May 2, 2008

Out the Other Side

I was sitting around at home the other night and I realized something pretty cool. Something I wish I'd know before... I don't want to get melodramatic, but if anyone else can relate to this post maybe it might help out...

If you're an artist, you've probably been through the highs and lows. You have times when you really feel good about a piece of work you did, or an animation turned out really cool and everyone loved it. There's also the times that feel crappy... the ones where you just can't get something right, or you just don't know what to work on, or you feel like you're lacking the drive to be an artist, like you're losing interest in what used to be so much fun! but is now so bloody difficult....

I've come to believe, that despite the anxiousness and doubts, the truth is we are actually at our best during these down times.

I can say 100% that I recently went through a pretty heavy down time. I've worked in video games my whole career, and I've never developed a proper approach to animation other than just kind of "doing it" and "pushing and pulling stuff around until it works" and this is because video game animation often has a very loose and sometimes non-existent direction process for individual animations. My methods became very "organic" and to be honest it was almost impossible for me to get constructive feedback on my animation work as I created it, or in fact, to even really properly evaluate it until it was finished. I'm sure this is not an uncommon problem amongst animators who are self-taught.

So I started researching and investigating different ways of animating. I looked at workflows, breakdown reels, sent emails to animators, looked at demo reels, student work, AM blogs... the whole nine yards. I also started looking more and more at 2D animation and appreciating it much more than I had before. To tell you the truth, I quickly became near obsessed with the process of blocking animation, treating each pose like a drawing, and thinking more and more in a 2D way. I could see the benefits that people were finding in working this way.. using the 'stepped key' method, and more importantly just how easy it was for them to show their ideas and get feedback in a way that was constructive. Its this approach that lends itself to feature animation, or at least to acting animation... and I really wanted to understand it and to work that way.

Oh man... I just couldn't do it though. Honestly.. it was like learning to animate all over again.. and I just found it so difficult to think about animation in this way. I practiced it at work, and at home. I threw away acting shots that frustrated me, and I started to get annoyed with animation and feel shitty that I wasn't animating the way I wanted to. I started thinking "I don't even want to animate the acting shots.. I'm good at the physical stuff"... it got a bit crazy for a while... in fact this doubt came on and off constantly for about 2.5 years. My wife could tell you how much I used to ramble on about it.

The truth is though... now I've sweated and struggled with it over and over... I now get it! I really feel like I get what blocking is about. I get when to use it and not to use it, and I understand what's important about it and what's not. I also have the best of both worlds now, because I'm confident I can take my knowledge of straight-ahead and layering, and mix it up with blocking. I have a shot at home that I'm animating in the stepped key approach and its helping me get better results than my old method would ever have got for me. I'm new to this technique so I know I still have a bucket load more stuff to learn, but the key thing is that I have my confidence back, and I'm starting to enjoy the process rather than fight it.

So what I'm trying to say is... its during these times when we really struggle with something, and doubt our abilities or even doubt our passions, that we are actually learning the most and developing ourselves more than ever as animators.

The trouble is, its super hard to see whats happening until you come out of it the other side...

When I finish this little acting shot at home, I'm hoping to post something up about the processes, the details of blocking...the kind of post I wish I'd found when I was trying to figure this stuff out.


Unknown said...

Glad that the blocking has clicked, it does make things easier, eh? : )

If you ever want crits, matey, there are plenty of people who can help. I frequently receive requests from people, and haven't turned down anyone yet. :P

This is another reason why stepped mode is vital - for critiques. With such curves, every single *artist-made* pose is super clear, and allows an outside party a much easier time coming into a shot cold, showing where the person's intent is, and not a computer inbetween.

Yay for steppy step!

All the best,

- Tim Sormin - said...

