Animation is hard. Ask any non-animator and they’ll tell you it must be nice to “make cartoons for a living” while anyone who IS an animator stares, unblinking, with a gaze that could turn someone to stone. The truth is that it IS nice to make cartoons for a living, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed or burned out, even mere days (or hours, or moments) after being filled with enthusiasm for a project. What can you do to shake off the hopeless feelings and desire to “take a short break to check Facebook?”
For starters, know you aren’t alone. Even though we all have days where we leap out of bed to dash to the animation pipeline waiting for us, we all likewise have bad days where the snooze button looks oh-so-appealing. (Hopefully the leaping days outnumber the snoozing ones!) Here are a few thoughts on methods for snapping out of any overwhelmed funk you will occasionally find yourself in.
Animation is not a solo experience. It’s true these days it’s quite possible to create an animation from start to finish all by yourself, but chances are good that along the way you’ll be working with someone else. Something the Disney animators of old did quite frequently was caricature. They would draw funny little images of their fellow animators (or the boss who was looming with deadlines) and share them amongst themselves. It was a quick and easy way to blow off a bit of steam and relax.
You don’t have to have the drawing skill of Milt Kahl, though. This form of relaxing isn’t about creating wonderful, perfect drawings, but getting some emotion down in ink. (Not unlike gesture drawing!) The key is to pluck some feeling inside you and get it out through your pencil. Feeling overwhelmed? Take five minutes and doodle a little scene about what’s going on in your head!
It doesn’t seem like much, but afterward (hopefully with a smile on your face now) you’ll likely be able to breathe a little bit better. Share your drawing with someone who might appreciate it. It could be a very inside joke specific to your project, but it might be just the lift another fellow animator needs to get out of their OWN bewildered state of mind.
Goof A Little!
Much in the same way caricature can take a bit of the edge off a tense situation or emotion, sometimes we take all that stress and bundle it into the character or scene we’re currently animating! When that happens every time we go back to the project file we can start to feel that familiar frustration, since that’s where it’s all bottled up. In that case it can really pay to take a few minutes to do something absurd!
For example recently I was working on a walk cycle for a particular character. It was NOT going well. Five or six attempts in and I was beginning to tear out my hair. I didn’t want to continue, but pushing on is the only way to get past such creative blocks. In the latest walk cycle attempt my director made note that the head was bobbing too much (which was true, but hardly what I wanted to hear at that moment). As a joke and way to get out my inner grumblings I created a new layer and pasted an oversized character head unmoving on top of the cycle:
I sent it along to my director with a note saying I had finally nailed the perfect walk, and we both laughed and decided that indeed it WAS perfect and we could spend the rest of the animation budget on a trip to Disney World instead. I believe the word “Oscar worthy” was thrown around. It was just the break I needed to clear out my emotions and regain some of that passion for animation that was hiding behind all the clutter.
Next week we’ll take a look at some other ways to get back into a groove, but in the meantime don’t forget that even super human animators need a good rest now and then!