Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Together We Make Football

So it's the day before Thanksgiving and tomorrow is a big day for me.  I found out a couple of weeks ago that I am one of ten finalists for the NFL's "Together We Make Football Story Contest."  If you're a football fan then you've probably seen the spots playing during the games where celebrities tell their stories of how football has impacted their lives.  I entered the contest a few weeks ago and told my story of how football has impacted my life.  The finalists have all had an NFL films crew come out and create short film documentaries of the finalists' stories.  Those shorts will be unveiled tomorrow after they announce the finalists during the 3 NFL games happening Thanksgiving Day.  I realize that not everyone is a football fan.  But I feel like my story is more about the struggle that comes with being an artist.  I went through some really tough times a few years ago leading up to the moment when I finished my Defying Gravity Storyboards. I lost my dream and one of my best friends in the same day. I lost all of my confidence. It was a struggle that I don't think a lot of people can relate to.  But I do believe that most artists can.  And I just hope that sharing my story will help other artists who are struggling with their own demons and feelings of inadequacy. I hope it helps you find the strength to keep going. Because all that really matters is that you keep going.

I've been in Boston this past weekend and was able to catch the John Singer Sargent Watercolors exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts.  I saw this quote next to one of the paintings, "Sargent's picturesque scenes of leisure belie his own constant labor.  He worked all the time; as one friend recalled, 'a holiday meant simply a change from the work of the moment to the work of another description.'"

It made me think of this other quote by Milt Kahl, "I got accused over the years of being a fine draftsman.  Actually, I don't really draw all that well.  It's just that I don't stop trying as quickly.  I keep at it. I happen to have high standards and I try to meet them.  I have to struggle like hell to make a drawing look good."

Being an artist is not an easy thing.  Hold onto your courage and hold onto the people that believe in you.   The story I submitted is below.  I'll post the short film here once it's live.  And if you feel so inclined, please share and vote and share again!  Voting will open on Thanksgiving Day and end on December 23rd.  You can vote everyday. Winners with the most votes will be announced on December 30th.

"Not many people can relate to the obsessiveness that I watched 101 Dalmatians with as a child.  I remember sitting on the couch in my jammies with my Pongo and Rolly plush, rewinding the VHS tape for the 226th time, when my mom asked me something that would change my life forever.  She said, "Heidi, why don't you be a Disney animator?"  My whole world turned upside down.  People drew those movies for a living!?  I knew that's what I had to do.  like any ignorant 7 year old, I really thought I could do it.  I wrote Disney to find out what I needed to do.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy.  But Walt Disney said, "All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them." And I believed him.  I took my sketchbook with me everywhere; I spent my life obsessing over getting better at drawing.  I worked like cray.  When it was time to go to college I went to the animation school that Walt Disney himself created: CalArts.  I did an internship at Pixar, and, when I graduated, I got the job I had worked my whole life for at Disney.

So I totally wasn't prepared when I was let go and it was taken away from me.

How do you move on when the one thing your life was built around is taken from you?  When I lost it, I felt like a part of my life was over.  I lost y dream and I lost my direction in my life.  I went through this really dark time where I couldn't even pick up a pencil, because all it did was bring back these memories of failure, and thoughts that no one believed in me or my abilities as an artist.

That darkness lasted over a year.  I was stuck and I couldn't get out of it if I couldn't draw. Football kind of turned into my escape.  I was a new fan of the NFL, and started watching the Patriots for the stupid girly reason that I liked their logo.  My best friend was a Ravens fan and we'd watch both of our games every Sunday.  It started out as a distraction.  But it turned into something much more meaningful.

I spent the season watching Tom Brady slowly break records.  At that time he had thrown 36 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions, posting the highest TD:INT ration in NFL history at 9.0.  He was the first player in league history to be voted as a unanimous MVP.  He was slowly becoming (arguably) one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time.

So imagine my surprise when one night I turned on an interview with Tom and they read his scouting report for the 2000 NFL draft: "Lacks a really strong arm.  Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush.  Can't drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral."

I couldn't believe it.  No one believed in him either.

Tom was asked, "What do you think the scouts missed?"  His response was, "I think they underestimated my competitiveness." For whatever reason, that spoke to me that night.  He didn't say that the scouts were wrong in their criticism of him.  He didn't refute that he lacks mobility.  He just kinda said that they didn't know how much fight he had in him, and he fought his way to becoming one of the all time best.  And for some reason that brought out the fight in me.  Through Brady I was able to find my hope again.  I picked up my pencil, and finally, I could try again.

My fight took the form of a story reel for a project that I always wanted to see animated: the Broadway musical Wicked.  I storyboarded a song from it like it was mine to direct.  It was not easy for me.  Not even because the drawings were hard, but because I had to conquer myself to get them out.  I poured my heart into that thing and put it out into the world (via my blog) hoping someone, anyone, would see it and be convinced of my potential.

About six months went by with nothing but silence, when one day I got a text from a friend saying, "Heidi, I think I saw your Wicked video on Entertainment Weekly's website!"...and then from another that it was on, and then another, and another.  My little story reel had gone viral! The support was overwhelming.  I felt like the whole world believed in me.

With that as a portfolio piece, along with the amazing exposure, I was able to land a job at Dreamworks Animation.  I never got to make Wicked into an animated movie, like I had hope.  But I did get the next best thing: I landed a job on a musical with the creator of Wicked with a director that I love, and a crew that believes in me.

Disney has always been known as the place where all your dreams come true.  But of all things, it was football that helped me find the courage to be an artist again.  It was football that gave me my life back.  And for that, I'll spend the rest of my life loving football.


Hwang Nguyen said...

Hey Heidi, I was watching the Broncos vs Chiefs game yesterday and Justin Hunt texted me that he saw you in a football commercial(he was watching Chargers vs Bengals. It was blacked out in San Diego). Next thing I know they played the commercial that you were the game that I was watching. I assumed it's the same one that Justin saw? Pretty awesome! goooo.....NFL football and congrats!

Nir said...

Hi Heidi,
I don't even know if you read this, but what you wrote about your struggle and how hard it is to be an Artist and how much courage it takes really touched me.
It's amazing that no matter what, you still followed your heart and it led you in the right direction through Football.

I just wanted to tell you that you're amongst my biggest inspirations and just to share:
once in a while i pop in to check for updates , because you're truly amazing, so just keep in mind you have people that look up to you and I'm one of them.
So thank you for sharing this!
Keep doing what you love and love what you do and through that keep inspiring others like me to keep pushing!