As artists, we are easily influenced by our environment and the people who surround us. It's a large part of what makes us expressive. On the train to work this morning I read a small article in the paper called "who's your mentor?" and this made me realize something blindingly obvious. We all need one.
When you discover how today's great animators became "great" you see them mentioning the same thing... they learned a whole bunch of what they know from someone they worked with, under, or even supervised. Glen Keane was lucky enough to work with some of Disney's old masters, so was Richard Williams, and James Baxter was lucky enough to work under him. Brad Bird was mentored by Milt Kahl ! I recently attended a fantastic two day Pixar masterclass with Andrew Gordon, and he consistently mentioned the work of Doug Sweetland.
We are all students.
Of course we are not all fortunate enough to work in amazing studios with animators like Frank and Ollie just sitting around, but we do need to ask ourselves "who is my mentor?". It is a crucial relationship that you need as an artist to help you blossom. This individual may not even be aware that you see them as a mentor, or you may have a number of people from which you learn a great deal. What is important is to identify in your own mind that these people influence you ... and try to understand why. Its also important to realize that you may be seen by someone as a mentor yourself, and to make efforts to facilitate this relationship.
Think why it is that you look to your mentor for guidance. Is it the way they animate? is it the way they plan their shots? Is it their high level of polish? is it the way they articulate their ideas? is it the approach they take to giving criticism to somebody's work? Is it they way they inspire confidence? is it they way they make the extra effort? is it the way they talk to other artists? Is it they way they take criticism? is it the way they talk about animation?
Those of you who are not working professionally, in a studio environment, don't panic. Ask yourself - where are you finding your information? Who is delivering it to you? If you visit lots of blogs or read lots of books (like the professionals do too) then ask why is the author discussing certain topics? rather than questioning the topics themselves... where are they looking for their ideas? Don't be afraid to e-mail professionals and ask for help. Ask your mum or your wife what she thinks of your shot... I guarantee their advice will be accurate and telling.
If you're a lead or a supervisor, look to the people who work under you for mentorship. energy and passion is at its freshest early on ... and this is probably the hardest thing to have to keep alive all by yourself. I remember a great quote from Ed Catmull where he mentioned something that really stuck out to me... "only hire somebody who can do something that you can't". Brilliant.
So yeah... got me thinking.