The Thesis...& Sticking with it

Spoiler Alert--I finished and graduated in December! But when I went back to re-read some blog drafts I thought this was still a good collection of thoughts on what my thesis experience was like.  I am working on a blog series about working on a large project/film and what I learned from it and how I'd do it differently for the next film (and there will be a next one)

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At the moment all parts of my thesis feel like animation triage.  I'm fighting the urge to abandon the entire project and start something new everyday but unfortunately (or fortunately) they wont let me stay in this program forever.  So I have to find a way to fight, fix and struggle through all of my mistakes from previous semesters.  I hate it!!  But it got me thinking of what we learn when we stick with something even when it's frustrating and choose to finish a hard, imperfect task rather than start over from scratch. 

I want so badly to take everything I know from THIS film and start a new, fresh film with no mistakes.  I feel like I have learned everything I could have learned from this project and now I need to take those skills and try again (and also bury the current film in my pile of unfinished projects).  But that's exactly why I shouldn't stop--the longer I work on this film the more I realize that when I want to stop working on it and 'move on' before its finished its more from fear of making something bad than it is from wanting a new challenge.  In reality every time I think that I have learned everything I could possibly learn from this film, it shows me otherwise and I gain a new understanding of the material and animation as a craft. 

Redoing the scenes no longer feels like spinning my wheels but rather significant changes that drastically improve the film.  But now I'm fighting against my lack of planning--lets be honest. I avoided my planning because it was hard and scary and I really thought I couldn't finish the film.  When I started, I couldn't even imagine the steps I needed to take, it was like someone handed me a child or a house plant (basically the same thing right?) and I had no idea what to do with it, if what I was doing was right, or if it was even worth the effort.  I should have dove right in and failed, over and over and over again (not that I didn't inevitably fail anyway) but I should have failed in my work, rather than the failure to execute it.  If I am ashamed of any portion of this thesis project, it wold be that I failed to take the risk, I took the safe road, I hesitated and waited for approval.  I waited for someone else to tell me that I was an animator, rather than simply animating and letting my volume of work speak for itself.

But that’s exactly why I shouldn’t stop—the longer I work on this film the more I realize that when I want to stop working on it and ‘move on’ before its finished its more from fear of making something bad than it is from wanting a new challenge.
— Me

So I wont quit.  I wont give in to temptation to start over and not have anything to show for years of work.  I'll stick it out and salvage the film from what I have and learn better to avoid those mistakes because I had to spend the time righting them myself.

Here's some things I've learned from sticking it out on this film:

  • I have so much more to learn about authentic acting and overlapping action
  • Breakdowns aren't crazy drawings to make the action 'more interesting' (read: Complicated)--they simply connect an action--SIMPLE!!
  • In my next film I'll do all of the keys for all the scenes before I start inbetweening (and string it back together in After Effects to make sure they link up)
  • I don't like watching my own work--even when I think its okay--timing out my animatic feels like torture
  • pay attention to camera angles and how scenes cut together
  • SLOW DOWN & PLAN--it will actually make things go faster
  • I love the process of animating and I find in-betweening somewhat meditative (even if its not supposed to be like that)
  • I am now starting to see what good action really looks like--and how to get character to start looking like their alive and not just moving

If I had moved on a year ago to a new project, I would have been stuck with stiff and lifeless animation, I think that going back and analyzing the scenes and the animation over and over again forced me to address issues I would have otherwise never addressed.  Being told it 'still doesn't feel right' was what I needed to hear--and taking it back to zero each time, was probably what I needed to do, as frustrating as it is!  I had to analyze my own mistakes and try new approaches to the same work to stop making the same mistakes.

So maybe the next time you think about abandoning a project because you've learned everything you can learn you'll stick it out and see what else is left.