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.
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.
Oh, man that was a lot of work!
I’m excited to announce that my first full-length animation demo is available today on CGCircuit.com. 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!