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Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora is an acclaimed Turkish visual artist whose clients include Google, Nike, Netflix, and Coca Cola. In this conversation, Tuna shares their story of immigrating to the United States alone in hopes of pursuing a career working in feature film animation. But after graduating in 2008—right at the start of the financial collapse—was met with very few opportunities.

Into the Creative Unknown
Into the Creative Unknown

Into the Creative Unknown

Ep
170
Jan
05
With
Tuna Bora
Or Listen On:

More hours doesn’t mean better work.

Tuna Bora is an acclaimed Turkish visual artist whose clients include Google, Nike, Netflix, and Coca Cola. They’ve won awards for their unique design work on several VR and AR projects and continue to explore new creative spaces.

In this conversation, Tuna shares their story of immigrating to the United States alone in hopes of pursuing a career working in feature film animation. But after graduating in 2008—right at the start of the financial collapse—was met with very few opportunities.

They talk about unintentionally starting a daily drawing Instagram account (thats been going strong for seven plus years),  directing their own projects with DreamWorks, and why they’re stoked about working in new, unexplored creative spaces like VR and gaming

Tuna also shares their experience with the unhealthy downsides of working with extreme laser focus and why just because you put more hours in does not mean the work is better.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances

Episode Transcript

Tuna:

I don't think there is anything wrong with kind of pushing yourself where you need to. But as I get older, I kind of realize putting in more hours doesn't necessarily mean you are more productive or that the work is good and I think it takes a lot of experience to really understand that balance.

Chris:

It's not that often I am able to talk to an artist who I actually know in real life and such as the case with my guest today, for people who don't know who you are, can you introduce yourself, please?

Tuna:

Hi, my name is Tuna. I am a visual artist from Turkey and I'm based in Los Angeles and I had the privilege of working with Chris before.

Chris:

Yeah. So we've actually, we've been in the same physical space doing work together. Actually, I believe you worked on that Crate & Barrel spot with us, right? So your hand-

Tuna:

Did I?

Chris:

I think your hand is in it. Are you now?

Tuna:

My hand is in wait. Wait, really?

Chris:

Yeah, your painting with a brunch.

Tuna:

Oh yeah. But wasn't that for the Sting trailer, the one for the musical.

Chris:

It just as goes the point that one thing we've worked with each other for many years on different projects. So maybe the projects are blurring together. Yes, we did do something with you for Sting. I thought it was you for also Crate & Barrel with all those kind of paintings as well, but maybe I'm mistaken here.

Tuna:

Maybe. We've done a few sort of specialty things together and maybe it is my hand, now I got to see it now.

Chris:

Yeah, I think you're in it.

Tuna:

Now I got to see the hand.

Chris:

I just remember you, but maybe somebody else, maybe I'm blurring all the artists that we work together, but okay. So visual artist-

Tuna:

You know, one of the most

Chris:

... most of us think.

Tuna:

Sorry to interrupt you, but one of the most memorable things is not just working with you, but working out together. Do you remember that?

Chris:

Of course I remember that.

Tuna:

At 5:00 PM Chris used to basically run a gym blind, it was one of the best workouts I ever had. I remember trying to do a pull up where like a chin up and I was just [inaudible 00:02:40] I had all-

Chris:

Those are tough. They're tough to do.

Tuna:

Yeah.

Chris:

I miss those days. This is in the era when we used to work with clients and we had a lot of really talented artists and creative people come into the studio and at five o'clock, we would take a break and you could do whatever you want. Some of us chose to work out for 15 minutes and we would just try to get something done just to feel better about ourselves, man, that seems like so, so long ago.

Tuna:

Also, whatever charisma you think you have as a [designer 00:03:12] is just completely out the window. The moment you start working, I mean, you actually had something, people who were quite fit. I remember, but I was not one of those people.

Chris:

That was the beauty of it though, that we can break some stereotypes that designers can be athletic. I'm not saying like crossfit, but we can, we don't have to always just hold a brush or a pen and paint or draw something. We can express ourselves different ways, but okay. So here we are. Now-

Tuna:

All right.

Chris:

... it's been so long since you and I have talked, I guess the last time we ran into to each other briefly at Adobe MAX in the 2019 pre pandemic?

Tuna:

Right.

Chris:

Yeah.

Tuna:

Wasn't that the last time I ran into anyone? Now I'm thinking-

Chris:

Yeah, me too. It's true. The last horah we didn't know, but look, I know you a lot from just watching you create all kinds of content on Instagram and for a long period of time, I was like, gosh, she's just pumping out a drawing, a painting, a figure every single day. So can I ask you a little bit about that before we get into where you are today?

Tuna:

Of course.

Chris:

Okay. You were probably one of the early designer, creative people artists that was consistently creating content on Instagram, as far as I do. Tell me about why you did that and what it took and what it took from you and what you got out of it.

Tuna:

That's a good question. I remember I started doing those when I first started working actually. So dating myself, I think that's about 2009, 2010. In the beginning, it's because I just wanted to get better and I had started working in the first economic crash. I will call it that in the 2008 crisis. So my goal was back then to work for feature animation companies. No one was firing. If I wanted to get better at the stuff I wanted to do, I had to come up with an excuse or a reason to practice that. I think Pascal Campion had turned me on to the idea of practicing different types of daily tasks, right? Like trying different things and kind of pushing yourself to do things you're not really used to doing. I remember we met at a convention way back when, and immediately he told me, "Hey, I don't think you're ever going to be very happy working for one of these future film companies. You seem to want to do your own thing. So, this helped me a lot. I think you should try it."
So I started back then. I would take breaks and I didn't really post them online very much and slowly, I just, I think I was first on Facebook, then some of my teachers, friends started resharing it. They made this fan page for me and eventually it became kind of awkward that someone else was posting my work on a page that had my name on it. So she handed it over to me. Since then, it kind of just kept going, I guess, accidentally-

Chris:

Wait a minute.

