The Animators Letter Project was started by Willie Downs, an animation student who, just a year ago, was an aspiring animator pursuing a career he knew wasn’t right for him. Petrified of the risk he would be taking in dropping out of an expensive and presumably more reliable degree program to attend animation school, Downs wrote to two animators for advice. One particularly inspiring response from Aaron Hartline at Pixar said “Don’t give up!!! and sparked Willie to start his blog project, asking other animators to write letters to aspiring animators, offering advice and encouragement. Now that project has morphed into The Inspirational Letters Project. 

What’s great about these letters are how easily they translate—many of the letters contain nuggets of inspiration for anyone taking a career risk or running up against a wall in their job. Our favorite is this letter from animator Austin Madison in which he comes clean about what may be the eternal truth of a lot of creative work: 3% of the time you are on fire, and 97% of the time is a messy slog. The key: persist, despite all the difficulties…

What we love most about the Letters Projects is how they are at once timeless and so very of their time. They immediately brings to mind Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poetwritten from in the early 1900’s. Franz Kappus was an aspiring poet who was in military school when he wrote to Rilke for advice on his poetry. Rilke’s first response, below, hits many of the same themes as Hartline’s letter:

…ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

But while the advice from artists may be similar across centuries, the profound shift in technology allows Downs to collect and disseminate many different perspectives and stories. What results is a heartening and community-minded update of an old idea.

…which artist/cartoonist Austin Kleon has If you’d like to sample some of Rilke’s wonderfully wise letters, check out cartoonist’s Austin Kleon’s post of illustrated Rilke quotes, which he created in response to letters he’d gotten from aspiring cartoonists….

Austin Kleon on Rilke
Austin Kleon

…another variation on the theme…

 —Sarah M.

Related posts: neil gaiman on how ‘to do it’
tolstoy’s big rule for living
francis ford coppola on risk and not knowing…
“inspiration comes of working…
dangerous things an adult should do
the dalai lama on $$, loss, “failure”

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2 replies on ““don’t give up!” (the inspirational letters project)

  1. I loose a lot of music students because I tell them — if you can quit, quit now. Have music for a nice hobby, go and get a good career so you can have financial security. If you can’t quit, study with me and work passionately with no promise of any reward.

    I can’t quit. If I stop being an artist my health fails. I loose interest in living and start to die.

    I continue to make work and hope. See

    Not too inspirational in some ways, from an artist who is still under recognized, but true as the sunrise.


  2. I want to work in video game industry, but I’m not sure where. Do I want to learn game programming or design? I can’t tell.

    My fear of doing creative work is I don’t feel imaginative and I have little experience in making games. I keep asking myself: how do I know I like making video games? Will those jobs be too hard to be enjoyable? Is the video game industry too risky to dream of being part of?

    I’m already in college 2 years to learn computer science, but I’m not sure if I like it. I hope the career quiz I will take helps me decide my plans for my future.

    I heard for students like me, it is normal to not be sure of our future hopes & dreams, but I wish I could answer if I should stick with computer science (profitable, safe) or learn a video game related degree (if they even exist, and if I truly like video game jobs).

    Computer science can be a video game-related degree, but college classes have really been kicking me in the butt unfortunately. Its really hard.

    It feels like I’m stuck in a rut. These motivational letters to aspiring animators were positive to read, so thank you for sharing them. 🙂

    I’m not sure if the letters apply to me directly as somebody who wants to go to the video game industry. It certainly feels scary to have that creative dream. Will I be successful and can I make enough money to support myself/others? Can I support my parents with that kind of job?

    My sister is drawing an online webcomic. I hope it does well. Her art is awesome. I didn’t get to hear much of the story but I’m sure it’ll be great. I have a feeling it’ll do well, but I’m just scared. Its the unknown that’s scary.

    Her comic won’t be published till she finishes at least a few chapters, so we’re waiting. She didn’t go to college to get a safe degree. She followed her dreams of being an artist. It must be hard without lots of money, and it has to be tiring drawing & writing the comic all by herself.

    My sister has editors and friends to help a bit, thankfully, but it is still a lot of work I think. She’s really brave to follow her dreams and I’m proud of her.

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