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Business is Personal

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve updated this blog, and it’s been a hell of a ride; and continues to be so, as there’s currently the COVID-19 pandemic getting some serious traction in LA (and thus the entertainment industry), forcing some major (hopefully temporary) shifts in what constitutes business as usual for myself and others.

But it’s not like I’m unaccustomed to adapting to adversity. Sometimes shit happens and you have to go with a different strategy. That’s survival. This post is about how my career and life were nearly derailed by a worst-case absolute nightmare scenario, and will delve deep into my personal life.

Shortly after my last post in June 2018, my daughter, Kiki, who was just 14 months old at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 4 High-Risk Neuroblastoma (Nb). This is a rare-upon-rare cancer, and there’s only 700 cases of Nb in the US every year. The Stage 4 designation is a 50/50 prognosis, which is very grim, and came as an absolute shock to be revealed by ultrasound in our seemingly perfectly healthy daughter.

Shortly after diagnosis

Neuroblastoma is a cancer of immature nerve cells. It’s almost exclusively pediatric and originates on the adrenal glands in most cases. It’s also one of the most aggressive cancers out there, and combating it requires equally aggressive countermeasures: an 18-month continuous gauntlet of chemo (6 cycles), surgery, two (2) stem-cell transplants with high-dose chemo, 18 rounds of radiation, and 6 months of immunotherapy. Obviously, my heart, my mind, my soul sank after hearing everything my precious baby would have to be put through in order to try and save her.

After essentially signing my daughter’s life away on countless medical releases and watching her become a human pincushion, something happened that I couldn’t have anticipated. All my mental constructs of what was right and wrong, what mattered and what didn’t, and my personal sense of self were destroyed. No pride, no walls, no ego anymore. I was defeated. And it was liberating. With nothing left of myself to hold onto, or defend, I became inexplicably empowered, to do anything and everything necessary to save my family. Success or failure, no one who knew my situation could judge me, turn a deaf ear, tell me no, or limit my resolve, including myself. As my wife focused on our daughter, I made sure I was focused on my wife, and then by extension, I reached out to literally everyone I knew, and asked them to help support ME, and to further spread the word if possible. Thus we swiftly had a giant pyramid of support rallied to our cause, with work colleagues, friends of friends, extended family at the bottom, and close friends in the middle, immediate family near the top, and my daughter at the pinnacle.

I had to make some big career moves. I needed all the help I could get. I incorporated, which meant opening up my work and personal finances to professional CPAs, something I’d been anxious about for a while. I joined the union, so I’m now a card-carrying member of the Art Directors Guild Local 800, something I’d never thought I’d bother with, but now I can work on union projects and access those benefits, most crucially the healthcare. There was no guarantee for my wife to continue with her work’s health benefits, so I had to make sure I could cover us, should the worst happen. It was all so daunting, and mind you, while I’m literally running around LA going to jobs, working my ass off, wading through traffic and making calls, spending 3-4 hours a day in the hospital visiting my suffering family, and then crashing into bed, utterly alone, in my clothes, lights still on, for maybe 3 hours of sleep, back up at 5 am to race to the hospital and help any way I can before work, and repeat. For 18 months. It was hard. I was hard focusing on work and providing for my family while my daughter was being poisoned by chemo, blasted by radiation, recovering from surgery, nearly dying twice, and whimpering through the pain of immunotherapy for so long. It was the hardest thing I hope I ever have to endure.

Work/Life balance
Lots of Facetiming from onsite jobs when she was in the hospital

But it wasn’t all bad. I saw the “good” in humanity every day, with people reaching out endlessly to voice their support, sending prayers and good vibes and helping prop us up wherever things seemed to falter. I owe a lot to the kindness of strangers. I did a lot of growing, getting to know the real me, and learning how to be human, specifically, how to be more empathic with people. I realized that everyone is going through something, and we’ve all had to persevere through hard times, and have had to rely on others for help. I used to think it was best to hide whatever problems I had in my life, because showing weakness would result in others viewing me as a liability, but it turned out that sharing our weaknesses with others is an important part of social bonding, and by opening up to my clients and colleagues, I bonded to them in a way that made my work and personal life far more meaningful than it ever had before. It’s completely changed the way I approach my work relationships now. And it was GOOD for business. I actually had my best year ever, amazingly, and though it required me to leverage every ounce of social and work credit we had, we got through this dark period intact.

