5 lessons from Hollywood’s 14 year old animator

One of the most memorable scenes in the new Spider-Man movie was created by… a 14-year-old.

Yup, Preston Mutanga is now a Hollywood animator - while still attending high school. It’s a wonderful example of young people having the opportunity to work on real-world projects that connect to their interests and strengths.

But... it's worth noting that Preston is gifted. Not everyone is able to develop animation skills like this. I wonder if success stories like these can sometimes make people feel *disempowered* - that we're never going to make it, that we're not good enough.

So, here are a few things about Preston's story that I reckon are helpful for anyone seeking forward momentum - whatever your age, background or interests:

1. Exploration vs Instruction

When he was very young, Preston ditched the instruction manual for his Lego blocks and instead went off-piste, creating his own car designs. A lot of valuable learning happens outside the lines. This doesn’t just apply to kids.

2. Constraints force progress

His rebuild of the Spider-Man trailer wasn’t done with a high-grade setup - instead he used his Dad’s old computer. This meant limited options, less procrastinating, and more self-designed paths forwards.

3. Goodbye Gatekeepers

Preston's self-made trailer reached the directors of The Lego Movie - but he didn’t pitch them through their agents or studio. He shipped the work, and over time the internet did the work for him. (Btw, if you’re asking the question ‘how do I get an agent?’ - try turning the question inside out).

4. The value of Mentors, Collaboration & Feedback

Preston usually works alone on his animations, but on a real-world project like this you’re part of a team. This means receiving and integrating feedback: a valuable - and difficult - skill. And having good mentors to help deliver and understand feedback makes a world of difference. (Note: there's a real need for more of this...)

5. Don’t underestimate the power of pop culture

Here’s director Phil Lord: “The Lego Movie was inspired by people making films with Lego bricks at home… then the idea in ‘Spider Verse’ is that a hero can come from anywhere. And here comes this heroic young person who’s inspired by the movie that was inspired by people like him.”.

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