It’s so easy to get tunnel vision when you’re deep into a shot. I can get so focused on the arc of a wrist that I’m completely blind to the fact that the whole pose is wrong. I can be so concerned with my shot having a perfect beginning and ending that I forget that it needs to hook up seamlessly with the ones before and after. Losing sight of the big picture is something everyone is guilty of at one time or another. It’s important to learn how to recognize it when it happens, and how to deal with it.
The best thing to do is to just step away from your desk. Go for a walk and get some blood flowing. I’ve found that I just can’t solve an overwhelming problem in the place that it’s happening. The solution always comes to me when I’m out of that space and in a new environment. If I return to my computer without coming up with a fix, I instantly feel that cloud come over me again. Just because you’re away from your desk does not mean that you’re avoiding work; you’re doing what you need to do at that time. Don’t use this as an excuse to go play a video game or take a nap. There is a difference between active and passive rest, and too much of the latter can get you fired!
Asking a coworker for help is another tactic that’s under-utilized. I’m guilty of not doing this enough. When you’re stuck and lose confidence in the job you’re doing, it can be tough to reveal that to someone else. The good news is that no one will think less of you for it, since I guarantee it happens to them too. It says a lot about your character if you’re able to admit that you need help, and it will mean a lot that you trust their opinion. Unless you work in the most toxic studio ever, there’s no shame in sometimes leaning on your team. And if you’re a student or animating a personal shot, there are great online communities out there and you’d be surprised how many pros are willing to offer advice if you ask politely.
If you have another shot to work on, “plate-spinning” can be a good way to avoid going too far down a single hole. There are times when your full, undivided attention is required, but it can be smart to set a time limit so that you’re forced to shift your focus. This keeps things fresh and wakes you up to the context that each shot lives in.
Sometimes none of this is working and you need to invoke the nuclear option: shutting it down for the night and walking away. I know that you want to keep going and muscle through, but there’s a good chance that you’ll be spinning your wheels or even going backwards. I’ve spent many late nights trying to hammer a shot into working, only to come back the next day to find that everything I did was wrong. But there’s the secret! Since I came back the next day, I could see what the problem was. The human brain (or mine, anyway) tends to absorb information passively over time. Using guitar as an example, I’ve come to expect that I’ll stumble over a new riff over and over again, not able to get my fingers to do what my brain wants. The next day, though, after I’ve slept on it and let my subconscious mind do it’s thing, the information has soaked in and I’m able to play it. So the next time you just can’t get your animation working and you’ve exhausted the other options, just cut your losses and shut it down.
This is not an excuse to procrastinate or get lazy and there definitely are times when you need to snap out of your funk and get the job done! You don’t want to be known as the guy or gal who’s never at their desk or constantly on a coffee break trying to “work up to it.” That perception can be very detrimental to your employment status if you’re not careful. These are methods for enabling the hard work to continue, not to avoid it. A strong work ethic is essential, and balancing that with the appropriate amount of rest is key.
Now that you’ve taken a break from your shot to read this, get back to work!