More On Why There Is No Substitute For Productivity

I thought I would share an observation based on my introduction to the world of games animation that I think relates back to why for learning animation you need to keep a focus on productivity.

When I started in my new job some went to great lengths to explain to me that games animation would be very different to the other jobs I had done. I'm afraid this hasn't really been the truth, there are specific qualities your animation needs to have and your animation is subject to constant change to suit the game, but I haven't really found these any more difficult to deal with (so far) than I would the requirements of an animation director with a specific vision for his or her product.

Day 054/365 - Captain Jack plays Pac Man by Great Beyond
Day 054/365 - Captain Jack plays Pac Man by Great Beyond

Socially it has been an interesting experience, with over a decade of animation experience now I'm among the older animators at the studio, but the younger animators have more experience at meeting the specific stylistic needs of a game. As a result I've been asking lots of questions, and have been getting as much information out of younger less experienced animators as I can. Some are reluctant to talk about specifics at all, while other have felt the need to apologise for not articulating themselves very well. I've been wondering why this would be the case.

After a few discussions with my co-workers I can think of two main reasons why a lot of animators are weary of spelling out in detail how they do their job, especially to another experienced animator.

Firstly one of the senior and I believe best animators expressed to me that so much of what he dose has been learned as he works, that when confronted with explaining how or why he does something he often finds that he has never really articulated it before. I guess you would explain this as having a feel for how it should work, and a casual observer might explain it away as talent, when in reality it has come from years of trail and error. When explaining to me how he does something this senior animator often has to stop and consider something for a moment before continuing, of sometimes even has to star over from another angle in order to capture his meaning. You can really see that even though he knows what he is doing in an intimate level, it is not something he has read from a book, or that can be conveniently encapsulated in a quote, he is struggling to bring together strands of accumulated knowledge into a cohesive sentence.

Secondly I think that because working animators are self taught to such a degree, we all have to cope with a level of insecurity. I know when expressing my thoughts on how to do something, I have to combat the fear that someone will leap forward and say, “Hey you don't know what your talking about!” And in a sense they would be right, because my opinions are largely based on observations about how I work and they could be entirely different for every other animator. There are undeniable facts about how animation works of course, but even then there is the matter of where they should fit into your priorities, if they should be considered on their own or in connection with other factors and so on. See what I mean? Its scary throwing your ideas out there, its something that confronts you as a blogger too, every time I post a how too up here on the ARC I'm wondering it I'm finally going to get caught out :P

The Rissington Motivation Board by Simon Clayson.
The Rissington Motivation Board
by Simon Clayson

So this poses a question for students. If animators are reluctant or unable in some cases to share how they work, and it turns out to be a unique thing for each animator anyway, how do you learn?

Well the same way every successful animator did, by doing it!
Getting it wrong.
Doing it again.
Asking someone what they think is wrong with it.
Doing it a different way.
Comparing it to some animation you respect.
Doing it better.
Then doing it again just because you should.
Guess what? Do some more!

I am convinced it is the only way you can make it. Having worked with hundreds of animators in my life and having seen with my own eyes the myriad of different ways they approach their work I am becoming more and more convinced that the way you animate is less and less relevant, what matters is the end result. Set high stands for your work and find a way to get there. It can't come from a teacher, a text book or a blog, it can only come from within you.

Is there time in your classroom set aside for just shutting up and working towards this? If not WHY? Maybe your need to sit down as a group and talk about it. I have experienced three different learning environments for animation here in Brisbane and I would say that in every case there needs to be less time spent talking about animation and more time spent with mouths shut, heads down and minds focused on production.

Animators at work by J0NESY.
Animators at Work by J0NESY

I'm afraid in a time when education is a product provided to customers instead of a social service and funding is dictated in part by “customer satisfaction”, teachers have been robbed of the ability to employ sit down and shut up tactics in our tertiary class rooms. Long gone are the good old days (in my opinion) when a teacher was trusted to know what was good for you in the long term and was empowered to make you endure tough times now for your future benefit. So ITS UP TO YOU, maybe your class can agree on times when there is no chit chat, agree to levels of output beyond the minimum required to pass (passing isn't enough for a career). If you're going to be respected like adults within tertiary education then perhaps its time your class sat down together and made some adult decisions. Decisions about sacrifice, about long term planing, about a reaching a fulfilling future.

What action are you going to take? You want this don't you? PROVE IT!


The Loud One said...

This post just hit me in my 'animators nads'

I fully agree to what you just stated. Back in the 'ol' day's' i had an art teacher that wouldn't take shit. She truly believed that what she knew as a teacher was right, and that as students we had to obey her rule -mostly. And it's thanks to her that any of our art+ was half decent. Part of me now still wishes for a teacher that would break my 'dreamers knees' and bring me down to earth. You can only improve so much with instructors that throw you a bone and reward your every step like a crooning, baby-talking mother. -no offense to my teachers, true-beauts every one- and teachers can only operate in the boundaries given them, as stated.

and then there's the obstacle of proactive productivity and procrastination. with thinking too much and not doing enough. it's fine to say 'ok, i'm going do fuck loads of animation today!'. and its another to get it all done.

But then you get to read a golden little post that helps, if only a little, to take/make more steps toward being a productive animator that wants to do more that just pass a Tertiary course.

Thanks Ian. Hope this made some sort of sense, being it coming from my caffeine and sleep deprived brain.

Ian said...

Hey there loud one, glad you liked the post. JJust remember that its not about shifting blame, I'm making a deliberate atempt to shift the responibility on to you.

Now you is all growed up, you have to be that hard arsed teacher, the dicipline and rigid setting of high standards has to come from you if your gona make it ;)

The Loud One said...

:D its just growing into yourself as an animator, instead of pretending to be an animator

Mitch said...

OH YEAH! a long awaited official Ian rant. God I missed these. It's like a drug to me these days. And yet something tells me I'm going to have to go beyond the call of listening to you and find some animation glory by myself.

or maybe it was the previous comments that I pretend to be all apart of my many epiphany's that I so egotistically claim ownership in the name of planet mitch.

but all jokes aside very wise rant and I as always appreciate the time you put into giving a shout out to those students eager enough to search for the little something extra in their spare time.

Thanks Ian for keeping the ARC real.

thats right, I used hip lingo, what of it.

Frank said...

Teaching animation is a challenge when there is so much to teach in so little time.

Allocating sit down and shut up time is all well and good in a weekly 4 hour class (that's 76 hours to learn all about 3D animation, if every hour is used productively, including being present for the whole class).

If only social networking, skylarking and lollygagging could slip off the 'to do' list. And the Interfere-net could be turned off during class time.

There seems a lot to learn for animation students, like punctuality and punctiliousness, as well as getting stuck in and making mistakes.

Ian has got it correct here, teaching animation is as much about guiding a student to the chair to actually sit down and do the animation (fair enough, you can get up to act things out or go to the toilet) as it is to feed the furnace with animation knowledge.

Frank said...

"animators nads" hee,hee. (The Loud One is the Sarah M I mention in my comment on the Beatles).

Terry said...

Bizarrely timed post, Ian! In the past few weeks, two students (one 1st Year, one 2nd Year) have told me that their classmates' raucousness is proving to be a difficult distraction.

I love the energy of the SBIT animation classrooms, but it needs to be focussed a little more (in my classes).

Next semester, I will be introducing "quiet time" in each class. No internet, no chatting, just animating.

I'm looking forward to it!

Terry said...

And if students don't submit to "quiet time"... then it's a swift kick to the "animator's nads"!

(Lovely expression, Sarah!)