Animation is generally referred to as the means by which artists imbue drawings, virtual rigs, or physical objects with the illusion of life. Character animation adds that this illusion portrays an individual with specific characteristics, mannerisms, beliefs, etc. This is the typical way to think of what we do, and it’s certainly a valid definition. However, I would like to explore another way to interpret that term and how it applies to us as human beings.
Animation is hard. It’s hard if you’re in your room as a child making flipbooks. It’s hard as a student trying to develop basic skills. It’s hard as a professional holding yourself to the industry standard and the example set by your peers. It’s just damned hard. Anything this hard requires of us that which we strive to instill in our work; it requires character.
The definition of “animate” is “to fill with courage or boldness; give zest or spirit to.” In striving to learn this art form, we must continually animate our own internal character. We seek out inspiration to embolden our resolve. We have to zestfully observe people and motion every moment of the day. We need to have the courage to recognize our shortcomings and boldness to seek feedback from others.
This might seem overly-dramatic, but I believe that personal development goes hand-in-hand with professional development. A long career of shot work will be rewarding, sure, but it will also at times be difficult and demoralizing. One of the skills you will need is the ability to rev up your willpower and get things done. Not every day is going to feel great. You’ll get tired and demotivated and tempted to let your focus stray from the task at hand. But shots won’t finish themselves. Your boss won’t pay you to take a mental sick day (or five). Discipline has to take over when motivation fails you.
As I write this, I’m animating a shot that scares me. I have a tighter than usual deadline, and it’s in a style that I haven’t done in a while. As the due date gets closer and closer, I’m definitely feeling the squeeze and stressing about my ability to get it finished. That’s not an easy thing to admit publicly, but I think it’s important for you to know that I’m not immune to those things either. I have my fair share of insecurity, though over time I’ve learned to recognize and utilize it. It’s a warning sign that I need to pay attention to. In this case, I need to step back and observe how I’m feeling, but also look objectively at how the shot is going. If I step back and take my head out of the weeds, I can see that it’s getting there. If I keep my head down and grind out these last days of work, I know I’ll get it done. I’ll still feel the stress, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have to suck it up and put in the work.
When facing something difficult, it’s an opportunity to find out what you’re made of. Can you overcome the effort ahead of you, or will you quit? Will you put those final finishing touches on your shot, or will you let it slide at 90%? Will you set aside your insecurities (and possibly jealousies) to ask for help or help a coworker in need? These are matters of character, and if you don’t have it, you’ll have a hard time putting it into your work.