This past year has been the worst I've ever been with blogging, partly due to the new demands of now helping all my kids with their homework, now that the twins are in first grade, but mostly due to a concerted effort on my part to FOCUS.
One thing I've noticed that's dangerous and tricky in a professional sense is how career burnout can sneak up on you. Over the past two years, I've made a lot of lifestyle changes at the expense of blogging and personal work, but with the end result of being a better animator AT WORK as well as making a more concerted effort towards becoming a better spouse and parent.
It's very easy to become a workaholic in any commercial art field. It's also easy to stop growing in one's career and just go through the motions and I've found that one's personal life and professional life can bleed together, especially in a career where you, or at least I, spend as much personal time as possible working on the craft.
When I started at Toys for Bob a year ago, I tried to use the change as a way of reevaluating my process and reflect more on how I work, especially since I found myselft in a production environment of dailies with easily the best animation team I've ever been on (and I've worked with some fantastic animators over the years).
I also joined a Masters Swim team partway through the year, where, at age 45 and missing a lot of cartilage, I was unsure if I could even do it. What surprised me is how joining something with the mindset of a beginner led to rapid results. Before I knew it, I was keeping up with the workouts and swimming more than I ever had in my life. The other thing (yes, I'm the king of digression, but stay with me) was this crazy zen like practice of working on my stroke. What's fascinating about it is that it requires so much body awareness to swim well, that the slightest thing that's off corrupts the whole system, very much like animation. Apply one principle badly and the appeal goes out the window, if not the base mechanics. So I started working on my weak areas, doing a lot of supplemental gym work to even out the things that were holding me back. This led to a lot of discovery and I ended up doing things I'd never tried before...pilates classes, kettlebells, educating myself on 'dryland training', and learning how to manage a bad hip and shoulder while still consistently swimming 8-12 miles a week.
Why am I babbling on about swimming on an animation blog? Mostly because I learned a lot about myself and how I approach obstacles in doing it. I also found that that bleed through between the barriers of personal and professional life was advantageous in this one area.
I'd read a lot of blogs from successful people, nearly all who are unusually optimistic (something that has often eluded me). When it came to swimming, I starting setting long and short term goals on a daily and weekly basis. It started with a goal of doing the Alcatraz swim this upcoming spring, though that was pushed off a bit as I started training for an hour swim, despite trying to manage joint pain (I kinda just decided to view the joint issues holding me back as , but puzzles to solve, rather than obstacles in my way)
End result of 6 months on a swim team - I just swam an hour straight with the team in training for an hour swim next month. The sense of accomplishment, despite being in the slowest lane, is something I haven't experienced before. Am I the best? No. Am I even really as good as a high school swimmer? Who cares...an adage my coach told me one day when I was frustrated with the lack of progress in my stroke:
"Swim your own race."
It all clicked after that. It's easy to get discouraged with animation. When I look at the guys I work with, I'm pretty much in lane 5 there too. But on the team, and learning and growing because of my teammates, working towards the common goal of self improvement. Basically, suck a little bit less every week. With swimming, as opposed to the rest of life, there are at least tangible metrics to measure progress.
I can't say enough about how much I love my job, because of the people I work with. The bar is kept perpetually high, and no one acts or feels like an expert and everyone is generous enough to give the best critique they can. I look at the shots I'm most proud of and can feel like they got there because of the input I received on the way. Approaching work with the mindset of a beginner seems like a winning formula. Staying open to ideas and constantly pushing yourself seems like the best way to swim one's own race.
My lead also pushed for a bunch of us to take the Animation Mentor creature class starting this next term, which is something I've wanted to do for years. The next few months will be perhaps the busiest I've ever been in my life, as I'll be teaching, taking a class and continuing to push myself at work.
I got a little off topic here and this turned into more of a journal entry than blog post, (something I don't usually do), but the main idea I was trying to convey was that finding something for yourself away from work that's yours can inform everything you do. I'm not saying go out and swim, but I have found that having something that gives you personal satisfaction and challenges you to grow can affect how you approach learning.
Looking forwards to a great 2013!