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Recharge Your Animation Batteries

by | Nov 20, 2018

Eventually, no matter who you are, and no matter how much passion you have, your animation batteries are going to need some help. Which brings us to this week’s topic: You need to recharge your animation batteries!

Let’s talk about your Animation Batteries. You know the ones. That bank of Double-A (for AnimationAnimation, of course!) batteries that sit in your heart, and power your animation passion.

Guess what? Those batteries don’t last forever. I don’t care if they are Super Ultra-Ninja Double-Mega-Strength batteries, eventually they are going to run down. Hopefully, they’ll never die completely, but they darn sure get low sometimes.

Animators are passionate people. We’re artists, and we love our art dearly. We care about it. We study it, find ways to improve it, to grow ourselves as artists. We have the passion, and our batteries are so maxed out when we start down this animation journey that they’re practically exploding with energy! We’re bringing stuff to life! What could be more fun, right?

Well – eventually, no matter who you are, and no matter how much passion you have, your animation batteries are going to need some help. Which brings us (finally!) to today’s tip:

Recharge Your Animation Batteries!

Here’s the deal—you might be the most passionate animator in the world, and your batteries might be firing away at 100% for a few years even, but eventually, we all hit that moment where it becomes a grind. If you’re working, it suddenly becomes a Job, with a capital J. Something we’re required to do, but man, we’d rather be doing almost anything else under the sun. We’ve made a million changes to the shot over and over for the client, or just can’t get this certain acting beat to read properly, or we’ve spent more hours animating in a week than we thought actually EXISTED in a week, or the project is just so far removed from the high hopes you felt at the beginning, and our hearts are just suddenly NOT in it anymore.

Your batteries don’t last forever. I don’t care if they are Super Ultra-Ninja Double-Mega-Strength batteries, eventually they are going to run down.

Whatever the reason, we just don’t care anymore. Well, that isn’t quite right – we don’t care about the thing that MATTERS anymore. We care about keeping our jobs, or we care about getting the assignment done, or whatever, but when it comes to the ART of what we’re doing, forget it. We don’t care. We’re done. We go into “Animation Roboto” mode and just push keys around and scale curves and do whatever little iterations we can do to keep the shot moving forward, but we put zero creativity or art into it.

This, my friends, is when our batteries are toast. Maybe they aren’t dead yet, but they’re old and tired and starting to leak acid all over our passion.

At this point, you have two choices. You can either pull those Animation Batteries out, throw them away, and wander around looking for some new kind of batteries (may I recommend Fried-Chicken Batteries? The world can always use more Fried Chicken Innovation! Why haven’t I ever seen Coconut Fried-Chicken? Or Fried-Chicken-flavored toothpaste? Come on, people, get on it!), or else we can decide that no, we don’t want to quit, and instead start finding ways to RECHARGE those animation batteries.

How do we do this? Well, I guess it’ll depend a little bit on who you are.

For me, it’s all about getting a little space from this animation stuff sometimes.

Ever since I got my dream job at ILM (more than 20 years ago!) I’ve had a long-standing rule that I don’t animate outside of the office. Ever. I know some of you will think that’s lame, or weak, or like I don’t love to animate or something, but you know what? I’ve seen too many people get burned out. I had too many “teachers” back in school who had dead batteries. That isn’t going to be me, if I can help it, and part of the solution is to have a life outside of animation!

I animate all day long, five (and sometimes six) days per week. When I go home, I need to do things that recharge my batteries whenever I can. Things like reading a good book, or digging through some comics, or watching some great TV shows… I’ll write a story, or I’ll watch a movie, just for the fun of it, and turn off my hyper-critical animation brain as much as I can and just try to enjoy it for what it is instead of picking it apart or frame-by-framing anything. I’ll fire up my computer and look at some of my favorite artists latest work—again, not really to study it, but just to ENJOY it.

In short, whenever I can, I’ll find things that inspire me like crazy—not even necessarily inspiring me as an artist, but even just inspiring me as a person—and just experience those things as much as I can.

I realize that earlier in your animation career, this isn’t a real option, because for the first few years, you probably DO need to be animating as much as you possibly can—both to learn and to create new stuff for your reel. However, once I built a demo reel I was comfortable with, I set aside the need to constantly animate my brains out every waking moment of my life, and instead focused on making sure that I was relaxed, inspired, and excited to go to work and animate every single morning.

So, that’s a good way to avoid having your batteries get low in the first place, but what about when they are really starting to bottom out?