I just came to the exact same realization last summer. I was struggling with my shots at work and was getting down on myself about how I sucked at this stuff and any day now my bosses would notice and wonder why they ever hired me. I moaned and whined about it to my wife on the way home for a few days, but then I started thinking back about all of the other times I've felt this way and it turned out that it always happened when I was the most invested in my work and was really growing. When I'm feeling good about my animation is when I'm just coasting along, without improving. It's good to know that your animation can be better, because it's never perfect and if you think it is then that's when you stop getting better. I still get frustrated and bang my head when I'm not getting a good performance, but I don't get quite as depressed anymore. :)

Unknown said...

>>When I finish this little acting shot at home, I'm hoping to post something up about the processes, the details of blocking...the kind of post I wish I'd found when I was trying to figure this stuff out.

-Thanks a ton, in advance :)


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see what you write regarding your learning experience. Know that it's really appreciated. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic to hear. I think at some point we all have revelations about blocking when starting out.

I have had my fair share of them and have come to see blocking as a way to see though all the muck that your program gives you to just what you have in there, just what you affect.

I've also come to find that the more keys you have in blocking, the less you have to clean up the curves. When you have enough keys, all your curves are already how you want them, with maybe an occasional hitch here and there witch are easy to see.

Anyway! I wish you further success with blocking in stepped and as always, looking forward to your next post!

Best Regards,
William Hoag

Daniel Huertas said...

I totally agree with those down sides cameron.... and it got me so frustrated that I wasn't enjoying working or like you said.. I didn't even want to animate acting shots... fortunately i have very talented friends who put me back on track and well.. I decided even if i have a little of experience animating.. i needed more advance training and i will be joining AM this summer.. very excited and looking forward to really understand how to make work blocking, layering and straigh ahead at my convenience :)

very nice post! :D thanx for sharing those thoughts..

Carl Campbell said...

Great post Cam! The frustrating moments are definitely the ones where we are most actively reinventing ourselves, almost as if it were a defence mechanism to avoid the same thing happening again.

I felt reborn when I discovered the traditional approach to CG animation (poses and timing first, then breakdowns, ...) since I adore the way you can lay everything out before committing to it too seriously.

I can't draw that good so I almost felt like I was 'settling' for CG but after reading a LOT of essays on workflows, especially Keith Lango's stuff, I felt finally at peace with myself and pushed onward.

It's reassuring to know that other people struggle with this issue too, I almost felt it came naturally to everyone!


Chetan Trivedi said...

hmmm.. hope i too survive to make it to the other side.. hehe..
thanks for the post..

P.S. although i still am doing the basic exericses of animation, still ild like to say that m happy that i was adviced to keep my anims in stepped..yay!!

Derek said...

I'm looking forward to that post. Thanks in advance!

geenpool said...

I totally get what you're saying...those are the times, when stuff's not working, that you learn the most...I had a huge little comment here, but then I realized that It was just repeating what you said, only with smaller words, and less intelligently, so...yeah. Love yer blog. It's harder for me to get crits, due to the fact that I'm the animation department...and this being the game industry, I can't really show anyone outside the studio what I'm I often feel like a huge dud...a failure, which pushes me to learn more and animate better...thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone...

holy cow..I guess I did just vomit words out...sorry...

TJ Phan said...

Cameron, you've hit the nail on the head for me!--I've been feeling a lot like this lately. For the past few months, I've been trying to absorb all this new info that I find everyday, as well as experimenting with all sorts of new methods. It's overwhelming--sometimes I feel like I'm actually getting worse. Hopefully I'm going through one of these downtimes as well. Hopefully soon I'll come out of it a bit stronger. Thanks for the post. Also, thanks for the new version of shotView.mel!--great updates.

Cheers, man.

Aparna-Appie! said...

i can't tell you how good it feels to know that there r ppl who have these thoughts and have made it to the "other side"..successfully :)

m new to the animation world to a large extent..n its been really rough figuring out whether to follow my first instinct of goin straight ahead with the animation or do it the "planned way"

hopefully i will figure out how to balance it in a way that suits me best...looking forward to the next post..!

