Sunday, March 20, 2011

Questions and Hopefully Answers

Recently I was asked the question, "What makes a good animator?". That is a tough question, but it really got me thinking.

Before I answer the question let me start by stating that I am in no way an expert on what it takes to "make it" in the world of animation. There are a number of different paths and talent levels that will work and be successful in the medium of animation. My experience is in the world of Visual Effects animation.

The obvious answer to, "What makes a good animator?", is, "A good animator knows how to animate." HA. That's not going to cut it for my answer tonight. I am assuming a good animator is someone who not only knows the basics, but someone who knows the details of animating a character as well. What I want to discuss is who makes it as a A-Team player, a solid professional animator.

Here is what I see as the main quality that makes a good professional animator: A problem solver. In the world of visual effects the client can change their mind with the change of the wind. It happens so much so that we at Tippett tried to convince Animation Mentor to create a class where a student works on a shot for four weeks then the mentor completely changes the idea of the shot and the student then has to finish the shot in one week! Ha. A good animator has to be able to handle that kind of madness and still create a quality product. But how? They learn to solve problems. Not only does a good animator learn to solve problems, they learn to set themselves up to solve problems before they even happen. Kind of like a good fighter can see a punch before it's thrown. Now what does that mean? How do you learn to do that?

I'm not saying you need to be a smart person, because I'm definitely not. But what I am saying is you need to be able to put your ego aside, not focus on what you've already created and solve for the current problem at hand. It's not easy. Trust me. There have been plenty of "cooling off" walks around the building to get my head back on straight. There has even been a broken keyboard (a story for another time). The main goal is to please the client and still get at least a sliver of our own creativity in there. If you can take notes from a client, supervisor, or lead that may even seem crazy and make them work, you will be rewarded. Especially if you do it with a cool head and in a timely fashion.

But how do you plan for that? How do you see that chess move three steps ahead? Here are some things that I do:

1st, take a LOT of notes. Even listen to the notes other animators have been given. It will save you time later. Study the vocabulary of whom ever is giving you notes. They may like to say "more Mickey Mouse", but mean "Get his ears up". Then you can solve for that note that much quicker and preemptively add "more Mickey Mouse" to your next shot.

2nd, come to the table with some of your own ideas. Be ready to not use them, but make sure you're not sitting there saying, "I don't know. What do you think he should do?"

3rd, keep your blocking simple, but make sure it reads. I can't seem to remember who said this, but "If you have to explain it, it isn't working". If you need to get that hand gesture in there to get your idea across then do it, just don't over work that fancy overlap.

4th, be ready to Hack and Slash. Grab the problem area and tear it out if need be. Don't get married to an idea. (Tom Gibbons will disagree with my Hack and Slash technique. But what does he know? He's only been animating for 30 years or so. HA. Love you Gibby)

5th, it's all in the details. Be the Wolf, from "Pulp Fiction" with the details. Make sure your suprevisor/lead doesn't have to remind you to animate your toes and tails. Make sure you have the latest rig if need be. Publish your shots the proper way. Don't make your leads double check your work. As Phil Tippett likes to say, "Make a coffee list." It's a list of all the things you need to do before final on every shot. Tape that list to your monitor and double check it before you call it final. Because the worst thing isn't that you forgot to do something and you've slowed the production. No. The worst thing is you forgot to do something and it's in the movie FOREVER!!

And the last thing I want to mention is for some of the students out there working at your first job or even if you're a veteran changing companies, problem solving also involves having the guts to get out of your seat and ask for help. Go talk to your fellow employees. Don't wait for the lead or supervisor to come around and ask if everything is okay before mentioning the rig is inside out.

Overall, a good problem solving animator is self motivated to get it done and make it look good no matter what it takes. The greatest thing for a supervisor to hear from an animator is, "I already took care of that."

Hope to work with you soon.


Anonymous said...

This is super excellent advice that I still tend to forget, even after years of experience.

Good to be reminded, thanks jbrown.

jbr0wn6 said...

No, no. Thank YOU.

Jess Morris said...

This is great advice! Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts and post em!