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Keep It At Home: Balancing Professionalism and Pain

I started this site to share the experiences I’ve had throughout my life and how they’ve applied to my animation career. The past 15 years or so since I decided to pursue this art form have been eventful, to say the least. Many experiences have been good, and some bad. They have all have added up to the person I am today, so I truly wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a firm believer that if you live honestly and do your best, then the best possible long-term outcome will occur. You could obviously point out examples to the contrary, but as a general life rule I think it holds up.

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s because I’ve been dealing with a brand new life experience, and one that I never saw coming. My marriage ended.

This is not a comfortable thing to reveal publicly, and to anyone who knows me that is hearing this for the first time, I apologize.  The past few months have been incredibly hard, and honestly I don’t want to repeat it any more than I have to. My family has been unbelievably supportive, and I decided to keep it between us until I was on the other side of it. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep my spirits high and remain physically and mentally healthy. Not everyone who goes through this is as fortunate, so all things considered, I’m doing alright.

One of the main themes on this site is that everyone, no matter how successful, is human. Some students might look at me and only see the high points. Sure, I spent some time at Pixar, did a lot of cool stuff at Telltale, and am blessed with the best job I could ask for at Blizzard. But I also come home to an empty house. My closest friend for the past 13 years decided to leave, and now it’s just me. I still love every day when I’m active and working, but the silence is waiting for me when I walk in my front door. I don’t get to avoid that just because it says “Animator” on my business card. We all suffer from time to time, and you should never think that you’re alone in that.

With that out of the way, I want to explore how to handle personal turmoil while remaining a functioning professional. This really is an exploration, because I don’t have all the answers. I feel like I’m past the worst of it, but it’s going to take time to heal and I’m sure I’ll still have bad days. Being realistic about that is important to avoid beating myself up over moments of weakness, and to not expect myself to bounce back without missing a beat. My guiding principle right now is to be kind to myself. Extra self-imposed pressure on remaining active on this website, doing personal work, or taking on new responsibilities was only going to make things harder, so I gave myself some slack. If you’re going through something difficult right now, that’s the best advice I can give. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay, and the people who care will understand.

I made a commitment early on to keep this out of the studio. No matter how I was feeling, I knew that my job was the one thing I could count on, and it had to be protected. I also teach a beginner animation class for my alma mater, and those students count on me to show up and deliver. Trust me, there were many days where it would have been easy to shirk my responsibilities and call in sick. Or I could go in anyway and bring all of my confusion and anger with me. What would that accomplish, other than to endanger my career and reputation?

Some days I have to stop before I walk in the door and remind myself to leave my problems outside. It’s not always easy to switch gears and play the part of productive team member when there’s a storm of emotions raging just under the surface. Luckily, those coworkers who I’ve told about all this had no idea that anything was wrong, and that was good to hear. For my personality, the last thing I wanted was sympathy or pity. I needed as much of my life as possible to be normal. Work was my sanctuary, and the one place I could go to feel like I was okay again. I understand that some people might not be able to handle it this way, and that’s fine. I can only speak to my experience and what’s helped me. If you have coworkers who you can talk to and need their support, then more power to you. If you need to talk to a psychologist, like I did a few times, please do. It’s not weakness to ask for help. It can get problematic, though, if it starts to interfere with your work and the work of those around you. At the risk of sounding callous, you still have to do your job. The same goes for your studies if you’re a student. Life may feel like it’s falling apart around you, but it will only be worse if you let the good things fall apart, too. I couldn’t control what was happening at home, but I seized tight to the things I could.

I’m extremely lucky to have the most understanding supervisors imaginable, and I felt comfortable confiding in them early on. I figured in case I failed to keep it under control, they should know why. Like I said, there was (and still is) always the possibility that I’ll have a bad day. Not every studio or job has such a supportive culture, but it’s been invaluable to me to have that comfort. I really can’t thank them enough.

Anyone reading this will no doubt have some kind of tragedy in their life. Nobody gets to avoid it, and that’s just the way it is. Loss, sickness, betrayal, and death are just some of the awful things that are part of being human. The thing that I have to keep reminding myself of, though, is that they are also great opportunities. They are opportunities to test how well we can overcome adversity and push ahead. For now I’m keeping myself busy and taking each day one at a time, and taking stock of all the positive things I still have to be thankful for.

