I am writing this post after considerably introspecting my life as it happened in the last 2 years with more emphasis on the course I was doing at Animation Mentor (AM) and how it has influenced my life for good.
First things first, my course finished last week and now I am officially an Alumni of AM and not a student. This feeling itself is wrapped in different layers of excitement, growth, optimism, sadness, inspirational and so on. More on this below.
Almost around 2 years back in September 2007, after working as a full time 3D Character Animator for close to 4 years, I found out that getting up in the morning to go to work was a painful chore and I was really not enjoying my work. The reason I was not enjoying my work was that I was not learning anything new, I was animating like a mechanical mass of flesh, getting scenes, animating, showing for approval to my Animation Director, sending to client, getting it approved....this process went in a circle and on and on. So I felt it was the right time to take a hiatus and get back to some learning before I get totally disconnected from Animation all-together. Around the same time AM had released a couple of its student's work and I had no doubt this was the place to go to and re-invent myself or rather discover myself all over again.
I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and looking back at my life, every event (good and not-so-good) makes total sense as to why it occurred. I also feel it was my destiny that the timing of the release of AM's student work coincide with the time I was not feeling good about my work and it was a signal that it was time to take the plunge.
Now in my community/culture/social circle/mindset of many many people I know....leaving a job and going back to education was considered foolish/stupidity/throwing your leg on the axe and so on. In short it was not favored at all. It was more like once you get a job, work for few years, then get married, start a family and so on. I was strictly against this normal course as I felt we get one life and it’s not about going from one station to next but rather enjoying the time in between. What’s the point of doing things just because others have been doing it and what’s worse is doing it unwillingly. If you strongly believe in something and which you feel is right in the long run, by all means go for it. There will always be naysayers because they don't want others to do the things, which they want to do but cant. They are like fire, you pay heed and it’s like putting fuel to it, you ignore them and they will smoke out soon enough.
So after a month of leaving my job, my journey began at AM and it seemed as if I was in a total different mindset now and that the whole world was working together to make me happy. It was a fantastic change from the mundane job to being a student and learning so many new things day after day. I used to stay awake way past my normal time, yet used to get up with so much energy and passion to start a new day of learning.
Joining AM was without any doubt one of the best decision I would have taken regarding my career. The mentors are top notch people working in the industry since many years in the form of Animators, Lead Animators, Animation Supervisors, Creative Directors and so on. In the last 2 years whatever new Animated Features have released, almost all the mentors are featured in the credit list of different movies. I have never really waited for Credits before, but now it’s one thing which I will not miss for anything, as the joy of watching your friends/mentors name in the Credit list is amazing.
Also what’s the charm of being in AM, apart from the education is the community of people including Mentors, Students and the AM Support Staff. Everyone is so very helpful, down to earth and wants each other to succeed. Now considering that majority of the mentors have a full time job in creating the next blockbuster to entertain us, they make sure to be there whenever we need them. Be it E-critiques, Live AV QNA, emails, forums, they respond as soon as they can. Which in my honest opinion shows them how much they care about people having the same passion and tells a lot about how wonderful they are as human beings. Hats off to the entire AM community!
Its crazy to look back how fast 18 months passed by (It was actually 21 months since I had taken one term break(3 months), since me and my family moved to a new city). The curriculum at AM is very well structured, tight, it forces you to be disciplined and have a very good way of managing yourself and your time. This is where AM tricks you. You join AM thinking it’s all about animation, but you get so much more apart from Animation. You become more disciplined, you value time so much more, you plan your day in order to make it as efficient and productive as ever, you meet so many different people from diverse geographical locations and cultures, you cultivate new lifelong friendships...I can go on and on. In brief AM is a complete package provided you are open to learning and personally speaking it had a very profound positive impact on my life. An impact for which the results are definitely not instant but in the long run, I know and I can feel it that I made a very judicious choice of doing AM.