Tuna:

Accidentally.

Chris:

Hold on a second.

Tuna:

[inaudible 00:06:37].

Chris:

Are you saying one of your fans pulled your artwork and created a page and then eventually turned over the page over to you?

Tuna:

It was my teacher's wife who was also an art teacher.

Chris:

Okay.

Tuna:

So my settings back then too were private. So people who I wasn't friends with couldn't really see the stuff I was posting. So in order to share it with her students, she had started posting them on a page.

Chris:

On another Instagram page or account?

Tuna:

On one of those public accounts, like a fan art page. This was a new thing on Facebook back then and yeah, eventually it felt a little awkward. So we decided we would turn that into an official thing.

Chris:

Okay. Are you still maintaining, keeping up that account today?

Tuna:

It posts directly from Instagram.

Chris:

Oh, I see.

Tuna:

Yeah. I don't have too much time to maintain all these different social media accounts so I tend to share from one to the other, but it's still around. It's still around.

Chris:

Okay. Whatever happened of all these things that you started to make as a way to practice or craft and possibly generate leads for your self, what came of this besides building an accidental fan following?

Tuna:

You definitely get better, I think trying new things. Also, I have an affinity for trying different types of materials and painting different types of things. Quickly I realized the better work really came from stuff I was doing without the structure of paid labor. I could actually take the stuff I was learning at work and apply it to things I liked. So it just became more realistic and more myself when I think. More so than getting me the feature job I wanted, it started to getting me work that looked like things I would make and that was even better, you know?

Chris:

So how long after you started, did those opportunities start to present themselves?

Tuna:

Back then, I don't think the social media art market was as crowded as now. So it started fairly quickly I remember. It's kind of funny because most people listening to this will know the stuff you end up doing at work can be very different than the stuff you do for yourself. So it was quite great.

Chris:

Like weeks and months?

Tuna:

Probably months not weeks.

Chris:

Okay. Yeah.

Tuna:

But, yeah.

Chris:

That's pretty remarkable though. Because you are very early and I say this pretty objectively, you do some pretty wonderful artwork and illustrations so I could see why you would stand out.

Tuna:

Thank you.

Chris:

I remember back when I was still trying to figure out Instagram, you were one of the artists and I'm like, "Gosh, he has a really big following. This is crazy. This is so cool." Because I was late to social media myself. So this is really awesome. So I just want to just take a moment to recap really quickly for our audience here. I'm talking to Tuna Bora, who is originally from Turkey, who's a visual artist and she got out of school in a time in which there was no opportunity. It was like a hole open up in the universe and swallowed up everything. So then she takes crisis and turns it into opportunity and starts to work on the kind of artwork that she enjoys and likes, finds her own voice and creates a fan base and opportunities to do the kind of work that she's most passionate about versus adopting her style to other people's needs.
They're coming to you now with opportunities and it only took a few months. I know people are like, what the... Yeah, well, first of all, you have to be good. You just have to be good and you have to be consistent and you have to be at the right place at the right time and Tuna's all those things. What kind of opportunities came out of these things where people were actually looking at your work and saying, "I want you to do what you do?"

Tuna:

Back then I was working in a lot of animated commercials. So to be completely transparent, I think it's also because I had experience working in commercials that when there was an animated commercial, people could come and say, "Hey, we like it and we want to try it in the style that you've tried here." It's always a funny conversation, because they'll say, "We want it in your style," and I will say, "Which one." But in time what was really great is people started just having the sense that I could do many different styles.
I think they all kind of look like my work, but still right. We can have this conversation back and forth and I don't really want to speak for what people might assume, but I think they kind of get it, going to that page and seeing different types of work. They get that it's not just as simple as saying, do it in your style, but then there's this openness of we trust that you'll find something that works. So, if I had never worked in commercials, I'm not sure if they would come and say, "Can you work on some commercials?"

Chris:

Right. Well you never know. You never know, but it's that you knew how to work in a very demanding environment with a very specific set of challenges and parameters. And as your style became more evident, people were like, "Well, we don't want you to do it like this other person's style you could do in the style that you think fits for what we're doing." So a lot of this was you developing different looks and characters for animated commercials and music videos. Is that about right?

Tuna:

Yeah. I think there was also a narrative track. So everything I did always sort of... Most projects I worked on would be going in tandem with projects in different industries. So my first job in a feature animated film also came around that time maybe a year later. So it would always be taking one step here and taking another step there. So it really worked to alleviate the anxiety of being an immigrant, where if one line of work dries up or it goes into a dry season, do you have some work to go? Because if your other option is to pack your bags and leave the country and maybe never come back, you kind of take these things seriously. I know everybody takes them seriously, but it feels like life on death I think quite different sakes.

Chris:

I like that. I want to talk to you a little bit more about that. I think people who are immigrants or at least have that kind of mindset know exactly what you're talking about and you said it very clearly life and death, but it's like there aren't a lot of backup plans, you either make it or you find something else to do and there's not a lot of support for you. So I just want to ask you about this. How were your parents, their attitude and opinions about you pursuing arts and going to a private art school, like Otis.

Tuna:

They were really supportive.

Chris:

Wow!

Tuna:

I could never, ever not say that. I think that idea that people will be unsupportive didn't even occur to me. They're both artists. So there was little objection at home. However, they also did a really great job of hiding the fact if they were nervous. I'm really, really lucky that way.

