Today we had Bobby Beck of Animation Mentor swing by the DNA studios to give an animation lecture. It was great to finally meet with Bobby in person. We've been 'hangin out' through email for ages, going back to when both of us were just starting out in this business. Somehow events have conspired to keep it so we never were able to hook up in person 'til now. So that was cool. That and I'm always geeked to listen to what other animators have to say about this stuff. I appreciate their experience, their point of view, their collection of life experiences. Bobby's got this neat infectuous energy as well, which helps make the time go by a lot faster than it seems.
One of the things I found myself doing the entire lecture was nodding to myself in agreement. He'd cover a topic, I'd immediately say "Yep. Totally right on the money. Right as rain, baby." It was like a 2 hour affirmation session. I loved it and walked away with a greater appreciation for what this animation thing takes. Going back over the home ground re-roots you into what's important, what's real. I liked it so much I'm going to play hooky for half a day to go to his Animation Master Class that he's teaching tomorrow as well.
Later in the day Bobby and I had a brief visit and we talked about how there's really no magic method in animation. No single magic way of handling your blocking that will always yield optimal results. No high and holy way of working your f-curves to always arrive at performance nirvana. No hotkey shortcut, no mystical offsetting method, no elusive clean up pass that gets you the cheers of your peers when the director calls out "Final!" (at DNA we ring a mini-gong and folks cheer when a shot gets finalled. I love that, it's a great community way to celebrate a co-worker's success). Sure there's little techniques here and there, but those are bag of tricks things that you can't just slap into any shot anywhere all the time and expect them to always work.
No, really, in my opinion it all comes down to the same few basic principles applied through arduous, meticulous, thoughtful and adventurous effort. (see below) The talented guys and gals at Pixar or other feature film shops do not have a magic trick to get their stuff looking that good. Trust me. There is no secret "advanced" principle or solution. It's all just the basics, revealed again and again in ever deepening areas of observation and application as you think and understand and assimilate it into your mind. You can hear something for years and then one day somebody talks about it in just a certain way and -BAM!- the lights and bells are going off in your head as you go "Holy cow! NOW I get it!". But like I said, it's the same stuff. There is no "trick" to make you a good animator. It doesn't exist. So do yourself a favor and stop looking for one.
Instead, just get animating and don't be bashful- show what you're doing to get that feedback. Get in, get going, work hard, work thoughtfully, work adventurously- and have fun!