Anirudh said...

hi there cameron,

well excellent post. i totally agree with you that when we feeling down, we should never give up as thats the time when we can really learn some thing very very concrete and which we will remember thru out our time.

i remember last year i was going thru a downtime April onwards, nothing was going rite, i was finding it difficult to animate scenes, deadlines used to gloom me, creative block and so on. This went on for quite sometime and then the 2nd Student Showcase of Animation Mentor came out. That opened my eyes in a way, and then i quit my job and went back 2 school at Animation Mentor. And here i am, having the best time of my life being a student, learning the way i always wanted to learn. Looking back i think its the best decision i wud have made in a long long time. So its all about keep going no matter how hard it seems and as u mentioned the other side will surely be worth it.

Now regarding blocking in stepped mode, i remember in my early days, i used 2 block just for the heck of it, poses were very rough, not very clear and almost always i used 2 change the poses after my first review from my anim. sup/director. I never knew what blocking what meant to be and how useful it can be. Then slowly and steadily i read abt it, asked my frends, peers, seniors and now i cant imagine my workflow without blocking. Its the fastest way to get the idea across in the most effective way to your director.

Though now i am hearing many people not blocking in stepped mode at all and going to spline from the word go. Now this is my next area of subject which i would like to explore. Dont know when will that be, as blocking in stepped mode is really helping me a lot.

Looking forward 2 ur next insightful post.


Anonymous said...

Hey! Aint those just methods to get the animation? Or this 2d approach is really better?


Cameron Fielding said...

- Sorry for the late reply guys, and thanks to everyone who took the time to comment.

Will: I agree about the more keys in blocking the less you have to clean up.. i guess it comes down to your approach and how you think - i find it hard to block much more detail than a few story poses and breakdowns...

Kevan: yay indeed! and thats for the comment

TJ: thanks man.. I`m getting ready to roll out a newer version of shotView with a pretty cool update that should make you happy :)

Anyway... so glad to hear I`m not the only one that can get a bit too wrapped up in all this animation stuff sometimes.. If I was a classical painter I`d probably have cut my ear off by now ;)

Bobby Pontillas said...

Hey how did I miss this gem of a post!?

I love reading honest, sincere posts like this that make me feel like I'm not the only one.

Although I think I'll be able to Amen and Hallelujah this post thoroughly when I actually get through the funk I'm in!

Memo Dupinet said...

wow, It's happening the same with me. After have been doing animation through the years, I think more as 2d.

Right now I feel very confortable with the Grease Pencil script from Maya and I begin to draw through the frames all the poses and then the breakdowns. It comes the day when you figure out that you have drawing in 4's (or even 1's)and almost all the animation it has been done from the drawing basis.

But I think is more difficult to do this in videogames because you haven't had a specific camera

Memo Dupinet said...

wow, It's happening the same with me. After have been doing animation through the years, I think more as 2d.

Right now I feel very confortable with the Grease Pencil script from Maya and I begin to draw through the frames all the poses and then the breakdowns. It comes the day when you figure out that you have drawing in 4's (or even 1's)and almost all the animation it has been done from the drawing basis.

But I think is more difficult to do this in videogames because you haven't had a specific camera

Anonymous said...

just stumbled on this blog looking for animation info and this post hit me so close to home you don't even know.

i was animating in games for 7 yrs before finally becoming so frustated with this feeling my skills were atrophying instead of improving that i finally left completely to "figure things out."

well, its been some time now and my animation fire has been restored but this time i'm trying to learn everything from the ground up instead of relying on shortcuts or powering through animations through trial and error which always left me feeling more and more like a "hack" the less i really understood what i was doing

anyway, "Flip" has instantly become a regular read for me (Mike Walling's workflow doc is a Godsend!) and i'm stoked and excited to be started the 'second half' of my animation career off on the right foot!

thx for a terrific read and look fwd to more!

The Web Video Company said...

this is pretty cool thanks for the article always interested in anything related to video animation animated video ads advertsing videos etc ..thanks !