Chris:

So they're both artists, but yet there's still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to art that we don't fit into the traditional mold if you do this and this, and this is the game plan for you, it's you have to figure it out on your own. Because I can only imagine if I were your parent and you graduated in 2008, I'm like, "Oh my God, what are we going to do? Traditional jobs are falling apart."

Tuna:

Right.

Chris:

The art market must be just really difficult, but then you made it work and you're resourceful and you have that kind of do or die mentality and I love that part. Did you doubt yourself at any point in that journey?

Tuna:

It's not that I ever thought or still to this day think that I had something more than what others had in terms of, I'm more talented or, I do this, I'm sure to get a job. However, there was this sense of, well I'll have to do whatever it takes. So we're going to have to find the way, right?

Chris:

Yeah.

Tuna:

To be completely honest, I think it was quite unhealthy too. I was so extreme that now when I look back, I realize psychologically and health wise, I would go to the very extremes very often. Then there were other reasons for that, right. Personality included. Back then it felt like that's what was necessary. I kind of didn't want to turn around and say, 'Well, I could have also done this other thing if I had somehow ended up coming back when I didn't want to, I kind of at least wanted the peace of mind of saying I tried everything I possibly could and more, and it still didn't work out. But you know, it's also a type of trauma I think, of immigrating even under the best conditions. Honestly, there's never pain Olympics here. I don't subscribe to this kind of idea, but it's always hard to immigrate. You don't really know what you're signing up for. There's no way.

Chris:

Yeah. You're stepping into a lot of unknowns for sure.

Tuna:

Yeah. I think also you're kind of lost in your own fantasy of sort of what it would be like to move somewhere. Basically the first few years of immigrating somewhere, you're kind of like a ghost, you're in a parallel universe from everybody else. You understand so little, even if you think you understand it well, you understand so little of how you're perceived and how you should best connect with people. I didn't come there and start fights with anybody. It was quite fine, but now I see it, right. Now I see, oh, when somebody first arrives, this is what it feels like if you've been here for a long time. So definitely an interesting experience.

Chris:

I want to ask you questions about how old you were and why your parents moved from Turkey to the United States, but before I get to that part, you describe this kind of laser focus as sometimes being unhealthy. That's really interesting because I don't look at it like that personally in my own life experience, the more focus I've been, the more things have made sense and the clearer I am about things. I think when it slips into obsession where you're nonfunctional in every part of your normal "life" then it gets unhealthy. But I attribute that first five years of starting my business, the success to being super hyper focused, not taking breaks and just, I will do everything and everything in my power to make it because like you said, I don't want to go away saying I failed, but I was holding back or I didn't give it my all because that's going to linger with me for the rest of my life.

Tuna:

I think there's a fine line, right. Then I don't think there's anything wrong with kind of pushing yourself where you need to, but as I get older, I kind of realize, for instance, putting in more hours doesn't necessarily mean you're more productive, or that the work is good. I think it takes a lot of experience to kind of really understand that balance. So there were definitely times where I pulled, I don't know, six consecutive all nighters and the amount of work that got done was very questionable and if I had rested one of those nights, maybe the project actually would've been better. I think on the internet, there's particularly a push towards hustle culture and I understand my own needs more now than I used to before. For instance, when I need to take a walk for 20 minutes, instead of forcing myself to work when nothing is going to come for three hours, if I just sit there.
So I think that comes with a lot of advanced time management skills of giving yourself the time to take a walk if you need to throughout the work day and getting to understand how you work. But as much as we emphasize hard work, I would also want to emphasize trying to understand how you work and how you're productive and what you really want to do and achieve because just blindly showing up and not sleeping is not going to get you go to work either and no one had taught me that. So, that's what I mean I think by the fine line.

Chris:

The six all nighters that you were talking about that were inconsecutive, were these self-induced or were you part of a team that they had ridiculously crazy deadlines and that's just the only way you could see yourself moving forward?

Tuna:

Mostly self-induced.

Chris:

Wow!

Tuna:

My senior year at Otis, I had some student classes at Art Center. I was taking three studio courses there and a full load at Otis. So that's something like 26, 27 credits, right. I was doing all the homework and preparing senior show, on top of other personal things. So, that's definitely self-induced. Were other people also preparing homework and other things? Absolutely. So there would be a few people in the lab often, and I'm still friends with some of them and we still laugh about watching Arrested Development at 4:00 AM. Then I think when you're young, you kind of wear it all like a badge of honor, right? I think that is a little unhealthy. For me it was unhealthy.

Chris:

Yeah. That is actually you just taking on one of those things where your eyes are bigger than your stomach. I can't believe that you would do full load at Otis and then take on additional studio courses at Art Center. The probably then the commute between the two campuses that's murder. I mean, there's so much involved in that and not even though you could do that, that you could enroll in two different schools at the same time. So there's a lot of educational hacking going on here too.

Tuna:

Don't tell, don't ask don't tell policy.

Chris:

Right?

Tuna:

Yeah. Not that the things I was doing at Art Center were really counting towards accreditation. Those weren't going towards a degree.

Chris:

Oh, the plot thickens.

Tuna:

That was because there were things I couldn't learn at Otis and then it turned into, it was one of those life or death things for me, right. So I thought, "Hey, if, if this doesn't work out and I don't have the skills that I need to do the thing I want to do, then, A, of course, I'm not going to get that job and B, then I go back." This is what I mean by taking it to the extreme, like everything you can do, right. This was again, before online schools existed, before you could even really get in touch with people.
There's easily a decade here between then and now, and now you could just tweet, you could find the person and tweeted them, but there was absolutely nothing, blog spots were just happening. Facebook had started when I started college, we were the original users. So it's difficult to compare that to now and I think I come with a little bit of a warning because today I wouldn't need to do some of these things perhaps, but back then I felt that I had to.