March 2020

As of February 2020, My daughter Kiki is nearly 3, and nearly 6 months out of treatment. We don’t use terms like “cured” yet, it’s just too soon to know. But her oncologist is pleased so far, and we are slowly but surely phasing her into as normal a life as we can manage, enrolling her in dance classes and preschool, and still taking it one day at a time. We’ve recently additionally been blessed with the birth of our new son Robbie, a treasure and hope for new beginnings.

So far, 2020 is off to a rocky start, but not just for us, but for the whole world it seems. Fear of COVID-19 is spreading faster and farther than the disease itself, like a cancer, if you will, causing widespread severe repercussions in every industry, and time will tell how this will shake out. I hope that sharing my story might provide some inspiration to those reading, to find inner resilience, and courage to reach out for support when needed, and strength to adapt and change and grow accordingly to the needs of what may come next.

If my story had you compelled, oh man, this is just the index card version. Our entire saga played out publicly with regular updates on social media via gofundme, facebook, and Instagram. If you would like learn more about that incredible journey, I encourage you to visit our gofundme page (no obligation to donate) for the complete story, and certainly connect on facebook as well, where I like to post about my personal life and interact with our friends and supporters. My Instagram is more art-oriented, but a good third option if that’s your preference in social media.

I wish you and your loved ones well. Stay healthy as best you can.

Next up, more blog posts about storyboards.

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Talk, Read, Sing! First Five California – Storyboards

Here’s a very fun project I did a while back, that I’m excited to share- storyboards for the First 5 California “Brainy Birds” commercial, which was part of their Talk, Read, Sing! campaign.  Basically: talk, read, and sing to your kids, and watch their little brains grow!  What a fun message.  And I can attest (I’m a new dad myself), kids soak up your words pretty quick, and you gotta watch what you say! Lol!!

There were a lot of challenges on this project- very tight timeline, multiple layers of client approval, and of course, character designs and music lyrics all undergoing revisions as I’m drawing the boards- sometimes it’s like trying to hit a moving target!  But I’m used to it, so it never phases me.  I still had fun with it, and I’m sure that comes through in my drawings.  One particular storyboard issue when blending live action with animation, is whether or not the “animated” parts should be drawn differently from the “live action” parts- like how do you make the animated part of a shot look different from live action, when it’s all “drawn” by nature of the fact it’s a drawing to begin with? But in this case, only the bird characters were animated, so it’s wasn’t as much an issue.  At some point, people have to use their imaginations.

I really enjoy working on animated projects as well, and drawing happy families for me is a snap, so even with all the known and unknown unknowns, I remember this being a fun project.

Here’s the boards:

And here’s the final spot!

 

Hope you liked it!  See you next time.

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AT&T “Market Mishap” Storyboards!

A while back, I got called in to my good clients at DirecTV (now AT&T) to work on a spot for their Adworks campaign- a commercial about commercials! How funny!  But really, it makes sense to make sure your advertising dollars aren’t going to waste, right?  That’s why you hire ‘Ol Maxy, right? and then you use Adworks to make sure the Ads go in front of your target audience!  Otherwise, well… see below!

Our Hero “Ad Man” runs from setting to setting, doing his best to sell product to the most unmatched of buyers- with very predictable results.  But the laughs are an easy sell! Lol!

Here’s the boards!  I hope you enjoy them, this is some of my finest work!

Here’s the final spot!!

Yup, no matter how hard you try, Gladys at the nursing home isn’t going to buy your reduced price Lamborghini.  You just have to face facts!

