9 Rules For Creative Genius

Photo: uncyclopedia.wikia.com

As an art director at Sideshow Collectibles in Thousand Oaks, Calif., David Igo begins each morning with an inbox stuffed with freelancers’ artwork. Before noon, he sorts through about a dozen sketches from artists vying to work on projects for the retailer that manufactures collectible figures for various movie, film, and television properties, including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

The 29-and-a-half-year-old has learned quite a bit about finding success while still being able to laugh at himself. (“That’s how you can gauge my maturity – I add the ½ to my age,” Igo says.) He spews nuggets of wisdom throughout our talk: “If you love something, there’s some way to make it work. You must find joy in your job, not simply use it a means to an end.”

Yet this can be easier said than done. Below, Igo describes 9 ways to get your creative genius on.

1. Don’t be a lemming. In 2004, I went to Comic Con to shoot my portfolio around. There were all these big portfolio review lines, but I skipped them. I went straight up to booths and asked to speak with artists. Sometimes I hit gold and talked to one; other times, I was handed off to a public relations person. I passed out 30 copies of my portfolio that weekend. During the last hour of Comic Con on Sunday, when I’d pretty much given up all hope, one of the guys I had talked to approached me about a job as a concept artist.

2. Find creative balance. A lot of people burn out from being creative on the clock. I’ve worked my way into an art director’s position so that I’m working with amazing artists, but save my personal art energy for my own stuff.

3. Use disadvantages to your advantage. I’m color blind, so I focus more on pose and line art with my mechanical pencil and paper than full-blown paintings.

4. Don’t always feel the need to convey a “deeper meaning” with your product. I’m a huge product of 80s cartoons, like Transformers, G.I. Joe, Dragon Ball Z, and ThunderCats. They are ridiculous, fun, over-the-top stories and visuals. I try to have fun like that when I’m drawing.

5. You can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes, you need to make sacrifices and admit that your idea might not be the best. Don’t sit on your mistakes; find ways to make them better. That said, I try to make as many people as possible happy.

6. Know how and when to assert yourself. If someone screws you over, hold your ground – but not in a malicious way. People will trust and respect you more for it. You just have to put on your daddy pants sometimes.

7. Never say something aloud about someone you wouldn’t say to his or her face. Once, I was venting about one of my bosses, and it turned out he was right around the corner and overheard. But I had that motto in my head, so I wasn’t saying anything I wouldn’t have said to his face. I just wouldn’t have chosen to say those things to his face.

8. Be the guy (or girl) that people want to work with. When you approach someone, don’t make it all about you. Talk with others about what they do and show a genuine interest.

9. Constantly add to your portfolio. Keep improving: working hard and show progress. Then follow up: If there’s a company you really want to work for, you need to stay on its radar. I think there’s a happy medium between a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Flexibility and dexterous skills will make you that much more valuable; advance with technology and always be on the lookout for what’s next.

More No Joe Schmo tips and advice: 5 rules for finding a job on Twitter and 7 LinkedIn tips for recent grads

Sample David’s artwork and art direction below. Find more of his on Sideshow Collectibles and his personal art site, Satellite Soda.

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Submit Your Questions: The Coney Island Carny

Come one, come all >> This weekend, we’re taking the F train to the southern tip of Brooklyn for an exclusive with a Coney Island Circus Sideshow sensation. Here’s a taste of his acts to whet your palette: juggling swords, eating fire, and walking across beds of nails. Below, submit your questions for the jack-of-all-trades. Don’t hold back.

Accepting questions through Friday, August 31

Carny-crazy? Last year, No Joe Schmo spoke with the young, hot, and single ringmaster of the Big Apple Circus.

The Video Game Voice Actor

Need for speed | Bend your elbows and pretend you’re typing really quickly on a keyboard, Minella advises. Your fingers will act as puppeteers to move your mouth faster.