Chris:

Yeah. So I'm a little older than you. So it always makes me feel even older when you're like, oh I'm so old. I'm like why? You see that. Because I predate you here, right. So what we're trying to do here is to share this lesson that we both have seemingly come to the same conclusion on which is when you're younger, there's a lot of pride in hustle culture. Like I can outwork you. Oh yeah. You can stay up three nights. I can stay up four nights and oh you're only taking four classes. I will take 17 and you go crazy thinking, this is the path to success. Someone listening to this will probably be thinking well, they're successful now and that's what they had to do but I have to warn you some of the very dangerous things. Now, I don't think I ever stayed up that many consecutive nights in a row doing all nighters, but I've had my share all nighters and I very distinctly remember two moments, which were super scary because when you are sleep deprived, you start to hallucinate.
You're dreaming wide awake. I remember driving to the Art Center campus at night and remembering the canopy of trees and not knowing where do I turn left on Lida? I was just like, is it here? Is it next? I'm losing sense of time and space. I remember clearly the branches of the trees started to reach down like fingers towards the car and I started freaking out.

Tuna:

Wow!

Chris:

My heart was racing and that's not the scariest part. So that was me hallucinating because I'm sleep deprived. Things could have ended very differently. But the scariest moment when I was commuting from, I think it was downtown LA to go to Glendale where my friend was staying and I woke up driving in the morning on the wrong side of the street. I had transferred from the right side of the street to the wrong side and I woke, I'm like, "Oh my God," my heart was just racing. So it's one of those things where again, I would not be having this conversation, I would not be on YouTube. I would not have had a career because I would be in a wheelchair or much worse. I think we have to learn how to listen to our bodies to know that there's diminishing returns of you just trying to stay up.
You had said, I questioned how much work I actually really achieved and accomplished of quality at levels of quality that you would think of. We have to learn to stop, learn to listen to your body and stop, it'll be okay. When you come back with some sleep, you'll think clear, you'll have better ideas and that is necessary if you want to be a creative person. Cautionary tale. So what was the one? Do you have any memories yourself of something crazy that almost happened because you were so sleep deprived.

Tuna:

My risks were quite reduced. I actually, until that year I didn't have a car. So the only things I could do were go to sleep, eat food, go to school. I lived in a mile radius basically. So I didn't have those stories, but I think-

Chris:

How did you go to Art center?

Tuna:

Well, that, that year I got a car. It was the last, last year.

Chris:

That year you had to drive then. Yeah.

Tuna:

I would just listen to crazy loud music and roll the windows down and try to make sure I wasn't falling asleep. I think there's just this bigger thing about life, about how we spend our life and how we treat ourselves. For me, it took a really long time to understand I was really not treating myself like I had any kind of worth. When I was doing that to my body and my mind, I wasn't thinking about how I conditioned my thinking and my behavior towards sacrificing everything for work.
Part of that is migration and cultural thing and just high stakes. But the other part of it is kind of not really knowing to do that. I think there's a huge danger in achieving success at all costs, what you consider success. Because it kind of puts you on this weird hill, right? What's going to happen when you stop doing that? There is this sort of irrational fear of not sacrificing yourself or everything you have at the expense of maintaining that thing.
If the only way you know how to do good work is to mistreat yourself, not be present, kind of work out of anxiety and really cornering yourself and terrorizing yourself. I think you tend to not only keep doing that to yourself, but you can easily start doing that to other people and have this sort of really crazy expectation. For the first 10 years or so of my career, I would pretty much work at a different studio every other week, because I was pitching with people a lot and then I would go somewhere else and pitch a different job.
I experienced a lot of different company cultures. You could always feel that the owner of the company or the lead director, whatever their stance was towards work, it would really trickle down to the rest of the team. I started kind of seeing that once I started production, designing and directing and having more of a leadership role that if you are sort of a achieve this at all costs kind of person and you are not able to be vulnerable, then you're sort of creating that culture within other people too.
It can be really easy to see that that's not the best fit and the most productive thing for other people. But yeah, once they're trying to help you make your thing, you have to be more careful I think not to push people into these extremes, if you are used to pushing yourself into unhealthy places, it's really important to me. I don't know if it's that important to everybody. I don't want to make assumptions, but it's honestly one of the most important things to me now, huge shift.

Chris:

Now it's not the exclusive domain of men, but it does tend to veer a little bit more towards men and maybe this is not the right term, but this bro culture, like, "Oh, I'm tougher than you. I could do this and this is what I expect of you." We both have worked in the industry long enough to know which companies have that kind of attitude, where they use a lot of pressure, a lot of mind games and manipulation to get people to work until they're ready to fall over. And they don't really care about your long term health and productivity because they want it here and now and they will do anything hyper ultra-competitive and it's just super, super toxic. That's what it is. So I got to see some of that and I have to admit earlier part of my career in running the company, I did work like an animal.
I didn't have the same expectations of my team and staff, but I did push myself to the brink and I have to say that it probably did affect how people felt about themselves to see their boss or the owner working that way. Luckily I realized this is long term, not sustainable, not healthy, not good. There are a few exceptions when the deadline is just something that's unmovable and we can't seem to get the right kinds of people in. So there are those long nights, but I don't want to spend more time on that because I want to get back to you, your story and where you're at today. But I did want to circle back to the whole, when did you come to United States and why did your parents come here?

Tuna:

So my parents didn't come here. I came alone.

Chris:

Oh you did? I'm sorry.

