Give it 10 – How to generate new ideas when you have none

Categories Philosophy, Workflow

We’ve all been in that place where we’re watching our shot on loop, can see something is missing, but just can’t figure out what that thing is. When I find myself in this scenario, I Give it 10, and the problem solves itself! Here’s how it works…

The first step in this process is to take a 10 minute break & free your mind. The reason you’re likely in this creatively blocked state to begin with is because you’ve been staring at the same shot for too long, and are just trying the same things over and over again to no avail. The best way to break out of this cycle is to stop thinking about it! It sounds obvious, but to start thinking differently, you have to stop thinking the same. Get a coffee, go for a walk, or anything you can do to get your eyes off the screen & away from your computer.

Once your brain has calmed down, it’s time to start generating new ideas. Switch off your mental filter and without any internal editing, write down the first 10 things that come into your head. The aim is to passively let your mind wander, but pay attention to everything that’s going on. Here’s a real-world example of my thought-process on a shot I’m currently working on:


  • Layer up more atmospheric elements
  • Boost levels of characters so they stand out more
  • Add dust motes flying around
  • Add glints on all spec highlights
  • Change camera to be handheld and more-lifelike
  • Make depth of field shallow instead of deep
  • Add explosions
  • Add grime on all the walls
  • The floor is lava?
  • The main character looks like a meth addict and needs a cup of tea

Let’s be honest, 3 of these ideas are actually valid & would fit into my shot. Another 3 are ideas that might be good for another shot, but don’t belong in the current one. The rest are a good example of how letting your mind wander can produce some out of the box ideas (which is ultimately what we’re going for). Most of the time they’ll be irrelevant, but on the odd occasion, you’ll strike gold!

Next, take those 3 best ideas, and do another list of 10. This gets incrementally harder, as we were so specific to begin with. Let’s do it for one of the points above:


  • Add an element that drifts in front of camera defocused, to add more subtle/subconscious movement
  • Add smoke stacks in the background to add more detail & liven things up
  • Add steam coming out from the drain on the street
  • Add dust on the ground, that gets kicked up based off where the characters are moving
  • Add bright elements around characters’ bodies to draw the audiences’ eye
  • Layer up atmospheric smoke elements so the background is brighter/less contrasted overall & characters are more silhouetted and contrasted against the background
  • Add “breath smoke” like it’s cold outside
  • Take out all atmospheric elements to make the shot completely clean and less busy
  • Use static smoke elements to subtly introduce more texture variation to the CG environment
  • Add smoke puffs for every character interaction

It’s pretty hard to get specific about one point, but humouring the idea has yet again given me lots of different paths to explore! Again, all these ideas aren’t necessarily good or relevant, but the process of letting your mind wander whilst still paying attention sparks ideas you might not have thought up before.

“So Ben, you’re basically telling me that the answer to my creative block is just to think harder?” – You

Harder? No. You actually want to think softer. Simply explained, the human brain is made up of billions of neurons (nerve cells) that are connected together via synapses (neural pathways). Electro-chemical signals are sent from one neuron to another via the synapses, which are how thoughts & ideas are formed. Every time you associate one idea with another, the specific synapse linking those neurons together becomes stronger. So the more you think about something, the more you think about something (hah!).

What we’re effectively doing by Giving it 10 is hacking our brains own natural process of information connection & recollection by giving it one question to ponder, then sitting back and observing, rather than actively pursuing. This thought process has proved to be quite useful for me in the past — I hope you find it useful too.

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