It doesn’t exactly feel like a “Rocky” movie montage while you’re in the thick of it, but if you live with the right mindset, you’ll be able to cut together a pretty epic one in the end. The trick is, you have to decide what its message will be! Will it show the fall of your story’s hero, or their rise back to the top? Imagine today as a clip in that montage. Try to make it a positive one.

Take care of yourselves, and thanks for reading.


What We Do Matters!

Life is hard. Sadness, pain, and grief are inescapable facts of life for every single one of us. Getting out from under these emotions and the circumstances that cause them can seem almost impossible, and there is usually another calamity just around the corner.

“Hey, I thought this blog was about animation!”

Stay with me.

When the real world gets to be too much, one of the places we can turn to is art. Art has a way of touching us in a place that can compete, at least momentarily, with the worst emotions we face. This is why we turn to art that fits our particular mood. If we’re feeling heartbroken, we may search for upbeat songs that mask the pain, or sad ones that help us face it. If we’re doing something physically challenging, we might turn on something uplifting and energetic to power us through. The same can be true of painting, books, theater, film, etc.

Animation shares this power. Through the entertainment we put on screen, we can add some glimmer of light and levity to someone’s otherwise dreadful day. For the brief time that we can arrest them with our work, they can feel less suffering. For a couple of hours, a few minutes, or even just handful of seconds, all that other shit can take a rest. It’s difficult to feel afraid or sad while smiling, and the weight of the world’s problems can be lifted when one is in the grips of a good story. This is why animation matters to me. This is my way of making the world a slightly better place to live in, and I take it very seriously.

Just like anyone else, I don’t always want to work. Animation is damn hard and I go through a fair amount of discomfort to do it. But because I know why my work matters to me, I will always put in 100%. I haven’t gotten this far by just wanting to make cool stuff. That just isn’t a good enough reason to go through everything it takes to become a professional. Unless your reasons are more meaningful than that, you will find that your motivation eventually disappears. So I challenge you to do some soul searching and come up with the deepest “why” that drives you, and let that carry you forward.

When you’re having a bad day, or the shot you’re working on isn’t very interesting, please remember that what you’re doing matters. The world needs artists and storytellers to make the hard times bearable. We all need to remember that someday, someone we’ll never meet just might see what we’ve made and feel a little bit better. They might lift their mood enough to make a positive decision that day. They might learn a lesson or feel an emotion that makes a real impact in their life. They might even decide that they want to pay if forward by telling their own stories and putting their own art into the world. Think about it. What made you want to become an artist in the first place? You likely became inspired by those who came before you, and wanted to do that. Well, now you have the power to do that for someone else. Use it wisely, and make something great today.


Imposter Syndrome

Most artists know about a thing called “imposter syndrome.” It’s a little voice in your head that suggests in no uncertain terms that you’re a failure, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone else knows it (and is possibly embodied by @A_Graph_Editor on Twitter). The more pressure you’re under, whether it’s to find a job or to perform well in one, the louder that voice gets. Like a spiritual possession, sometimes that voice comes out of our own mouths as feigned humility, thinly concealing deeper self-loathing. I think humility is a positive trait, but it’s very easy to cross the line into a destructive attitude towards yourself and your work.

This starts to get at the mission of this website: To normalize the playing field and show that everyone, no matter how experienced or inexperienced, is in the same struggle together. Art is subjective in nature, and its limits my never be achieved. There is always a new level to reach, and there is always someone who gets there first. It’s your choice if you decide to let that excite and inspire you, or to let it overwhelm you. It’s a matter of perspective which I think can be learned and changed.