Tuna:

Yeah, no, it's totally fine. I actually moved out when I was 14 and I started living alone in a different city. Then once I finished high school, I came directly to L.A..

Chris:

There's more there that I want to ask you about, but-

Tuna:

Orthodox.

Chris:

Can we go there or no?

Tuna:

Sure.

Chris:

Why'd you leave home at 14?

Tuna:

Honestly, it was mostly because of the intricacies of the Turkish educational system and I ended up going to a school that I really wanted to go to and yeah.

Chris:

So, you have to live in a different city to go to that school.

Tuna:

Yeah. They didn't have dorms at the time. So I had a very small place and there was obviously a lot of trust in the family towards me.

Chris:

For sure.

Tuna:

They were really, right. And we were really indoctrinated with this kind of maybe, I don't know if it's very classical Turkish training or parenting, because families here tend to be a little bit more heavy handed with their sense of what they think you should do with your life.

Chris:

Right.

Tuna:

I was quite lucky. My family's quite unusual, long story short. Most people don't get to go to a school in a different for a variety of reasons and girls, especially, right. So it was quite great. I had a great time.

Chris:

Okay. So you finished high school and then you decided to go to the United States on your own?

Tuna:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

With what kind of financial support?

Tuna:

My school tuition was paid by my parents, it's quite usually the setup in Turkey, but I did have a grant from Otis is one of the reasons why I ended up going there because I had a scholarship and then I had quite minimal money spent otherwise, but I used to work as a TA. So that would pay for most of my bills and other things.

Chris:

Yeah. So I have a question for you here.

Tuna:

Sure.

Chris:

There's some overlap here, not the exact same story line, but my parents helped, I had a scholarship and I also worked, but I always felt like I never had enough to really, to kind of go into cruise control. My parents paid for tuition, gave me some money to live, but not enough. So I was starting to it's like on the edges. Is that how you were, or did you have enough where you felt like, I'm okay, I can go to school, not focus too much on having to pay bills.

Tuna:

It was enough to cover most basic necessities, but not everything, right. I think also living in another country is quite scary. You already realize you're quite a bit of a burden, there's issues with Turkey too like the exchange rate. Right now, I don't know if you're familiar, but Turkey's going through an economic crisis right at this very moment with the lira crashing. So there are moments like that. It can be quite scary, but without their support, I wouldn't have been able to go, period.
Then I think without working, I couldn't have made it work, but I worked really hard. I don't think I was the most talented person. Maybe not even the most hard working person, my teachers really knew that I would put in the effort. So when it came to the point where I could TA, a lot of them allowed me to TA for them. I think they just generally understand, some students are going to need to work and they need the money. So they were really kind to me and I TA'd a lot, especially the first three years and even, I think senior year, I was still working.

Chris:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Speaker 7:

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation. I'm glad you're telling me this now and I'm sorry I didn't figure this out sooner, but it gives a lot of context to what you said earlier where it's like, if I don't make this, I'm going to have to leave the country. And because you're here on a student visa, right? You have to be able to get a job and pay for yourself, is that right?

Tuna:

So you can't really get a job when you're here on a student visa, but you could work at the school as a TA. It's one of the few things because it's really in the area you're studying in. I feel like they see it as an extension of your studies, right? It's in your field and you're still learning. So I couldn't work at a grocery store if I wanted to or work at Starbucks. Because really, my only option was to work at school and you know, they were both paying minimum wage. I wasn't making tips in school, but really, I lived in that one mile radius. I'm really not exaggerating. It was so intense man. There was one Ralphs and one [Gafeds 00:37:44], which was the art supply store. Today around Otis, there's all these new shops and stuff but back then, it's just us and the airplanes. It was just the sound of airplanes day and night.

Chris:

Right. I know exactly what you're talking about.

Tuna:

Such a specific aesthetic.

Chris:

Let me clarify on that whole question, but post graduation. What is your work status then?

Tuna:

So for a year you can work in your area of your field of study and then if you don't have a visa, you have to leave. I was working in every way I could to try to figure out how I could stay. So you're right.

Chris:

Yeah.

Tuna:

It's very much like that.

Chris:

So that determination that you have coupled with the reality of, if you don't work in your field and if you can't get a visa, you're going to literally have to leave the country.

Tuna:

Right. That's very, very much the case. You know, I think this is perhaps distracting us a little bit from exactly what you're saying, but I see this parallel between this and some of the more social conscious things that I have been a part of over the years. I think if you haven't really been in this sort of extreme situation, you don't really understand the things that drive it. It can easily sound like you expect people to understand it, when you understand it because of the circumstances. I think sometimes being a minority is a little bit like this. Then the unhealthiness that I'm mentioning, there's this expectation that other people should be able to see that and understand it, right.

Chris:

Right.

Tuna:

The rising social awareness makes me quite happy and still it made me sort of look back at these years and see that I didn't understand what I didn't tell people wasn't obvious to them, right. So it was quite difficult for me to communicate this stuff. A, because there wasn't a conversation happening around it. I think this is better today, even though there's definitely a lot of polarization, at least we're talking about some of this stuff, but also I also see that if I am able to process the stuff that I've been through in a more healthy way, I want to be more comfortable, right. I don't always want to be stuck in this life or death feeling because it will wren you dry if you stay there unnecessarily, if you keep applying that to yourself in cases where you don't need to be that life or death.
I think that's sort of the danger, the sort of lie of meritocracy makes us think that, oh no, you loosened up and that's why you're unsuccessful now or whatever, when. That's not really the only factor that determines success or financial security or whatever. You really, really understand that I think more than other people, so feels good to mention it to Chris though.