That's one reason why I am having mixed feelings now since I am no more a student. I am happy to be able to finish AM and excited for what’s in store for me in the near future, but I am also a bit scared to not go off track and get into a comfort zone. Since AM is based on a real industry environment, we have weekly deadlines and a very strict structure of constantly evaluating our work. Now out of AM (at least till I am able to get back to working), it would be no easy task to keep animating and make sure we have deadlines on whatever we do. Without deadlines it’s only a matter of time before I start slipping and losing sight of my goals and tasks. I will keep you all posted on how I fare on this one.
Now a little about using the image in the beginning of the post. Before joining AM, I was not sure about where my life as an animator was going. I was just going with the flow and was totally oblivious of the path forward, whether it was a corner or a turn I had no idea and in all probability either of the two would have thrown me back as I was totally ignorant to see the things in a broader perspective. But now I feel like that little plant/sapling, who at least knows where he has to grow and move on next. It may be small now, but the key is that the foundation/root has been laid and now it’s all about nourishing and taking care. Similarly by no means I am animation-ninja yet, but at least I know (and thank you AM for that), about my strengths and weaknesses, what makes a good animation and an animator, developing and eye for detail, having a good workflow to name a few. (Though I have come across many people who when I say I am doing AM, believe that I need not study anymore and that just being from AM, guarantees me a job in PIXAR or equally big studios. How misinformed can people get? I am planning to have a separate post on this though as this really frustrates me to no end.)
Coming to the million dollar question of what next, now since I am done with AM? Well to start with, my short is far from completion. Only if I was able to limit my short to 30 secs I would have been able to wrap it while in AM, but not compromising on the story I had to increase the duration and now it’s almost double to around 55 seconds or so. I don't regret it one bit, since it’s better to have a longer duration than to trim it to 30 seconds and confusing the audience as to what the short is about. Having said that it’s not that we can do just 30 seconds, I was clocking close to 25 seconds a week when I used to work, but that's a different story and many factors were responsible for that. Each short is different with its own challenges and complexity and each animator have their own skill level. So finishing my short is one the top priorities for me.
At the same time, I am going back and polishing my old shots for my reel. Yes it’s time to enter the big (bad?) world of job hunting and then being a professional animator (good!). After going thru the grind, I am raring to contribute all that I have learned (and continue to learn) to where ever I get an opportunity to work.
I am also thinking of starting new animation shots in different categories like Pantomime, Body Mechanics and Acting. I may also have a progress log here, right from planning to the end to get as much feedback and share a bit about my workflow and also to continue learning from others and growing. Let’s see how it goes.
There is one more area where I have gone a sea change in the last 2 years and that is personality development /self-growth. I have had numerous personal challenges (and continue to have) and thanks to many people and resources online and offline, I was able to overcome many and I am working on overcoming others. This is one area where EVERYONE struggles at some point of time in their life, but are to scared of feared to admit (and it amazes me why, we all are human it’s OK to err at different level and to learn from it). So it’s my deepest endeavor to help people overcome their personal struggles and to share my experiences with them and vice versa. It’s my way of paying forward (and paying back) all the good things I learned from different sources. It’s very important to pay forward any good deeds anyone has done for you, because if everyone does it, the world will be a much better place to live.
So as you can see, I have a LOT on my plate as of now. I just hope I am not eating more than I can chew. Yes I will be stretching myself definitely which is intentional but I don't want to let my task(s) overwhelm me and end up avoiding everything all-together. This is the part where my readers - YOU, can play a huge part to help me be on track. Nothing like having a diverse group of people to bounce ideas constantly. It helps to elevate our perspective at various different levels. This is the beauty of technology and the internet; it makes collaboration and communication so seamless 24x7.
Before writing this post I had a certain idea of what I want to share here, but as I began, more ideas, more thoughts, more content kept cropping and I felt appropriate to share them too. So if you feel this post looks a bit unstructured, my apologies, but please do let me know.
A LOT is coming from my side in the coming days. Tighten your belt and watch this space.
Talk to you soon!