Apr 23, 2008

Who's Your Mentor ?

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.


Unknown said...

No - I dint like the picture at the start of the blog ...

But YES the post did make a lot of sense :)

Eagerly awaiting ur next post ;)


Carl Campbell said...

Great post, Cam! I'm always receptive to a Mentor figure but it can sometimes be hard to find one. The man who I consider my Mentor is actually someone I don't currently work with and I see him as some who has influenced me because of his attitude towards life and work, not so much towards animation itself.

I feel somewhat let down though since the Lead Animator I work under currently has never 'taken me under his wing' so to speak and doesn't like people being nosey with him at all. I do know he is an excellent animator though, I just wish he were... 'nicer'.


Chetan Trivedi said...

hey thanks Cam!! ur post came in at the ryt time.. coincidence or wat, i dont know.. but the person i take as my mentor was online, n we were discussing abt the same topic. hehe..
thanks a ton.
n keep em coming

Unknown said...

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us. I always find them full of great insight and as a result i often find myself reflecting on my own work. This is such an underrated topic that should be brought up more often. It IS vital to know who inspires you for whatever reason it is what keep us going! Thanks again Cam... take care and keep up the great posts.


Anonymous said...

hey cam!
friend of mine pasted me this link , great article man!
Really impressed by your insight and also the humbleness you keep , hope all is well over at prop.

Mahesh Bisht said...

Kool stuff..

For me everyone is my mentor..I take advice suggestion help frm all.

But there r some special Mentor I have they keep helping me..
and I m learning each day.


Goosh said...

Great post Cam

For me everyone is my mentor..I take advice suggestion help frm all.

Hey Mahesh..
That's not really the point of a mentor.. it's great to take suggestions and talk to everybody and learn that way.. and you should not stop doing that.. but a mentor goes beyond that.

A mentor should pretty much be one person.. A person that you trust completely and you know that you can get a honest opinion from. somebody that cares about you and your development. Someone that will help you grow.

I'm not sure if I agree with cam in saying that a mentor potentially doesn't know you nor you interact with him/her.. (again, it's ok to have those people) but I see a mentor as someone you can communicate with, you can throw ideas back and forth, have discussions, etc.

You can look up to as many people as you want, but I would say, try to find a person you can have a relationship with. Doesn't have to be from your company (sometimes it does help since it's easy to go over to their desks and talk about things) but these days, with suck great communication tools, your mentor could be anywhere.

Anyway.. great stuff Cam.. as always.. :)

Cameron Fielding said...

Thanks to everyone who commented!

carl: I know exactly what you mean man... the truth is, these are often the best people to teach you stuff. The guys that demand a bit more respect, or do things differently... I remember being at school - the teachers I learnt the most from were probably the ones I was most scared of! ( at least - the ones that made me behave! ;)

goosh: thanks for commenting mate. your right man, the perfect mentor is the one on one setup.. finding that relationship should be a professional goal for all of us - as much as reaching our artistic goals even...

Matt Williamson said...

Hello Cameron!
I just read your article "who's your mentor?" and I don't have one really... which is super sad. I'm going to school for animation but my teacher is not that good at creating 3D animation let alone teaching it. I've basically taught myself 3D animation quite similarly to you and have a strait ahead and layered approach as well. I try and inspire, and get inspired by my peers, but our animations are definitely suffering from lack of drive and positive ideas a great teacher could provide. I would love nothing more than to have some back and forth just talking animation with someone who's work I admire and wish to emulate.
I'm up night and day learning so drop a line if it tickles your fancy! matt.art.design@gmail.com