I go through that, too.
Eight years. Eight years and countless hours is how long it took me to finally “break in” to the animation industry. Most of my classmates didn’t make it. In fact, if you told them at the beginning that it would take that long, they would have stopped even sooner. That’s certainly not to say that there was anything wrong with them, or that I’m in any way superior. I’m sure that most of them had more talent and smarts than me, which is why they’ve gone on to other things and done well. My undeniable lack of talent is probably what’s most responsible for any success I’ve had as an animator. I simply didn’t have any other option to fall back on!
Character animation was the only thing that meant enough to me to stick with, and it took eight years (and counting) to scrape together enough competency to be employed. It was a deep-seeded need to do this that got me through it and helps me through every day. Even now there are far more days that I feel like that hopeless kid than a professional who’s got this thing nailed. I’ve learned to trust the process and my co-workers to help me get to the finish line, but each shot is approached with a silent prayer that I don’t screw it up.
Time and determination is all that separates professionals from those who don’t make it. I’ve heard legendary animators make these same sentiments. Few feel like they’ve truly earned their place and can rest on their laurels. Great artists don’t coast on what they can do now, but instead are running from what they were unable to do in their past. I would never consider myself to be great at anything, but I know that I don’t want today’s shot to look like what I was doing 6 years ago. Hell, I don’t want it to look like what I did 6 months ago! Fear can be your friend if you look at it from the right angle, pushing you forward and keeping complacency away.
When it gets hard and motivation inevitably fails you, try to detach and remember that it’s not just you. Think back to why you do this. If that “why” is strong enough, it will provide the discipline needed to get up, turn on that screen or pick up that pencil, and get after it. Every day you will be able to look at yesterday and assess what went wrong, and as long as you can do that, you’re moving forward.
If you can’t see it, ask someone to tell you. Find a classmate, a friend, an online community, or a mentor to pick you up when you fall and take their criticism with gratitude. I rely on the people I work with daily to push be farther than I could on my own, and they deserve at least equal credit for “my” work. Not to mention my wife who’s been more supportive and patient than I had any right to ask for. It takes a village, and it’s full of people just like you. Lean on them, and support them back when they need it.
I hope this provides some level of comfort that, though it will be difficult, you don’t have to be special to make it. Believe in yourself, and in the times that you don’t, allow others to believe in you. At least that’s what I do.