Lani Minella makes a very convincing baby boy and elderly grandmother. She’s spot-on as Nancy Drew in the Her Interactive video games and as Rouge the Bat in the Sega game Sonic the Hedgehog. Minella won’t reveal her actual age, but she is credited with voicing more than 500 video games in 365 different voices over about two decades.

In 1992, Minella founded AudioGodz, a one-stop shop to help game companies with voice acting, casting, directing, and audio. “I’d like to think anyone can be trained to do this, if you’re not tone deaf and have vocal control,” she says. “You can get a lot of your inspiration from real life. Or from watching Springer.”

Scrunching her face for a gruff six-foot Haitian soldier and stretching her lips for a sexy Katharine Hepburn are all in a day’s work. “What’s great about voice work is…you can look like holy hell,” Minella says matter-of-factly. After spending hours in cramped, overheated recording studios, one often looks like she just took a shower or walked through a tornado.

Below, Minella explains how reality TV is destroying the industry, why the gender gap doesn’t show signs of closing, and the unlikely way the voice of Spongebob nailed his job.

Age: I prefer not to say; this is a very discriminatory business. I voice anyone from a baby to a 100-year-old.
Based in: San Diego, Calif.
Graduated from: San Diego State University and United States International University; English major, art minor

Previous jobs: On-air talent and producer at various radio stations

Much like acting, voice work is an opportunity to be someone you’re not. Is that exhilarating for you? Games are the best, because you have the chance to be a multiplicity of characters. I get to have fun and create insectoid languages, which kids love. But nowadays, parents are determining what kids should hear, and they’re replacing exciting characters with “safe” ones. Producers don’t want to offend anybody.

Producers tend to run on the nervous side, Minella says. But clearly not the South Park ones. Photo: mentorless.com

What about shows like South Park? They got away with it because people were like, thank goodness someone is taking a chance and not being politically correct.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? Lots of black parts are actually played by white people. Also, my line of work takes a lot of energy. For characters in games, you need to make dying sounds, jumping sounds, and landing sounds.

So you’re actually jumping in the recording studio? The last thing you want to do during a voiceover is sit down. You have to put the motion in games; that’s part of the fun. For hitting noises, I’m actually punching the air or doing a karate chop. I’ll often do backhanded tennis swings to make certain sounds, which impresses producers.

Most embarrassing moment: While gesturing, I once swiped my can of Coke and it splattered 50 feet away.

Speaking of getting physical, how do you switch your voice from young boy to old woman? Women can do a lot of things men can’t, like voicing a teenage boy. Pooch your lips and move your mouth forward to sound like a boy; bring your lips back against your teeth to sound like a girl. Making a tough face makes you sound masculine. It can be that easy.

Do you find a gender gap within the industry? Yes. A male might get a $500 offer on Voice123.com, while a female might get $50 or $100. It’s the way the public has always done it, and it’s the same reason people didn’t take me seriously as the manager of a stereo store. Girls aren’t supposed to know “that stuff.” It’s largely who you know and who you blow.

Best part of your job: Working with the audio guys, who are highly creative.

Most challenging part of your job: When directors tell you to “do it different” but don’t specify how. The toughest jobs really wear you down. After recording for a Lord of the Rings video game, I was so hoarse I couldn’t even swallow water.

How often do you lose your voice? It has happened three times. But I only lose my normal speaking voice; I can still go really high and really low.

The best cure for a hoarse voice: Hot liquids can temporarily relax swollen chords a bit, and humming instead of whispering or talking can help. Water just washes away your mucus lining and can lead to dry mouth.

Your dream job growing up: To do cartoon voices. I was amazed at the animations, and I was always the class clown.

Are most cartoons and games recorded in Hollywood? Looping and animation, yes. But Take-Two Interactive, one of the biggest companies that hires people for the voices in Grand Theft Auto, is based in New York. But games don’t pay that well. The real bread and butter of the industry is in commercials and promos.

