Bones from Star Trek and an Exercise in Creativity

We mentioned The 11 Second Club back in our 5 Sites Every Animator Should Know About article and today we’re going to use this month’s contest as a launching point for a stroll down Creativity Lane. Don’t fall victim to going the average, obvious route, read on to see how you can think bigger than the first thing that comes to mind (and why you should)!

For starters, let’s take a listen to the audio clip that we have to work with for January 2014:


Astute movie-goers know this clip is from the revamped Star Trek film released in 2009. Unfortunately if you know the clip, it’s hard to get the scene out of your head as soon as you hear it. So we’re already behind the game by having the original in our memory banks.

Also a challenge is the fact that the audio directly references several things. “Take your seat” and “fear of dying in something that flies” are both said aloud, meaning we automatically think of this scene taking place on an aircraft of some kind.

We have our work cut out for us.

Why Be Different?

We should consider for a moment that entering the 11 Second Club is a great chance to practice and hone your animating skill. As such, you don’t HAVE to do something unique and interesting. You could accept that this is a standard scene in an airplane and just animate that. Consider this, though: Animation is a form of entertainment. To do great animation, you must entertain your audience. So if you want to practice great animation, it had better be entertaining.

Know what isn’t entertaining? Watching 200 entries featuring some guy and a girl on an airplane.

You see in this case your “audience” is very likely going to watch many entries in the 11 Second Club, and as a result you have to consider that if you try to be original with your concept, they will be much happier. Which, since animation is subjective, means your work will be better from the start.

Good Ideas, Great Ideas, Bad Ideas, Weird Ideas

I once read a quote from Don “The Idea Guy” Snyder that said “I come up with a lot of good ideas because I come up with a lot of bad ideas.” This is a great quote, and put into practice it changes the world around you. In the early stages of the process, your job is to throw ideas at the wall (or your sketchbook) regardless of what they are. Take a walk, paper and pencil in hand, and just dream things up.* They don’t have to make sense. Write them down. If it seems stupid, write it down. No judging during this stage. Just conceptualizing. One thing may lead to another so don’t restrict your brain. (You can read more about this process in a book I wrote on Creativity, if you’d like.)

Once you have a list of words, ideas, and scribbles, sit down with a red pencil (not required, but it works so well) and circle some of the top ideas. Flip them over in your head a few times, see if that sparks something new too.

From there do some thumbnails of the circled options and do some “visual thinking.” See if one of the drawings really jumps out at you.

By using this method and thinking outside the box, you can create totally original concepts that would never have immediately jumped to the front of your mind. If you go with your first (or even second or third) concept, you’ll never witness some of the crazy, amazing, weird, unique, interesting, and above all ENTERTAINING ideas that are hidden in the deeper cracks of your brain.

Some Examples

This article came into being because I was tired of seeing so many cookie-cutter entries while voting at the end of each month. So I decided even if I didn’t have time to enter I would create concepts for the current month and put them out there for anyone to use if they wanted. I ended up enjoying the experience and getting some great creative practice in too. So even if you don’t plan to enter the 11 Second Club, it pays to act like you are and think up ideas!

Here are some of my “Thumbnail Stage” concepts:

Set in a hot air balloon
Here we take the air-travel concept, but give it a bit of a twist. Who says it has to be an airplane? Maybe the scene takes place at the launch site for Hot Air Balloons.


Again we twist the “average” idea. The airplane and stewardess remain, yet the male voice is coming from everyone’s favorite flightless bird instead of a male human!


Frankly I think this kid has a point. What kind of person would willingly be transported through the sky in a sheet held by a skinny-legged bird?


Now things are getting interesting, and work on different levels! This guy’s fear of dying in something that flies makes a lot of sense: Generally you aren’t going to survive being used as live ammo…


Finally things start getting really far from the boring “first-idea” answer! Having a reluctant baseball refuse to get in line to be launched towards someone whose only goal is to whack the oncoming object with a giant wooden stick is an idea you aren’t going to see 100 times. In fact chances are very good if you come up with such an original idea, you’re going to be the only one presenting it.

And It Keeps Going

That’s not all, either. There were others that I didn’t take to the drawing stage, including

  • Paper Airplanes
  • Flies (the insect)
  • Pterodactyls
  • Birds
  • Squirrels
  • Rockets
  • Bow and Arrows
  • Spears
  • Pilots
  • Angels
  • Ladybugs
  • School
  • Hats
  • Umbrellas
  • Snowflakes
  • Rain
  • Parachutes
  • Sled riding
  • Witches on Brooms
  • Care Bears (What? Where did that come from? Doesn’t matter, I wrote it down!)

Ideas are everywhere if you want to go exploring. It’s hard to be original, but you CAN do it. Don’t stop until you find what you’re looking for that no one but you could dream up. Your efforts will be rewarded with an animation more entertaining than any average, standard concept could ever produce!

How about you? What can you come up with from the clip above? Let’s hear it! Leave a comment below and let’s see what awesome new pool of ideas we could draw from together!

*A story I wanted to share about walking around dreaming things up, but didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the article: Ferdinand and I once entered an animation festival together that required a short film be done in just 48 hours. A trying task to be sure. The theme was “Imaginary Friend” and we chatted, brainstorming ideas. Without a lot of luck, I got up and took a walk around the house, letting my mind be totally open to options. Funny enough, I ended up in the kitchen where a big jar of pickles sat on the counter. Our entry, which I think turned out very entertaining, ended up being about a little girl and the pickle she swiped from the kitchen to have as a playmate. So you never know where ideas will come from! Be open and dream big! (Or small, as it was in the case of the pickle.)