Saturday, January 26, 2008

A new direction

If you had asked me about a year ago if there was anything I would rather be doing besides animation, I would have quickly said, "No." From the time I learned that people could actually animate for a living, it was all I ever imagined myself doing. It seemed to be the perfect mix of my interests in computer graphics and acting, and I pursued it with a passion. I ate, drank, slept, and breathed it all through my time at the Art Institute of Seattle. I had the stereotypical grand vision of one day working as an animator at Pixar, and stereotypically sent them my reel once I graduated from AIS. Naturally I landed somewhere else for my first job, but that first job thrilled me all the same. And despite some rocky spots here and there, that thrill has stayed pretty strong for the majority of the past six-plus years. Going to work wasn't work. It was fun!

But then something changed. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly initiated that change. I have a handful of ideas what it might be, but despite the cause, the change happened. In short, there came a point where it wasn't fun any more. The joy of bringing characters to life was gone. It had become work. Not only that, but it had become quite stressful. If it was just tedious, I think I could have pushed through it, and there were several times that I tried. But there was more to it than just tedium. Something about the process of sitting down and doing the work just stressed me out. It wasn't until recently that I ran across this quote, but it seems to sum up my feelings at that time pretty well:
"Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else."
James M. Barrie

In the middle of some of this stressful, confusing time, we had a break before ramping up for Open Season 2. While most of the rest of the animation team worked on rig and blendshape testing for the characters, I was asked to spend about a month doing MEL scripting. It was a mix of writing new tools that the animators had requested, and revamping some of our existing animation tools to clean them up, add new features, etc. While I was doing all that heavy left-brained stuff, I was nearly in heaven. The time just flew by like it hadn't in ages. It hardly seemed like a month when it was all over. To top it off, it nearly filled me with fear as I looked at what the rest of the crew was doing and thought about going back to animation. When I finally did get my first assignments for OS2, I tried my best to plug away anyhow, and I got off to an okay start. However, the frustration and anxiety were all there, and I definitely felt like I would rather be doing something else.

I had a series of long talks about this with my supervisors, and to make a long story short, they were gracious enough to let me shift gears. A little over a week ago, I made the official change from Animator to Animation TD. While there are a lot of things I still need to learn to truly fill that role effectively, I do know this: the joy is back. It's back despite the fact that I'm running more directions in a given day than I have in a long time. It's back despite the increased demand outside of "normal" work hours. Some might call this stress, but compared to how I felt the last time I sat down to animate a shot, it's bliss.

That said, I haven't totally given up on the world of animation. I still love talking about it. I still love analyzing it. I still love helping the students I work with at Animation Mentor push themselves and learn and grow as animators. I'm working with Class 6 this term, and it's so much fun to help them take their short stories to the next level. I'm also doing some of the weekend makeup Q&A sessions, and it really feels good to do a demo or answer someone's question and see comments come back that what I did or said helped them to understand a certain concept more clearly. It's just frustrating that the act of doing it myself has become so....well, frustrating. However, I'm thoroughly enjoying the more technical work I'm doing now, and feel that my time as an animator will only help me be a better animation TD.

So that leads to the next question, which I probably won't answer until a later blog post because I'm still figuring it out myself:

What's to become of "justinAnimator.com"?

5 comments:

Mentalray said...

Oh no!! don't change it to justinanimatorTD.com :) I think the most important thing is to be happy. Rock on dude!

Stefan Andersson said...

Welcome to my world Justin :) I love being a TD/Animator, kind of a perfect match for my brain (as it can't decide on which side it prefeers... hehe).

Best of luck on the new assignments.

regards
stefan

Ryan Hagen said...

Hey JB,

Doing what makes you happy is what it's all about. I think we sometimes get caught up in our own dreams, instead of the realities of the situation. I hope you're new direction is a good one, and for the record, once an animator always an animator;)

jeff said...

hopefully this means more handy melscripts.

I vote for JustinOtherTD.com

BMan said...

Just found your blog - glad to hear you're enjoying a new direction. I animate "on the side" and often feel I don't realize how good I have it: coder by day, animator by night (no pressure).

It's cool to see a blog by a Reel FX guy. I'm in DFW also.

Keep the posts coming!