My name is Kait Ritter, I’m currently a director in animation working at Disney TVA. Before that, I was a storyboard artist, and before that I was a student of animation.
My question is: for those who are artistic professionals, how did Aphantasia affect your journey into your field? How does it affect your daily tasks as an artist? How do you feel as someone who cannot visualize working amongst other creatives who can? Are there any pros to being an artist with Aphantasia that you can identify?
More about me/ my experiences below:
I am brand new to this site and fairly new to even knowing Aphantasia was a condition one could have! Anthony Padilla’s YouTube video was actually what gave me a name to call my condition by…I’m not on Twitter anymore but, previously, I had at least seen that dreaded apple visualization scale before…and witnessed the (slightly hilarious) debate around it. I’m really thrilled spaces like this exist because I’m so curious about this condition- specifically how it has affected other artists.
Upon my recent discovery of Aphantasia, I was in a bit of an emotional spiral learning that all of my closest friends and family (many of whom are also artists) are able to recall memories or conjure visions clear as a cinematic picture in their minds, while I am left in the dark. I see nothing! Total blackness. But then I learned about Glen Keane and other animation figureheads also having the condition.
Knowing that Glen Keane, one of the greatest living animators and artists, one of my animation heroes, is affected by my same condition as me really put a salve on what was beginning to feel like a wound. I met Glen Keane briefly while storyboarding on Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure and I REALLY lament not knowing about Aphantasia back then. I would have loved to talk to him about the shared experience.
Not that I’m remotely as talented as Keane, but the way he describes his artistic process in interviews, the way his art looks at inception: exploratory scribbles until he finds his way and hones his vision…I absolutely work in a similar way. I often joke with my colleagues that my first pass on boards and drawings are VERY loose and scribbly and my second passes are almost a 180 from that. Sometimes I will re-sketch something two or three times before I finally start to put “final” line art down. And even then, I think my work looks somewhat sketchy. I never knew the reason could be that, in part, I am finding my way through thoughts rather than pulling directly from a pre-existing image in my mind. I did not even know that was a thing artists could do! Amazing! Both ways of thinking and “visualizing” as they might apply to making art are incredibly fascinating to me. Seeing Glen Keane’s art, I have always really felt it, too. Very strongly. In my opinion, Mr. Keane is a master in capturing emotions through drawing and animation. I wonder if that is because that is what a lot of us artists with Aphantasia pull from…? Not just memories, but deeply-felt feelings. Emotions!
As romantic as my ideas about Glen Keane’s process, and with the knowledge of other artists with Aphantasia at major animation studios, and despite having spoken to some close artist friends about Aphantasia- there remains a slight frustration in me about having this condition. It’s kind of hard not to feel ripped off! I remember my first instance of playful outrage that many friends and colleagues in my field were walking around with some huge “advantage” when it came to artistic execution. Honestly, the way friends describe visualizong makes it sound like a superpower to me. But, however playfully I griped about the cosmic unfairness, there was a nugget of truth to my feelings. I feel like this condition has caused me to struggle in ways that aren’t as relatable to some of my peers.
I started thinking back to formative moments in my education as well as my professional career and, knowing what I now know about Aphantasia, certain things make a lot more sense. I remember when I was attending an artist program at Cal-Arts the summer of my sixteenth birthday and we were asked to submit sketchbooks for review. One of the critiques I was given was to “try to sketch a little less, just put pen to paper” in reference to the more exploratory, scribbly drawings I would include. I remember this feedback so well because it really stumped me. It was valid enough feedback to offer, but I really struggled to understand how peer artists could just immediately put an ink pen to paper and perfectly execute a drawing without incorrect form, proportion, perspective. No mistakes? No erasing and re-drawing? Straight to ink?! I began to have this almost hyper-fixated envy for artists who could do that…especially in story rooms where we’re all throwing up cards and post-it notes to pitch ideas and gags very quickly. I still sometimes feel the struggle to maintain speed and quality equally and match the quick-draw doodlers around me. Over the years, I have I blamed a lot on my skills. I just thought: well, get better, you’re not as good as them. There are levels of truth to everything and I’ll remain a harsh critic of my own art until I die, probably. But! I didn’t realize at the time when I was harshest on myself what it meant to have Aphantasia and how that may have played a part in what I was experiencing.
Another such incident was during one of my earliest storyboarding gigs. I had sort of generally noticed that I fatigued faster or more easily in storyboarding than some of my friends and peers but, again, I just blamed these feelings of burnout on my skills. I felt my skills weren’t strong enough, I was lazy, I was being a baby about a workload others took less issue with, etc. I was good at my job, I just felt like I always had to push harder to be good than those around me. I guess, as an observer, it just felt like their art was crafted so effortlessly, in a way mine was not. All art takes effort, of course, but it felt like if my friends were walking up a mountain with a heavy backpack, I had an anvil on my back. I know we all feel this way as artists at times…but please bear with my analogy. 🙂 I mean no disrespect.
On one particular episode of this show (granted, my leadership on this show was…not very tactful in giving feedback…to say the least), I remember one of my bosses getting kind of irritated with how difficult it seemed for me to understand the layout of a particular set piece. He kind of snapped at me and just sort of threw out this, “I don’t get how you don’t get this” statement- confused as to why I couldn’t just visualize the set in question from all angles and mentally place my cameras with perfect continuity, without issue. Well, it’s four years later, and I think I might finally know why?
It isn’t to say I didn’t get there. It just didn’t come as naturally. If you’re familiar with cinema, animation, you might know what an “overhead schematic” is. If not, look it up, but my short description of it is: an overhead view of a set piece where you (in my case) draw tiny cameras indicating where a live-action camera would be placed on the set to “shoot.” This method is extremely helpful to me in instances where I get turned around in a location. In the event an overhead schematic doesn’t already exist in production as a point of reference, I never struggled to sit with a designer or director and rough one out to help me plan a scene.
Still, the lack of patience from my boss, the lack of understanding from a teacher, the harshness I redirected to myself, is why I became so fascinated by Aphantasia once I learned what it was. Getting artistic feedback or critique certainly isn’t special, or anything much worth writing about…nor is Aphantasia the only excuse I would have for getting a critique on my art. However, in the incidents I have mentioned, I have to wonder if the reasons those critiques feel so formative is because they stem from a condition I struggle against and, in some ways, can’t exactly change? And I think the reason I’ve received some feedback perhaps a little flippantly is simply because people don’t have a universal awareness that this condition even exists!
A lot of people are astounded we can even be artists, let alone work for big studios, etc. and I would love to continue to talk to others with Aphantasia who have taken such paths in life.