Salary: It’s better pay than flipping burgers, but you’re not punching a time clock. Don’t quit your day job unless you’re the voice of Revlon.

Dress code in the studio: No jewelry, no high heels, no clothes that rustle. Don’t waste time with perfecting your hair and makeup, because sometimes, sound studios will be little clothes closets.

Has the industry shifted with the rise of reality TV? It’s done a lot of damage to the industry, just like hiring celebrities has. Reality shows get away dirt cheap without having to pay a script writer. Directors on shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey are just like, be yourself and fight a lot.

1. Know your voice, control it well, and be able to read cold copy quickly. Don’t inflect your voice upward at the end of sentences, and follow directions well.

2. Go your mirror, make funny faces, and talk through them. The odder you look and the more you flail about with your hands, the more people are going to think you’re really good. Keep an open ear while you’re out, then go home and impersonate and adapt those voices.

3. At the start of your audition, say “1 of 2.” Do the first take the way the director wants, and then come up with something entirely different for the second take. By putting more lottery tickets in, you get more jobs.

Tom Kenny also voiced Dog on CatDog and Heffer Wolfe on Rocko’s Modern Life. Photo: fanpop.com

THE SPONGEBOB STORY>> Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, got his big break at a Hollywood party. He was mimicking a midget he had overheard — one who was angry about being typecast an an elf. Someone overheard Kenny, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Come into my office tomorrow. I might have a job for you.” And he was thus cast at Spongebob. —As told to Megan Hess

Think Lani Minella‘s job is cool? Check out the opera singer who compares singing to a hot fudge sundae.

CEO Files: The CouchSurfer

"CouchSurfing attracts anyone who is interested in having authentic connections," CouchSurfing CEO Dan Hoffer says.

Couches can speak volumes about one’s style and personality. A leather reclining sofa may suggest luxury and low-maintenance, while a brightly colored sectional may suggest versatility.

In his time, Dan Hoffer has come to know hundreds of people through their couches. Eight years ago, he co-founded CouchSurfing.com, an online network that connects travelers across the globe, allowing them to “bypass the typical hotel experience by staying at the home of a local and learning about their culture.” Once threatened by a database crash that nearly shut down the site for good, CouchSurfing now boasts millions of members in over 230 countries and territories around the world.

Age: 34
Graduated from: Undergraduate studies at Harvard University; MBA from Columbia University
Based in: San Francisco, Calif.
Has held the position for: Co-founded CouchSurfing eight years ago and served as chairman of the board; starting working full-time as its CEO almost two years ago
Previous jobs: Entrepreneur in residence at a venture capital firm; executive at Semantic Technologies, a large software company

What do you do at work all day? As the CEO, I spend most of my days in meetings. I meet with everyone in the company at least once a month, and get involved in certain projects involving project strategy, communication strategy, and fundraising. CEOs need to be generalists.

Inside the CouchSurfing headquarters in San Francisco.

Something people would be surprised to learn about your job: In a leadership position, everyone watches what you do very carefully. I’ve seen people make judgments about visitors to the office based on how warmly I greeted the person.

How often do you CouchSurf? A few times a year. I’ve been to Japan, Korea, Sweden, France, Senegal, Mexico, Puerto Rico…the list goes on.

Is your own couch available to CouchSurfers? Yes, I do hosts on occasion.

Dangers of the process: Cultural misunderstanding is the biggest one, where you don’t get along on a social level with the person you meet. There’s no vetting beforehand to match people socially, but you can look at profiles and photos to get a good sense of people.

Without vetting, how do CouchSurfers know they’re staying in a safe place? It’s like online dating. You can go meet a stranger that you met on the Internet, and you don’t know if they’re going to be a nice person or an axe murderer. With CouchSurfing, you look at profiles and references left by others. We have a vouching system and an identity verification system.

Coolest part of the process: The people and the sense of community. CouchSurfing enables you to find people to meet and activities to join.

Hoffer hosts a presentation at the company's headquarters.