Chris:

We share that experience. Okay. Let's jump forward to the future now. So I haven't kept tabs on you for the last couple of years. What are you up to today?

Tuna:

So today I'm mostly developing things and lately I'm consulting a little bit.

Chris:

What does that mean? Developing things and consulting?

Tuna:

I know great question. So I'm developing a variety of projects, some of them to direct, some of them in service of others. So I spent the last few years working with Dreamworks on a few different projects and meanwhile writing and boarding and making other personal work. Within this year, I also started consulting both officially and unofficially on animated content. Also a little bit in games. I've been working with Bungie now for a little bit, and it's been a great experience, just expanding into more interactive stuff. Because my background is also briefly an interactive. So I love it. I love it.

Chris:

Bungie was the original developer of Halo and now I think their big game, is it called Destiny?

Tuna:

They have Destiny and they are now-

Chris:

What else do they have?

Tuna:

They're actually developing a number of games. I don't think I can talk about them. They had a game named Oni, which I played a lot when I was younger. Do you know this game?

Chris:

Oni?

Tuna:

Oni.

Chris:

No. What is it?

Tuna:

Let's see. How could I best describe Oni? I'm not a good summarizer, Chris. It's a third person action game which was developed by a division of them and it was the only game that Division made. It was just the super weird, innovative third person hand to hand combat, the male character was this female fighter woman. It was sort of like a third person shooter. So it just had a lot of unique qualities. It felt innovative at the time. Bungie is quite interesting and unique in the game world I feel for many reasons, but I was obsessed with that game for some reason

Chris:

A little disconnect for me here. Is how does a person who's into narrative, who designs characters and animated features, what role are you playing as a consultant for a big game company?

Tuna:

That's a good question too. So part of the involvement I have with them comes from the fact that I could build multimedia and emerging media experiences that includes production designing Pearl, which had a very sort of unusual style for an animated project and understands the concerns of moving in sort of non framed space let's say. After that I created and directed a voice activated AR project. So partially it is the fact that they're making a new type of game. Also, the fact that I think when you want to make something new, that doesn't exist and you want to be innovative, that requires a different type of thinking than say, making a game that you have done before, but in a different flavor or really looking at someone else's game and saying, "Oh, we know how all first person shooters are, let's say."
If I were working, let's say on a first person shooter. So we're going to take all those things and we're just going to put a different theme on it. Or the graphics are going to look a little bit different and so on. What I love seeing now is the sort of back and forth inspiration globally of influences. So when people make something now I think they take into consideration the worldwide audience, especially game companies, maybe a little bit more than animation and sort of what type of innovations have come from overseas in the first place. I think gaming is a little ahead of being younger as an industry. I think it's a little bit ahead of animation in this sense, which I love.
So when it comes down to trying to do something in the interactive space, that looks quite different and doesn't yet have a pipeline and requires some narrative and animation thinking, there aren't really a lot of people who can weigh in on how do we innovate from here. So I think that's how I ended up involved with that.

Chris:

I see.

Tuna:

Is that too long an answer?

Chris:

It's a long answer, but it's one worth understanding. So I can tell too, you're very careful to avoid very specific language about what it is you're doing because it's still under wraps. But the basic idea is this, is if you endeavor to create something that hasn't been done before, especially by you, you can't go to the same types of people to try to invent a different future because we fall into certain habits and routines. So you are an outsider with fresh knowledge, you have your area of expertise, but you can bring in a totally different point of view, which they need, if they're going to try to do this, right. That's why you brought in as consultant?

Tuna:

Long story short. Yes.

Chris:

Yeah. Are you a gamer yourself?

Tuna:

I grew up playing games with my brother a lot and I still like it, but I'm not going to take that title for myself.

Chris:

Right. You're not like in line at E3 to see what the late releases and blogging about it every single day. That's not you.

Tuna:

I don't blog about really anything. I think that's worth mentioning. I do try to keep an eye out, but I have very specific taste. There are people who really pride themselves on knowing everything. I don't think that's realistic in the first place, but I won't get into that. I've always been the type of person with very specific tastes, no matter which industry I'm in, this isn't any different. However, I see games as an art form. I don't necessarily just see it as this is an industry that does this and that. If I were to define what a gamer is for me personally, I would call anybody who plays a game, a gamer. I just know that the world definition is quite complicated, but my mom who plays, I don't know, Fruit Ninja or Candy Crush, technically, she's also a gamer. That's how I see it.

Chris:

Yeah. Gamers have different definitions.

Tuna:

Oh yeah.

Chris:

There's the casual gamer and then there's the hardcore gamer, and your mom would fit into the category of a casual gamer, right.

Tuna:

I don't know, man. She's pretty hardcore about Candy Crush. I know. I'm just kidding. I just think that sadly, the conversation around games has previously been quite sexist, right? So it's quite a difficult thing to go in there and claim things, lots of opinions about that but.

Chris:

Right. The reason why I asked you the other question is if you describe yourself as a gamer is because how do you process that a giant successful game studio like Bungie is asking you to work with them in a consultant capacity, develop different IP with them when that is not your wheelhouse. I want to know how TBAR process that? Are you scared? Are you excited? Are you like, yeah, I got this. I'll figure it out.

