must art be useful?

October 20224 min read

I’m 14 years old. I hang my camera off the edge of my desk, four books keeping it in place. I arrange my hand-drawn polygon characters, snap a photo, move them around, and repeat; just like I'd seen in Kevin Parry's behind the scenes videos. I carry my delicate gigabytes on a USB to the public library’s free Premiere Pro, assemble my photos one after the other, and hit play. I know that videos are still frames in quick succession, but the awe of my eyes’ interpolation doesn’t settle in until then.

My parents call me home for dinner, but my stomach can wait. Being with filmmaking is running through endless meadows in the Sunday afternoon sun.

Making videos is intoxicating.

I’m 15 years old. I invest $70 into a drawing tablet and microphone. I draw myself, frame by frame: dumping a bowl of delusions on my head.

Ding! A notification pops up: “Google Classroom: Recursion worksheet due tomorrow at 8:00 AM.”

As the afternoons turn into midnights, each second on Adobe Animate is a second away from my duties: going above and beyond on every school assignment, executive positions of clubs, reading to my brother. Visual effects is the anomaly in my neat rows of academic interests: quantum computing, topology, philosophy. She’s exhilarating, yet the last person I should be dating. She won’t get me into college, or so I thought.

Then, I meet web development. The July morning sun streaks the living room table I’m sitting at. My brother asks to play cards, but just one more Tailwind class will horizontally-align these two buttons, looking much better than default vertical stacking. When he climbs into my lap, I reluctantly close VSCode. Like filmmaking, programming’s addicting.

But unlike filmmaking, she’s rich! She fills my portfolio: two pieces of notetaking software, a Tinder-style app for HOSA members to “match” with competitive events, a website to run a quantum optimization algorithm no-code. Her uncle gets me my first job: a quantum software engineering internship.

A month later, I finally return to my drawing tablet. I toggle open the keyframes and can’t resist adjusting the velocity curve so that the motion is slightly smoother. 40-50 hours of work later, the 7-minute video is finished.

Making videos is intoxicating, time-demanding and useless.

I’m 17 years old.

“Hey JW, I’d like to volunteer to edit the recording of our school concert. I know you’re busy, so I can be in charge.”

“You realize that you’re signing up to edit a two-hour video, right?”

“I know.” Now that this is for school, I can spend as much time as I want without guilt.

I rewatch Olivia Rodrigo’s VMA performance ten times analyzing its camera angles, then re-edit Annie’s cover of Georgia not once, not twice, but three times, until I can feel the emotional chorus begging for an intimate closeup shot. When I finally admit that I can’t edit a 2-hour video alone, I bring in classmates to help out. I end up leading 3 videographers, 3 editors, and an audio producer. I learn Cinema4D in two days and recreate Marvel’s 3D intro, dragging bezier curve handles until the mask perfectly traces the earlobe; 20 hours to produce 1 minute of video. A friend composes a custom theme song, to which I sync my visual effects. The film takes 150+ hours, over more than a month.

Whether it’s coding the ReactJS component of a user interface or adjusting RGB curves in Premiere Pro, immediately-updating visual changes are addicting. I think about how I picked up Python to make 3Blue1Brown-style math animations. Easing in and out of After Effects keyframes helped me learn CSS animation properties. I realize, filmmaking and programming aren’t competing love interests. Instead, we could all be good friends.

Making videos is intoxicating and time-demanding, but it adds beauty to my life.