What makes a good professional animator? While technical skill is important, there’s one key issue that’s not often mentioned—ego. Learn essential studio etiquette from Jamy Wheless, former ILM Lead Animator and current President and Animation Director of Lightstream Animation Studios.
Originally published way back in 2005, this post will ALWAYS be relevant. Enjoy!
What makes a good animator? Is it getting great poses? Understanding timing? Paying attention to arcs? How about being a good actor? Actually, it’s all of this and more. But one of the key ingredients not discussed often enough is having a positive attitude and being able to work with others.
I’ve worked with very talented animators whose egos have hurt their careers. The mindset of, “I deserve this or that” or “I don’t need to work with a team—I can do it on my own” will eventually lead to no job. It was coach Lou Holtz who once said, “All life is—whether it’s in a job or a home or on a football team—is getting other people what they need.” Plain and simple.
-The director needs an animation supervisor to listen and get him what he or she wants in a shot.
-The animation supervisor needs the animator to deliver a great performance that helps tell the story.
-The animator needs to collaborate with other animators and be open to suggestions to do his or her best work.
-The animator needs to be able to take constructive criticism from others.
-The animator needs technical support to help him or her animate faster and get the job done on time.
It takes a team of people to get each other what they need.
In order to improve and become a better animator, one needs to set the ego aside and be open to learning something new every day. My friend and I have a saying at work, “Is it about you or is it about the work?” In other words, “Are you giving your all for a bigger cause or are you more concerned about yourself and what you get out of it.?”
An animator needs to collaborate with other animators and be open to suggestions to do his or her best work.
So how do we keep our egos in check and become better animators each day? It all begins with the right attitude.
My own work began to improve when I made a decision years ago to have a positive attitude regardless of the circumstances. I made a conscious decision to keep a positive attitude and to influence others every day. Over time, my work habits improved and I looked forward to going to work and serving others. It takes a daily commitment to keep my attitude right through the course of a week. When my attitude turns negative, which can easily happen, I have to check myself and ask the question, “Is it about YOU or the work?” Usually when this happens, it’s more about my ego and what I want rather than what the team needs.
Another rule to live by is to treat others the way you want to be treated. Living by this rule helps me focus in on each person and then as I imagine if I were them I ask myself, “What can I do that would help them get what they need to be successful?” Since animation is a team effort, by applying this rule to your daily routine you not only inspire others but you’ll find yourself more inspired as you do your work. It becomes contagious and before long everyone’s work has improved.
Is it about YOU or the work?
In summary, I’ve realized that the right attitude is more important than all the talent in the world. My personal belief is 20% talent and 80% attitude will take you far in life. You have a choice every day regarding your attitude and how you conduct yourself. Believe you can improve yourself and become that person you desire to be. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Change your mindset and have the right attitude and great things will come.
Want to become a great animator?