Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hold 'em loosely...

One of the realities of professional animation is being told to do something to your shot that you really don't quite agree with. Maybe there's an expression or a gesture you're trying to pull off. All the feedback you've gotten from your fellow inmates... err, "animation co-workers", says the expression or gesture is working. Folks are digging what you're dishing. Then in dailies the director says something like "Hmm. It's not clear to me what he's thinking." Then the director probably will give you a suggestion for a completely different performance beat there.

This is the point where you earn your money. Do you mentally and emotionally give up on the scene? Or do you enthusiastically adopt this new approach and try to make it work? The difference between being a pro and an "art-eest" is clear. An "art-eest" will whine and fight and pout, complain to everybody about how obviously 'clueless' the director is for not seeing his genius animation- then do a half baked job at the new performance and subconsciously sabotage the effort to be sure that his or her original idea coms out looking better. That's bush league. A pro, on the other hand, figures , Oh well. Guess that one didn't work. This new idea should be a fun puzzle. Sure, there is room for valid disagreement over how to handle a scene, and there are such things as stylistic differences. But this isn't your student short film, this is a job.

Listen, when somebody else signs your paycheck, they call the shots. So you do your best, try to offer your unique take on a scene. But when they call for something different, you shrug your shoulders, toss the old idea away and get back to it with the same level of enthusiasm and energy as when you first got your scene in handoff. It's not always an easy thing to do (especially when you're on your third "Let's try this...." version of a scene), but it's important to keep that positive vibe going. In the end you're gonna have mixed feelings about the scene probably, but there's a fairly good chance that you'll also like that scene a LOT more than if it had been bought off on the first whack. Almost invariably the scenes that I liked a lot when they get approved on my first attempt end up not being the scenes I really like with the process of time. It's the scenes where I'm pushed to find something new, find something different in a character than I thought was there originally- those are the ones that taste a bit bitter at first, but they age much better with time.

There is NO such thing as a 'perfectly animated scene'. I'm absolutely convinced of that. There are any number of 'valid ways to solve a scene'. If your way is valid, but it doesn't fit the director's vision for that moment, well, then it's your job to find another valid solution that does fit. You can like your version better, that's fine, but you better hold your precious ideas loosely. You cannot hold the opinion that it is inherently better just because it was your idea. When you think there's only one way to do a scene and have it be "right" you shoot yourself in the foot and set yourself up for a lot more frustration than you really need.


Lars van Schagen said...

Hey Keith,

I very much agree that if you want to be succesfull in your proffesional life, that you must be able to commit to your superiors. And that in any place you work this kind of trait would help you a lot in gaining the status and appreciation of your bosses. But allthough this is true not all people are as secure or trained in taking direction from superiors, as Pro's usually are.

Pro's or people who take in these very important positions only arrived there by being totally committed to the cause and often are very secure people with good home commings, job security and relationships, or who feel totally at ease with themselves. They often have more outside of work than people who just started out and have too prove themselves. As often the case the people who are secure do not neceserrily allways see what makes an insecure person tick. Esspecially since they can't ever see why a person should struggle so much with everything he does. This insecure behaviour and the tendency for the insecure individual to defend what ever he/she has made is something that is very common.

The hard fact is that the insecure person does not really have anything to stand on (so to speak metaphorically) And many times people within a team people disregard the insecure persons feelings as being childish or even tell people they miss social skills. which is untrue in the very sense that insecure people don't get the same rewarding feelings secure people get. Secure people get rewarded internally and they have no need for analysing what they do, but insecure people do, they constantly lack the feeling that the thing they made was good or made any sense to anyone. Mostly this is because of the background this person has. Like any other person that has gone through life they endure things and they caught something that isn't good for they're development. An most of the time many of these people only need the support from they're co-workers to get them gong. Many times it's the little nudge that will give them the feeling that they aren't bad at what they do, but are more doing things not the way the director wanted.

Which is a total difference from being an 'ARTEEST' as this thing doesn't exist. The 'Arteest' is much more a phase that a lot of people go through. This is mainly because Art Schools train people to have total ownership and to alot of talented insecure people (in there mind) that is the only thing they have, as they sit at home and plow away at sculpture's, drawings and animation.