“It always came to that point of, well, [I’ll] get fired. They realize that ‘Glen’s always been faking it all along anyway.’ Basically I know that’s true for me. ‘He’s been faking it all along anyway, and here it is and he’s really screwed up. We’ve given him this big responsibility and it’s not going to get done, and [he’s] gonna have to get fired.'” – Glen Keane

I’ve heard it said that it is possible to be “happy,” but not “satisfied” with where you are, and I think that’s a good way to look at it. This requires a type of perspective and self-awareness that doesn’t always come naturally. What it means is that you can enjoy the work that you’re doing, knowing that it is the best you are capable of right now. All of the effort you’ve put in up to this point has gotten you here, and it’s exactly where you should be. At the same time, you can look at the long game and be motivated to improve. This healthy, productive dissatisfaction is what drives human beings to evolve and grow! If you have put maximum effort into your work, it’s okay to be happy with how it turned out, but not satisfied that it’s the best you’ll ever do.

I’m guilty of occasionally slipping a toe over the line between humility and abasement. My family and coworkers do a lot to help pull be back over, and I’m always grateful for it. Our self-worth is so tied to the art we create that it’s very hard to detach them from each other. Bashing yourself with negative talk can strangely feel good in the moment, and I think that’s because it takes away the responsibility to get better. If I say that I’m no good and never will be, then all of a sudden I don’t feel the pressure to be good. I’ve already admitted that it won’t get better, so that’s that. For me, it’s self-indulgence. It’s like a warm bed that entices me to stay in and not face the day. Motivation is like the alarm clock that yells at me to get up and move. Boy, does it feel good to hit that snooze button.

I don’t think my imposter syndrome will ever go away. That voice will always be there, and I just have to deal with it. Knowing the difference between happiness and satisfaction has been the best way I’ve found to keep it at bay, and I hope that it gives you some comfort as well. You’re as good as you are now, and that’s okay. You’re not as good as you’ll be next year, and that’s what you want. When feelings of doubt creep in, step back and take a look from this new perspective. Realize that those feelings are natural and don’t necessarily go away at will; it takes time to pull yourself out. Go ahead and get into that warm bed, but don’t hit the snooze tomorrow.


New Demo Video Available!

Oh, man that was a lot of work!

I’m excited to announce that my first full-length animation demo is available today on With over 5 hours of content, I show my entire process, from how I use reference, to blocking out my shots, and all the way through to polish.

There are a ton of workflow demos out there, but I’ve never seen one that demonstrates how to take feedback and actually implement it, so that’s why I wanted to make my own. In production, nailing a shot on the first try is about as common as a hole-in-one on the PGA Tour, but many demos and progression reels give the impression that it’s that simple. So I decided to solicit feedback from my coworkers as I went along, giving them free reign to make changes, just like a real director! I hope the result gives you some insight into how to handle notes, while keeping a positive, collaborative attitude.

If you decide to give it a look, thank you! In the spirit of this demo, I’m always open to feedback so that I can make future content the best it can be.

I hope you like it!


Welcome to The Animation Department

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with how “the industry” is portrayed to animation students. I used to think that it was some kind of Mount Olympus-like place where only the gifted went to make incredible art and live easy. I remember all too well sitting in my room, beating my head against a little laptop with this ridiculously complicated thing called Maya on the screen, and despairing about how far I still had to go to get there. Mind you, this was after getting my four-year degree in animation and while working part-time in a fitness club cleaning floors and bathrooms. Not exactly how I dreamed of things turning out after graduation. There seemed to be an impossibly high wall to climb, and just on the other side were all the studios I looked up to so much. There must have been something special about those gods that animated the shots I drooled over. They had to have figured out some secret formula that put them out of my league. I know now that students and graduates around the world feel exactly the same way, but living in the midwest felt like I was on another planet.

That’s who I’m writing for; those people who feel hopelessly detached from whatever they define as success and need someone to tell them how it really is. I want to demystify the professional animator and the struggles we all go through. To show the hopeful that they can do great things as long as they’re open to where the adventure takes them.

While I do intend to dabble in animation techniques and educational content, my focus will be on the realities of what its like to transition from student to professional. There are more than enough resources out there to teach you how to animate; I’m more interested in teaching you how to be an animator. Or at least what’s worked for me. Plenty of people have more experience and wisdom than me, but hopefully the lessons I’ve learned so far will be of some use to you.

Thanks for reading.