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Pivot VFX: Same mentor, different classroom

by | Apr 29, 2013

Pivot VFX

In a recent blog post, David Tart — a long-time mentor here at Animation Mentor and Animation Director at Pivot VFX — shared the story of recruiting and leading a team full of Animation Mentor graduates (and future graduates) at Pivot VFX. Today, animators from David’s team speak of their experiences of having the same mentor — but now learning in a different kind of classroom.

We are so happy/proud/excited for your accomplishments — and we thank you (big time) for sharing your experiences with the community.

— The Animation Mentor Crew

Staying open in the creative process
One of the great things Animation Mentor excels at is teaching students not just how to take direction, but to realize that staying open in the creative process is one of the most beneficial stages of development. It’s natural for young artists to feel precious about their work, become attached to a particular shot, or gesture as they animate. However, when these same artists are ready for production, they find that their ideas — no matter how wonderful or inspired they might be — don’t always fit the ultimate direction of the show they are working on. A director might have a certain style or tone in mind, and it becomes the job of the animator to meet the director’s desires above his or her own.

At Animation Mentor, that role is approximated by the mentor. This is someone who oversees a shot from blocking to final, offering his or her advice — or vision — of how the shot should go. In that way, when entering professional production, students are not only accustomed to receiving detailed feedback on the regular basis, but often thrive on it — wanting that second, third, or fourth pair of eyes on their work to make sure that they are staying on course with both their inspirations as an animator and the needs of the production.

At Pivot VFX, we had several cooks in the pot, so to speak, because as a studio we were also working for the client. Animators needed to meet the expectations, deadlines, and demands of not only their own direct supervisor (David Tart) but also that of several additional supervisors, and ultimately the client’s film director. At times, this proved to be a challenge, when notes would come with varying and occasionally conflicting direction. At Pivot VFX, we needed to stay sharp and remember that the needs of our shots fitting into the larger puzzle of the show were more important than that first inspired idea we had when acting something out for video reference.

Like having several mentors reviewing your work at once, the information can sometimes feel confusing or even frustrating. In the end, it becomes a wonderful learning process where you develop your skills not only for animation, but also interpreting direction, giving feedback to others, and graduating from being a struggling student into a professional member of a studio.

Working with the team at Pivot VFX has been a very inspiring, challenging, and wonderful stage in my developing career. The team environment that Animation Mentor fosters was a natural transition into the professional scene at Pivot VFX. I look forward to working with everyone here again one day!

— Rob Somers

Animation Mentor did prepare me for this job
It was a pleasant surprise when I got contacted to be a part of this team. I am still finishing up class 6 at Animation Mentor, and yet here I am. Animation Mentor did prepare me for this job, better than I could have imagined. It is amazing how much I learned not just about the process of animation from Animation Mentor, but also the production environment. One of the biggest pluses of Animation Mentor is that you have a great connection to your peers — which, as I have found here at Pivot VFX, is vital for your work and others’ work to be its best. I have grown so much over my time here, by listening to others, as well as giving feedback. For me, one of the most encouraging things is how true it is that animators want to share their knowledge. You hear it all the time at Animation Mentor and it’s true. David was great at encouraging us to use new techniques and to learn from each other, not just him. In the end, I am honored and very grateful to have worked with this team.

— Brian Bredehoft

My experience at Pivot VFX was much like being in class at Animation Mentor
Everybody has a different journey going through school and transitioning into the industry. For me, that transition was very challenging and I faced quite a bit of rejection along the way. As animators, we put our heart and soul into our work, and receiving criticism or rejection can be very hard to handle if you don’t have the right mindset. As David points out, that doesn’t stop — even after you break into the industry. Every student wants nothing more than to land that dream job animating at a big studio. Receiving a rejection letter can be a big blow to one’s self esteem, but I never take it as “you’ll never be able to get this job,” but more as “you aren’t quite ready yet.” Job hunting can be quite stressful and something that always runs through my mind is, “If they would only give me an opportunity, I could show that I can do the job.”

I never realized the point of view of the employer, that hiring recent graduates does present a certain amount of risk. Having a great demo reel can be one thing, but employers can’t really tell if you will be successful in a production environment. Will you be able to keep up with production demands as far as quality and output, but more importantly, as David explains, will you be able to take direction and implement changes in a graceful and timely manner?

I think one of the more beneficial aspects of my education at Animation Mentor was that it prepared me for receiving feedback and implementing it in my work and also encouraged reaching out to my peers. My experience at Pivot VFX was much like being in class at Animation Mentor. It was very collaborative in that we all sought each other’s feedback before showing David and I really think that I produced much better work because of it. I am really grateful that David also took the time to hold in-house classes for us, because they helped to re-instill all of the techniques I learned while in school and make them applicable to the shots I was working on.

The one thing that has carried through from the time I was in school till present day has been my passion for animation and my drive to continually improve and hone my animation skills. I believe that as long as you have the drive to succeed and continue to learn and better yourself, eventually you will get your opportunity. I am extremely grateful that David put his faith in me and brought me on board for this project. Not only has it been a wonderful learning experience, but it also has given me a lot of confidence moving on in my career. I am honored to have worked with David and our whole group of extremely talented animators.

— Tim Kallok

Just go with the flow of being “a beginner every day”
I can definitely say that the skills I learned at Animation Mentor helped prepare me for this project. Besides teaching me a lot about the art and technology of how to animate CG characters in Maya, the classes also taught me a number of things about real-world feature animation production: Addressing feedback from peers and supervisors, dealing with the reality that major changes or complete re-blocking may be required, and getting the shots as polished as possible within the deadlines. I’m really happy that I decided to study at Animation Mentor and grateful that the skills I learned there enabled me to finally fulfill my dream of animating on a feature film. It was a pleasure to work with a team of talented animators!

— Bob Wilson

Love of the process trumps all
To have been tapped to be part of the Pivot VFX team was that rare convergence of being ready and being lucky. And when I say ready, I mean exactly what David was speaking to: Ready to grow, to learn new things, and to take it to the next level. This readiness stems from Animation Mentor’s underlying message that love of the process trumps all.

Getting up to speed to meet the demands of feature work was intense and challenging. Because of the support I felt at Pivot VFX, and particularly in David’s investment of time and attention with each of us, I was willing to take chances to try to do things differently, outside my comfort zone, even in the face of tight deadlines. As a result, my workflow tightened up, my shots stayed loose for easy changes, and my graph editor now looks like a Zen garden, lol!

— Sean Hannon

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