Tuna:

I'm stoked. I'm stoked when I'm entering into something that has different needs. Because honestly that became one of the most exiting things about working in mixed reality. That's an area where no one really can lead you. So few people had experience back then. Now I think increasingly more people do have experience with things like VR or AR, but it's really difficult to get people to think outside the box most of the time. When you find yourself there, you are sort of in the dark and I know what that feels like. When we picked up Pearl, no one had tried cutting a narrative thing. We didn't have a tutorial cuts in VR yet. We had to try to find a way to make that work for the first time. It's things like that really, really excite me. And I know that what we're building is going to break and then we're going to have to rebuild around new construction.
When you try something you think is going to be a great experience because you think you understand it, because it's so much like a film, but then you put it in a immersive environment and it falls flat on his face so fast. It's just really fun to discover that you don't obviously have the answers. So having come from something with that level of unknown is actually really fun to go into games because here are a lot of experts who have built a lot of games and Bungie is a company like that. So wherever there is genuine thirst for innovation, people want to make something good and people want to try something new that really excites me now, more so than how, what the budget for our job is or win such and such an award. Those things have never really quite motivated me, but this thing does. So I love that. I love that.

Chris:

Today are you a sole operator or you have a whole team behind you?

Tuna:

What do you mean in which sense?

Chris:

Meaning I have three artists that will work for me. I have a writer who does it, is it a company of people or is it a company of one?

Tuna:

It's an army of one still, but I do collaborate with people a little bit more. So part of it is getting a little bit older and understanding which parts of the job excite me more and trying to find really reliable people who know more than I do and have different things to bring to the table whenever possible.

Chris:

If we were to look forward into the future and say 10 years from now, do you see things remaining relatively the same in terms of you as still an army of one doing what it is that you feel passionate about, putting yourself into places and situations that challenge you or do you see it evolving into something totally different.

Tuna:

It's really hard to tell. In my ideal world, I would have a very flexible village of people that I work with regularly. I try to do that now too, whenever people are available. But part of me also accepts. I think the old apprenticeship style is you sort of bring someone up and they kind of are indebted to you. I don't see it that way. I see it more like if I get to play a part in having somebody move up, that's great, but they're already on their way up. I'm just going to try to be as sturdy for them as possible and be as supportive as possible.
But yeah, reworking with all collaborators, basically they become family. So it's fantastic. I always think about where I want to be when I'm 60, 65 and I would love to look back and have this village and think, oh, you guys have seen me through this thing and that thing and we've kind of come here together and not six consecutive sleepless nights or anything, but they will have senior at your worst than at your best and it's a different intimacy than what you can have with even a family member I think.

Chris:

A lot of people don't understand this. If you don't work in a creative field where it's not like manufacturing, where you can put in a certain number of hours and get something out where there's a lot of unpredictability in that, as much as we talked about how painful and how unhealthy it can be to have this super crazy tribe of fellow dedicated passion of people who are working like crazy easy to make something happen. But when you do and you go through that process, I think you see each other in a different light in that you'll cherish for the rest of your life. You and I didn't stay up all night looking at the sunrise, but I've had this experience with interns before. Not because I wanted to be there, but because they're so slow, we're working on stuff and we have to just like, okay, I'll sit here and I'll wait and I'm not going to go home and say, good luck. I'm here in the trenches with you trying to get the work done, right.
But you had said also all the charisma goes out the door when we sit down and try to exercise together, because you see something, we see each other, not just, we don't see each other creating, but we see each other in our totality, strong or weak or powerful, flexible or stiff or whatever it is. I think there was something really kind of nice and endearing about that. I don't want to do that again. Stay up all night with interns?

Tuna:

Yeah. I do.

Chris:

There was something there it's like weak know we got to know each other. We knew what we were made of. It's like we survived a trying period in our lives together and we knew we got each other's backs and I think it's just a very nice comforting feeling. So having said that though, working mostly as a solo operator, especially the last 18 months or so kind of being under lockdown, how's your mental state? Do you feel lonely or do you thrive in just kind of doing your own thing?

Tuna:

So I feel like one of the most interesting things about all of us right over the last two years, all I want to know is how everybody's feeling. This is sort of again, a long answer, but I was doing great in the beginning. It was a lot of grief for the world. It was a heavy period, not to say the least, but I had been on the sort of long meditation journey, I had come from silent retreat. So I was really ready to sit down and process really difficult stuff. I did really well for the first six months or so. Then I went camping alone and I had an accident while I was hiking alone, a few hours from cell reception and it partially tore two ligaments on my right knee.

Chris:

Oh, no.

Tuna:

I drove back to L.A. for eight hours with this busted knee and it kind of just shifted everything. Because I was the person checking in on everybody and maintaining a pretty good balance to, I can't move. I can't walk. I have to go learn how to walk again and just the combination of all those things and being home alone, it made it really difficult for a while for sure. Yeah. Really high anxiety, more so than anything. But it turned around with the physical help. I loved my therapists that I worked with after that and all of that, honestly I really really know that it can get so much worse than that, but it was a big lesson for me, just a huge lesson.
I think our jobs can be quite difficult at any given situation. It can be quite lonely sitting at home, making a film by yourself can be really hard, even working with a team and trying to lead them or be led. That can be quite hard and lonely sometimes. But man, I mean being with other people, doing creative stuff is one of the best feelings in the world and it's absolutely great to be part of a team.

Chris:

Yeah. It sounds to me like your default is to kind of just have space and time to think and process your silent retreat, which I assume means you can't talk during the retreat.

Tuna:

You can't do anything. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You wake up at 4:00 and you start meditating. You can't interact with anything at all. Yeah. So you can't read right. You can't exercise, you can't make eye contact with people.

Chris:

Wow! So that, that does sound like you're a default, you're happy place. For me, I think all of a sudden it's kind of weird. I got to realize how much I actually enjoy being around people, even though I'm an introvert and the last couple years, I've really gone on this different journey, this arc where beforehand I just wanted to be by myself. But now it's like, now that I can't be around people, it's taking a toll on me. My own happiness, my joy my energy levels are very different. Like as soon as I finish this call, I'm going to collapse on the couch. It's just, it's too much for me.
But if I knew we were hanging out for some reason in real life, I would get little bit more energy from that.

