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December 28, 2019

Planning, In Life and Animation

by Chris

I’ve talked before about planning your animation. Jumping into a shot without a clear idea is generally an ill-advised move, because you can’t be assured how it will turn out in the end, and you’ll likely have a much harder time getting there. That said, we all know that working straight-ahead has its advantages, because the results tend to be more spontaneous and fluid. And it can be really fun to just plow through and see what happens! Often it’s a combination of careful planning and seat-of-your-pants experimentation that produces the best result.

What a great metaphor for life.

Some of us grow up with an idealized view of how things should go. I certainly did. The standard Midwest life of a house with a big yard, a happy family, a dog, and a stable job. There was an order to things. A “right way”. I found a partner early on, prioritized working and saving, got married, bought a home, and children were up next. Everything was done in order, and with a lot of planning and care. But as I’ve written about at length, life doesn’t give a shit about your plans.

The same is true for animation. Plan as much as you like, but you’ll still get notes that change everything. Files will crash and you’ll lose work, or a new idea will come up that means you need to delete everything and start again. Despite your best efforts, a shot that should be easy and take no time at all can go horribly over-bid and make you question if you know what you’re doing at all. Happens to all of us.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is no right way. Just like there’s no correct or incorrect animation workflow, there’s no correct or incorrect way to live your life. You’re going to have a winding, confusing path. There will be times where you won’t be where you think you should be, and beat yourself up for it more than you deserve. Maybe you’re feeling like that right now. Know that I am talking directly to you, and I’m right there with you. Our circumstances are different, and we would probably look at each other with envy, for different reasons. What we have in common is that our position doesn’t match our vision. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because we need something to strive for or we might as well be dead! It lets us know that we can be better than we are, which is inherently positive.

Similarly, we all look at our own work and know that we can do better. Our eye and taste exceed our skill, which can be frustrating as hell (I say “our” because I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. Somebody back me up here!). I’ve done plenty of shots that I know could be better, but I’m just not good enough to do it yet. Those work days are tough. I’ve learned to appreciate those moments, though, because I know that they almost always precede a breakthrough. We only get better when we come face to face with our absolute limits. That’s how we learn. I visualize it like a wall that I’m barely able to get over, and the shot gets delivered by the skin of my teeth. I know that I’ve found my limit, but that’s a powerful thing to find. The only place left to go is past it! Up and over and on to the next wall.

I relish climbing those walls when I come up against them. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks. I don’t enjoy feelings of frustration, worthlessness or failure. I do, though, have faith that things will work out for the best if I keep doing my best. As bad as it hurts, I know I’ll get over it. I’ll slide back down a few times and get bruised and bloody, but if I keep at it and allow others to help give me a boost, I’ll get up there. You will too. Keep climbing, and if I can ever give you a leg up or reach a hand down to grab you, I’m here.

Make your plans, know where you’re going, and do your absolute best to execute. But when life gives you notes, make the tough changes. Take the redo. Odds are it will go better the second time, anyway.


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