But once these people enter the industry they do need the help from the Pro's. Not only because we should remember where we were before we became Pro's, but also show that this work has a human face, and that those feelings on which we rely so much to judge if our work works. Also are there to reasure the 'Arteests' in us but also the young 'Arteests' outside of us that it's OK to feel what you feel, but that you have too set those feelings aside because it isn't your project. It's the directors. And also Pro's are there as a constant reminder that this thing is a TEAM thing. As the Pro's give shelter to the 'Arteests' so that they can grow out to become Pro's asswell. Just like in the old Disney way as the student mentorship thing still is key into learning what your place is.

PS: it's not a bad thing to be an 'Arteest' it's just a bad thing to ONLY be an 'Arteest'. And i think the people who cherish that side of they're creativity have more long gevity and more momentum than any 'rent-an-animator' Just look at all the All-Stars at PIXAR they aren't the easiest Pro's there passionate, they're driven and that's good. SO never forget the people who think differently toward ideas people like Brad Bird, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball. You only have a creative force when you have something countering it.

Btw i don't totally disagree, i just think that we should provide a warm and social place for people who are sensitive. As i am sensetive sometimes as well everybody has that, it's good for a person to have that, it gives them insights on totally different things in the human spectrum. Everybody has different skillsets that's why life is great cos you have different people from different backgrounds.

Sorry i really needed to rant.

Greetings Lars

Drew said...

gotta say, this is the kind of stuff where you really prove you're worth your salt. being that i am working on a short right now, i call the shots. i know, as i'm sure you do, keith, when you're directing and coming up with the material, you know it just like the director knows their stuff on a feature. maybe your idea was out of the park good, but didn't fit the moment. if it was a really great piece of acting or a really fine gesture, maybe it has a place some other time. when i'm story-boarding (interesting side note on my site about it) i draw a lot! some ideas work, some don't. i don't chuck the ones that sink, i save 'em for later. it really helps.

it's easy for an outsider like me to comment on this type of thing, but that's why before i even get into the industry, i have to put away my pride and get ready to be challenged. if i come into any job with the mindset that, "i've won a lot of awards at school, i got a short film done, and these guys hired me... i must be pretty good." i'll be sunk before health insurance even kicks in.

great post. bobby beck really was the epitomy of positive energy when he was talking about taking direction.

Adam Green said...

>>"There is NO such thing as a 'perfectly animated scene'. I'm absolutely convinced of that. There are any number of 'valid ways to solve a scene'."

That's quite refreshing to hear. I often think it, but its nice to actually hear it from somewhere outside my head.

BTW: Looks like a couple of you need blogs of your own ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Keith,

At my office we often are asked to do things which don't exactly fit our job descriptions or are not the way WE would do it. Bottom line, it is a job and "It all pays the same." That's right I get paid just as much to make photocopies as I do animating. In the end my employer would be crazy to pay me my salary to make copies for long but I find it is a nice diversion now and then.

Michael Thoenes

Anonymous said...


If you are working for a director with vision, it's a pleasure. I love it. I really appreciate comments, even if I have to redo the scene seven times (been there done that, haha). Hardly I can disagree with someone, who, well knows better. I only do pieces, he or she does the big thing. I am not here to interfere, I am here to help.

But there are times when people you work for aren't directors, and they don't really know what they want, especially when you freelancing and do stuff directly for clients outside the industry.

More than few times I did my scenes, got request for changes, changed it, got another request, handed back previous version of the scene and got applause. Of course those wasn't big productions, medium profile commercials done as freelance only, where I am supposed to be "animation driector" or whatever.

Anyway, arguing, figthing too much etc.. even with a client I described above does not make sense. They get what they call for, I don't mind animating backwards if asked. Just need to be sure you get number of revisions and what is a revision defined in your contract, when you take a freelance job.

Otherwise you can get screwed up financially, because project takes two times longer and you get the same cash Not to mention all nerves lost :).

I wish everyone good, charismatic directors, producers and animation supervisors, because when we have a pleasure working with such persons, everything is going really easy, even if we are called 5 times for the same scene.

Anonymous said...

This is also why we all need some sort of other creative outlet. Something to do when we go home that nobody critiques but ourselves. Whether it's animating your own stuff, or composing music, or painting, or photography, everyone needs an outlet, a place to make mistakes without fear of outside criticism. It's a way to grow and learn.
Remember at work, your not just trying to please a director, you're ultimately trying to communicate and entertain the audience. They are the ultimate critic. We have to create things that other like and want if we expect to get paid for it. It's show BUSINESS - without the business you aint got no show.