Tuna:

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris:

Versus just being completely depleted. So you never know. So you and I will jump forward into 10 years in the future and we'll probably look back and say, "Wow! What a crazy turn of events and how unexpected things turned out." But I'll ask you one last question and looking back on your creative journey, leaving home, and then leaving your country to go to Art School and then to do the things you've done, what's been the most enjoyable part of that arc thus far. Then there's a follow up question to that.

Tuna:

What's been the most enjoyable arc. It's really difficult to know how to answer that question. I think for me, the most enjoyable part is thinking I'm used to something and then switching to my other home country, either I'm going back home to Turkey or coming back home to the states. And just sort of having to shatter all understanding of who I am, just having sort of rebuild up from scratch. I really like this idea of being sort of an alien over and over and over again. That's the best part for me.

Chris:

So that means that you enjoy this process of discovering who you are by putting yourself in situations where you're going to reveal something that you didn't know about yourself.

Tuna:

Yeah. That's honestly the driving force of everything for me.

Chris:

You know, spoken like a true pioneering immigrant, right?

Tuna:

Maybe.

Chris:

Why'd you come to this country because to see what it was about. Why'd you cross the river? To get to the other side. Just wanted to see. That curiosity.

Tuna:

I wish that was easier for everybody. I wish it was easier for everybody. Everybody deserves to have all the movement that they can afford and I wish we made it easier for everyone in the world, honestly.

Chris:

Yeah. But you know what though, a lot of people don't want to go anywhere.

Tuna:

That would be fine if they don't want to go that's fine.

Chris:

There's a lot of people who will live within five minutes or five mile radius of where they grew up.

Tuna:

Man, I love that too. They should have the opportunity, right. Then if they don't have the desire, then it's fine.

Chris:

Right. So for the people who want it, it would be nice if it was somehow more feasible for people.

Tuna:

It would be great if it wasn't because I'm actually visiting home right now and I would love it if it weren't sort of this thing to achieve. Then we would really not be reacting to it as if it's a dream. In an ideal world, I wish it were, oh it doesn't matter if you go or don't go. Oh you went? Okay. Oh, you didn't go? Okay. That will be ideal.

Chris:

Like uneventful that you could just travel and visit people.

Tuna:

Yes. Yes, exactly.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay.

Tuna:

Exactly.

Chris:

So the follow up question for you is this, looking back on that same arc, this creative journey that you've been on, what's one part you're like, that was kind of a bummer. I didn't enjoy that part.

Tuna:

Well, obviously I think there are a lot of departures, you depart from people you love one way or another. So that part is quite a bummer. If I had really understood that process of letting go of things in a more healthy way, I probably would've processed my entire life better, but it takes experience to know how to do those things well, so I don't regret it, but yeah, I wish I really understood the concept of grief and processing a lot sooner.

Chris:

Is there anything you wanted me to ask you about that we didn't get an opportunity to talk about?

Tuna:

No, I wish I got to hear a bit more about how you're doing, but I hope we can catch up when you're not collapsing on the couch.

Chris:

Yes. That sounds wonderful. I'd love to catch up with you. So are you in Turkey right now?

Tuna:

Yeah, I'm in Istanbul.

Chris:

Istanbul, wow. How are people there handling this pandemic?

Tuna:

Honestly people here are as lively as ever, but economically just honestly today, yesterday, we're going through a pretty weird time in Turkey and seeing how difficult that is on people is really, really, really hard. It also drives this wedge between I think me and really my stakes and their stakes. It almost feels different as much as I care about Turkey. I realize that there's always this feeling after you've immigrated that you've sort of left them behind. So definitely strong, strong, strong emotions about that and wanting to do stuff for people, but feeling small.

Chris:

I love of the kind of unpredictable narrative twists and turns that we've had on today's conversation and I enjoyed this and so you and I will have to catch up, online, offline somehow.

Tuna:

I would love that.

Chris:

Just not to let a gazillion years pass by before we talk to each other again.

Tuna:

Yeah. You and I always have fun conversations that way.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes we do. So for people who are curious about this voice that they're hearing, where can they go to find out more about what you're up to? The things that you can talk about?

Tuna:

I generally post on Instagram. My handle has been Tunamunaluna for a very long time.

Chris:

I love that by the way, say that slowly. Just so people can understand.

Tuna:

Tunamunaluna

Chris:

Tunamunaluna.

Tuna:

Yeah. That's me on pretty much anywhere. I'm mostly on Instagram. You can find me there and you can write to me from my website if you need to.

Chris:

Is that also the same name, but just dot com?

Tuna:

I think it's just tunabora.com, so make it a little bit easier for you all.

Chris:

Okay. Go to tunabora.com, which is T-U-N-A-B-O-R-A.COM, right?

Tuna:

Right. It doesn't sound fake.

Chris:

It does sound fake. It sounds like a stage name or something.

Tuna:

I know it's real. It's real. Tuna from Turkey.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tuna:

Unbelievable.

Chris:

Unbelievable. I'm excited for wherever your adventures take you next, whatever frontiers that you're going to push down physically, virtually or otherwise, or some hybrid or creative frontiers.

Tuna:

Thank you.

Chris:

Because I know that's part of your DNA and how you are hardwired. So thank you very much for doing this with me.

Tuna:

Thank you so much for having me. It's always a pleasure to talk to you. I'm Tuna Bora and you're listening to The Futur.

Speaker 8:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barrow for editing and mixing this episode and thank you to Adam Sandborn for our intro music.
If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by reading and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to the future.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit the futur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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