This project was a little more extensive than most and we had time to board out some “B-Roll” if you will, with options for other shots to help sell up the humor a bit.  It was all optional and really, at the end of the day, humor depends on the performance of the actors and more, so you do a lot of alternative takes to see what works best.  But I did my part and boarded it out my best, to give it a fair shot at success.  So, next up you’ll see some boards that are disjointed in continuity but will hopefully spur a neuron or two and make you chuckle.  Enjoy!

 

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Love, Depicted

I’ll leave out the specifics on what product/company these frames were advertising for; suffice to say, it was a collection of short spots of families and loved ones reflecting on the nature of their relationships (with some product placement tastefully featured in the periphery).  Rather, Let’s consider these boards an example of how I really try to bring a sense of acting and characterization to my drawings- bringing forth a sense of deep human connection when called for.  I think the work speaks for itself.

Just as often as I’m called upon do depict amazing action scenes, or elaborate fantastic worlds, I’m then called upon to draw a tender moment of kindness, or humor.  That’s the world of Storyboarding Commercials- you draw everything and it’s thus I believe it’s the best artistic training ever.  The work demands you never get too comfortable drawing the same thing every day- I draw vehicles, animals, people, places, animation, live action, humor, horror, sci-fi, and even in new media like VR!  It’s a new challenge every day and I love it.

Thanks for stopping by!

 

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BATES MOTEL | Promo Pitch Boards

So here’s a riddle:  When are you HAPPY that your favorite binge-able show finally is finally axed?  WHEN IT MEANS YOU CAN FINALLY POST your storyboards for the promos!!!  I’ve been dying to show these off for a while now.  Of course, these were just pitches for promos, and as far as I can tell, none of the concepts I drew were produced, which totally slays me.

I thought these were some really killer concepts, but maybe the client thought we butchered the execution.  Ok, enough pun-ishment.  Wouldn’t want you to get “board.”  Lol!

First board set: Bates’ “Room”; The room seems to close in and crack under in intense psychological pressure:

And second board set: Bates’ “Stairs”; We follow our hero up a set of stairs and meet our horrific fate:

That’s some creepy stuff!  I hope you enjoyed watching these.  BTW, I did all these boards and MORE in a single 8-hour day.  What can I say?  I really do BLEED for this job!  Bwhahahahah!!  See you next time….

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Nutella “Spread the Happiness” Storyboards

 

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OMG pancakes!!!

Woohoo! In addition to the previous Nutella spot, I happened to do the boards for the most recent follow up- “Spread the Happiness!”  Once again produced by my great clients at Brand New School.

They are playing this spot a LOT on TV right now- which is great, since it rocks!  It’s fun, it’s pop, it’s delicious.

The challenges involved in this spot were finding a fresh take on simple transitions and how best to style them in an appetizing way and choreograph them best to the music.  I drew a LOT of frames for it, as we would build many animatics to see what worked best- there was a lot of experimentation with different kinds of wipes and reveals.  But that’s the best way to get things perfect!

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I always enjoy drawing families having fun.  It turns out though, one thing that is hard to draw is people sitting around a table.  It sounds simple but it’s really tricky because you have to draw in near perfect perspective just to get the height and distance relationships right between the chair and the table, and then again for the people who actually sit in them.  If you draw it wrong, all your chairs will look like they are different sizes, or even like your actors are sitting on phonebooks or booster seats.  It’s tough!  One of those things that you only notice if you do it wrong, and since I think mine turned out pretty decent, I have to make a point about it 🙂  I left the extra “empty” space at the top of the frame because at one point we weren’t sure if there would be text, logo, or slogan superimposed there.

Here’s a great drawing of a product shot- always important to draw the product really well!!!

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Here’s the full board sequence:

 

And for comparison, here’s the final commercial!  Turned out pretty cool!

 

It’s a fun song, but when you work with the editors and animators that have to cut the commercial together, you have to listen to the song over and over and over and over again until it loses all meaning.  Yup, there’s a limit to how much happiness one can take!  Ha!

Thanks!  See you next time.

-Max