coco” Pixar crew on a Mexico research trip, many of the crew used small sketchbooks to jot down ideas and sketch images.

“Whenever I travel I love to bring out my sketchbook and just start sketching away. You’re drawing things that you don’t normally draw so if you’re sketching at the actual place it’ll stamp in your brain and when you’re back in Pixar, reading to pitch, you already have that memory in your brain and that’s what you’re sketching. So it’s so much more authentic… Whenever I look back on a sketch, it’s a stronger memory when I sketch it than when I take a picture of it.” – Manny Hernandez, Story Artist

The idea that a quick sketch can retain a memory stronger than a photograph by “stamping” is interesting. Writing down ideas requires you to synthesise and interpret and reflect on your surroundings so it’s no wonder if you have a stronger memory attached to a sketch. You’re focus is stronger and more concentrated when you made the marks compared to taking a quick snap with a camera.

“I want to try to remember as much of it as possible and so the best way for me to remember it is to try to draw as much as I can. And so not only will I be drawing but I’ll be writing bits of business. It’s certainly going to help me remember that moment, remember that kid and that character.” – Jason Katz, Story Supervisor

The fact that Pixar creatives are still using paper and pen as a valuable creative tool shows that digital isn’t necessarily the best tool for capturing ideas and memories, even in a technology-driven world.