My wife had some cool things to say about this tonight over dinner. (Yes, she’s an animator too—how awesome is that? Which sort of makes up for her not really eating much fried chicken, I guess…)

She does a lot of the same things I do—watches movies, reads some comics, whatever, but for her, recharging is less about doing these as an escape from animation, and instead about finding how these things relate to her animation passion, and using them to feed it.

For her, it’s all about finding things that inspire her to think about animation even more! It’s watching animated-films and their making-of documentaries. It’s seeing some amazing artwork in a comic book and really studying WHY that certain pose feels so dynamic. It’s sitting down to draw in her spare time and invent new characters and stories. It’s watching amazing animation over and over and just getting so inspired that it completely fires up her animation batteries, and she’s ready to charge back into the fray the next morning, totally rejuvenated!

This is a great point, and an interesting distinction. She worries less about avoiding the battery drain in the first place, and instead just stays constantly inspired. I, on the other hand, tend to worry less about finding constant inspiration than I do about avoiding the drain in the first place, and instead run my batteries off of an older charge.

Which is better? Beats me! In the end, it’s probably pretty much the same thing, just handled a little differently. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are conscious, in SOME way, of your battery charge. When those Double-A’s are getting low, get off your butt and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, and don’t just sit around doing the old mope-n-hope, where you’re whining about your situation and hoping the batteries magically recharge themselves and fire you back up.

That’s the worst thing you can do. If you’re in that mode, guess what’s going to happen? Your work will suffer. And if you’re in a studio, guess what happens when your work suffers? People start to notice. Which endangers your job. Which, I think we can all agree, is not a good thing.

And like a lot of problems in life, the earlier you catch this, the better. As soon as you notice that you aren’t really caring about this shot or that shot, stop for a moment, figure out why, and then re-inspire yourself SOMEHOW. If that means trying to get away from it for a little bit, then try hard to do that. If it means popping in your favorite animated film and marveling at some amazing animation, then do that! Maybe it means drawing some funny drawings, or playing some Halo3, but whatever it is, find it for yourself before it’s too late. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your project, and if you’re at a studio who has taken a gamble in investing in you and entrusting their work to you, then you owe it to them as well.

Now, it would be a cop-out not to acknowledge (or for you students out there, “prepare you”) that the single most common cause of battery-drain is an indecisive or hyper-picky client. While your batteries can sometimes drain because of your own missteps—you get stuck on something in your shot, or it just isn’t working, or the emotion isn’t reading—these are not the real danger areas for your batteries. In fact, it’s relatively easy to avoid any drastic battery drain from this stuff, because you’ll find renewed inspiration from the solutions you’ll discover to the very challenges that were draining you moments before. No, the hardest battery-drainers to face are the outside-influences you are forced to deal with.

It doesn’t matter what medium you work in, or what studio you work for, eventually you will find a client who just CANNOT make up their mind. Maybe they just don’t know what they want in the first place, or have no imagination or vision and can’t even discuss a shot until they see a version of it which they inevitably change a dozen times over, or maybe they just like to suggest changes in order to feel important or like an integral part of the process.

You WILL meet these people. If you’re lucky, they will be in the minority, but I’d be surprised if you could go a decade in this business without working (suffering?) under a director or supervisor afflicted with a bad case of “I-Don’t-Knowitis.”

The key to surviving these projects, and coming out the other side with a positive attitude and your passion in tact, is to first acknowledge the moment that you no longer truly care about the work, and then to do something about it.

I know those experiences can be frustrating, but I know from experience that wallowing in the muck of your misery on a tough project will only lead to more misery and frustration in the end, and you’re so much better off just powering through the experience, forcing yourself to stay excited about any little aspect of the work that you can latch onto, and seeking out as much inspiration as possible elsewhere.

Just remember that this project isn’t the end-all, be-all of your career, and in all likelihood it’ll eventually dissolve into a funny anecdote you’ll tell people about years later when you’re sharing animation war-stories with your peers.

Most importantly, if a project, shot, or director is hammering away at your batteries on a daily basis, don’t let them kill it for you. It’s your art, and you had a passion for it. Remember when Animation was WOW for you? It can be again! It WILL be, if you can hang in there! It’s up to YOU to protect those batteries and fill them back up. Don’t let one project, or one co-worker ruin this magic for you. It’s yours, and no one can really take the love of this art away from you unless you give up and let them.

Keep animating, keep those batteries charged, and as always – HAVE FUN!!!!!!


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