Biggest setback: In 2006, we had a big database crash that threatened to destroy CouchSurfing. We were planning to shut it down, but the community rallied. Thousands of volunteers wrote to us, offering to help restore the website. With their help, we did.

Best part of your job: Supporting our community of millions of members so they can experience life-changing moments. I asked one 26-year-old German CouchSurfer about her best CouchSurfing experience, and she talked about climbing a 150-foot crane in London. She had been staying with someone whose hobby was climbing skyscrapers.

Most challenging part of your job: Balancing conflicting agendas. [The CouchSurfing community] doesn’t want to pay anything, but at the same time, they want an amazing website. To build an amazing website, you need to hire amazing people who cost money.

Target audience: We tend to have more participants in their 20s and 30s, but we also have people in their 70s.

Minimum age to sign up for CouchSurfing: 18.

Best advice for recent graduates: Learning how to think in any particular discipline is invaluable. While at Harvard, I took a semester off to work on a ranch in Texas for a former Marine Corps sergeant. I learned a lot about leadership by hauling hay and building fences for him.

Okay, so it's not quite a couch...

Like what? At the time, I never guessed there would be any professional career applications. But in reality, there have been quite a few, like how to lead effectively, how to listen, and how to deal with different skill levels.

Most memorable traveling experience: I trekked through the jungle in Borneo and hiked through the Virgin Rainforest.

Your indispensable gadget while traveling: Chromebooks.

What’s always in your backpack? A water bottle and flashlight.

If you had all the money and resources in the world, what business would you start? I would focus on African refugee relief.

Focus on learning from the people you respect the most – not necessarily in fields that seem professionally oriented. Pursue a career where you can excel.

Follow CouchSurfing on Twitter at @CouchSurfing. Photo, top: Meredith Hoffer. Rest of photos: Jim Stone, CouchSurfing.com.

PLUS: For more high-powered No Joe Schmos, check out the CEO of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and the founder/CEO of Home4Dance

Why Odd Jobs Are So Important

Photo: partnershipforhumanservices.org

If nothing else, No Joe Schmo has proven that people find their jobs in the most unexpected places. A cop injured in line of duty was forced to medically retire from police work, so she turned her passion for animals into a nonprofit organization. A successful lawyer tinkered with LEGOs after work as a creative outlet, and eventually left Wall Street to play with bricks full-time. A divorced, burnt-out corporate slicker sang karaoke only to make some extra cash until a DJ told him he’d make a great Elvis impersonator.

Many seemingly odd, entrepreneurial ventures can be great launching pads to personally rewarding careers. I recently came across a book that promotes the same message: 101 Weird Ways to Make Money by Steve Gillman. Gillman points out that “‘normal’ ways to make money suddenly have less competition — and more income potential — once you come at them from a new angle or find a new niche.” He admits that not every niche is a good one; some are bound to leave you financially strapped. Nevertheless, your experience, willingness to take risks, and understanding of what it takes to own a business will give a leg up (well, three legs up, I guess…) in a fiercely competitive market. Plus, most niche-specific jobs are easier to start, as they have more relaxed requirements.

After reading 101 Ways, I realized why unusual jobs and No Joe Schmos are truly so important — besides, of course, being fun to read about. Gillman offers three distinct reasons, which I’ve paraphrased:

1. It’s more fun to make money doing something cool and innovative than sitting at a desk or in an assembly line day after day, week after week, year after year.

2. These “odd jobs” have much less competition, so they provide opportunities to get rich by offering services that nobody else does. Perfect example: The guys that clean eight-story IMAX screens recognized a gap in the screen-cleaning market; now, they receive business internationally.

3. You might find something that you never considered before as a viable career, but it makes you want to get up and go to work every morning.

After more than three months of interviewing No Joe Schmos and hearing their ups, downs, and aha! moments (here’s looking at you, Oprah), I know one thing for certain: I’ll never settle for a career that I don’t love.