Workflow advice

Here’s a tidbit I had posted elsewhere and thought I’d share on my blog to centralize my thoughts. Hope you enjoy!

Experiment and Practice – I heard a lot of talk about exploring and planning in general, but it wasn’t until I did it that I understood what it meant. Try this as a guideline – whatever assignment you have, think of 5 different ways to do it. Draw each of them out roughly (if this takes more than an hour, you’re putting too much detail in too soon). Take your best idea and break it into segments, whatever works for the project. For each segment, think of 5 different ways to accomplish the same thing, and sketch them out. Choose the best and continue on until you’ve broken it down as far as it will go. By that point, you’ll have explored everything you can do pretty well and you’ll naturally be confident and have a crystal clear vision of what you want before you head into the computer.

This helps in a couple of ways. It taught me that I will never “dry up” with ideas, even if they’re crappy. 110,000 bad drawings, so get ’em out’ as they say. Since I know I won’t dry up, it’s easier to toss something that’s not working. It’s far better to start over than to fiddle with something to get it to work. In the beginning, I’d get to a point where I’d trash an entire project and start over two or three times. Granted, they were much less involved projects, but I found that re-blocking something out so it worked better took a quarter of the time to do it the second or third time than the first run. Which brings me to

Save Iterations – Not really something to get more out of class, but more of a sanity thing. Save (and label) your blocking separately from your block+ or spline. As you’re working through the shot, save a version after what you worked on (PolejumpnewRtArm001). This helps when you work all day on getting a sit to work and realize that in your fiddling the arm is now doing something really weird that you had “adjusted on the fly” and you really wish you could go back to that version a few days ago but where the heck is it in the 42 incremental saves? Ahem.

Time Organization – after 2 years of spending the entirety of Saturday day and night and early Sunday morning working on my assignments, I finally figured out that with better time management, my shots got better!

Figure out how much time you can spend each day on school work, then divide the tasks equally among the days. For me right now that means spending 2-4 hours each night working on 15-30 frames an hour. Breaking it up into hours and frames helps for me because a timer tells me to move on to the next section so nothing (ideally) goes untouched. If I reserve Saturday for getting to everything I didn’t during the week, it’s a lot less hectic than having 60 frames of finished animation by Thursday and 240 left for Friday and Saturday.

Remember to schedule time for: Watching the lecture (I add about 1/3 to ½ of the lecture time on for pausing to take notes), reading the forum, reading and responding to comments on your workspace and PR, reading outside material (Illusion of Life, timing for Animators, Animation Survival Guide, Crash Course in Character Animation, Alchemy of Animation, Drawn to Life, etc), sketching and/or life drawing (I can’t begin to say how much this has helped. I still am no draftsman, but I understand posing and composition so much better), shooting reference, studying reference, just sitting and mulling over new concepts without additional distraction, and relaxation. Of them all, the last is the most important.

Relax! Work hard, but know that if you do not take time to recoup, you WILL burn out. You’ve got to plan for time off and to hold that time sacred. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is more of a prophetic statement than one of bold assertion the longer you go. Also, don’t make the mistake of relaxing with animation. You know what I’m talking about – taking a break by watching an animated movie or show. Do something completely different. Read a book. Ride a bike. Garden.

There is always a point of diminishing returns. For me, it’s about 3 or 4am on Saturday when I know, from experience, that anything I do past that point will just be something I’ll just have to correct later. Yeah, you have to watch out for the lazy bug that will creep in and disguise itself as “I need a break”, but there’s a different flavor between those two versions of tired. Try to learn what your symptoms are for the first one and look out for it.

Just Do It – There was a time before AM when I thought art and creativity was about waiting for a muse to strike and then trying to capture the outflow. I found that worked great for art as a hobby, but not for art as a job. Set aside a time to work on your project and honor that time – don’t shrink it and don’t bloat it. Sometimes, you just need to know that you put in your BIC (butt in chair. Hmm, maybe it should be Butt In Seat with a clever acronym add on for HOP. I can’t think of a good one at the moment. Butt In Seat Has Overall Priority?) time. it may have been crap, but by god you still had the dedication to do it.

Teach what you want to learn – I had a very brief stint teaching basic computer skills (This is a mouse. This is a keyboard. Following that e-mail link won’t make anything bigger but it could crash the network) for the Art Institute in Los Angeles. I learned that I got far more out of the lessons as a teacher and answering questions the students had than I ever got as a student myself. It’s part of the reason why I think the policy of leaving crits on other workspaces is a freakin’ BRILLIANT learning innovation, and why I take the time to write long, rambling forum posts that people most likely will skim (or skip, as my original Freudian typo read). It’s in collecting my thoughts to express them to someone else that I usually learn what I should be hearing from better sources.

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