Something that annoys me to no end is the assumption that animators who make outlandish cartoons are under the influence of drugs. It doesn’t annoy me for my own sake, but rather for the sake of many of my animator friends, and perhaps for the industry at large.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The first sentence of the article reads:

If you want to find who has the really good drugs, just look for Los Angeles based director and animation artist David Lewandowski. I’m pretty sure he’s got them.

It is indeed a very weird (and brilliantly executed) video, but I see this time and time again: people who aren’t animators experiencing something totally outside convention, and declaring that the animator must have been on drugs to get that idea.

This short blurb describing David O’Reilly’s (famous?) Adventure Time episode gets right to the point:

David O’Reilly injects a dose of heavy drugs to “Adventure Time”.

Pendleton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time, is the modern poster-boy for this kind of assumption. Those of us that saw the very first episode of Adventure Time (remember that pilot produced for Nickelodeon that they passed on?) remember what the reaction was like: “Wow, that guy must do a lot of drugs.”

It’s hardly surprising that people build up these stereotypes. JG Quintel, the creator of Regular Show, made a student film about two guys who do mushrooms while working at a gas station.

It seems almost obvious where many people get this idea from. Drugs loosen your inhibitions and free up your mind to make those “outside the box” connections that we often miss in our everyday existence. This article by Jay Schwartz of Boston University describes how many college students watch Adventure Time when they’re high in order to get the most out of their experience. As one of the quoted students remarks in the article,

“It’s actually the most random show ever which is why its humor is so funny when you’re high.” 

I have no idea how many of these animators have ever used drugs to help inspire them in their work. My guess would be, about as many as use drugs for anything else. However, this assumption in the general public that there is a connection between hallucinogenic drugs and crazy animation is, I think, detrimental to the art form.

I love cartoons. And it would be far from true to say that I hate drugs (so long as they’re the right kind, and in moderation of course). So why do I take exception to this stereotype of animators being drug-inspired creators?

Take my friend Adam Wachtel for instance. He is clean as a whistle and his stuff can get terribly weird (terribly weird in a good way, mind you). The kind of people who get into cartooning and animation are generally visually-minded and pretty weird in their own right, in my experience. It’s almost an insult to go around proclaiming “they must have been on drugs.”

If you assume that someone is using a mind-altering substance to create, you don’t give due credit to the creative talent of that individual. Maybe they were on drugs, but you shouldn’t automatically assume that they couldn’t have come up with it on their own. It’s about respect. I personally think drugs are simply a shortcut to make connections your subconscious was mulling over anyway, but a lot of animators I know would take exception to this. For many, it implies that they must have been in a “crazy” state of mind to come up with a wacky or outlandish idea. If they weren’t on drugs when they came up with it, the animators themselves is made to feel like they are… well, crazy. And that’s not a nice thing to make anyone think about themselves.

Secondly, animation is hard work. You are creating characters, settings, and stories one frame at a time. Very often, especially on personal projects or student films, an animator is almost always working alone on all aspects of the film’s creation. Again, the inspiration for off-the-wall cartoons can in some cases come from drug-inspired revelations. But the process of creating animated shots is a lot of hard work that requires immense concentration. Many animators I know are the kind of people who like to be “in control.” It’s pretty hard to get a shot to look good if you’re brain is running all over the place.

When we assume that quirky, off-the-wall, or insanely paced animated videos come from the mind of a drug-addled maniac, we are putting those pieces of media outside the norm. We are assuming that the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks models of animation are the normal, accepted stories we can tell. And that is the death of creativity. We should learn to accept that perfectly normal people can create art that is far outside the accepted mainstream models, rather than “other-ing” them. The more we are willing to accept the myriad ways in which one can produce animation, the more we can recognize the possibilities of any art form, the more creativity we will see pop up in the world. I think.

So to all of you people making assumptions about the drive of creative people, remember not to box anyone in. Grow up. And watch more cartoons.

What do you think? Is it wrong to assume that creative people use drugs to stimulate their brains? Have drugs actually helped you concentrate to get creative work done in the past?