Behind the Pixels: How 3D Animation is Made

A brief look into the processes and technology that bring 3D animation to life.

Behind the Pixels: How 3D Animation is Made from Joe Rule on Vimeo.

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The Information Diet – Limit Input, Maximize Output

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Limiting intake of information can be very helpful for creativity and productivity. This means restricting volume of information, but also strategic planning of when information is consumed. For the purposes of this post, I will define information intake as email, social media, news, TV, radio, music, audiobooks and podcasts.

The most important time for intake restriction is while working on the most important tasks of the day. Shut out all distractions and concentrate until the task is complete. Computer popup notifications are one of the worst offenders to this. Even if you don’t respond to them, popups carry information that derail the thought process for a few seconds. The train of thought is broken and it takes time and energy to re-center. So, turn off all email, chat and social media notifications. I also close all internet browser windows.

Don’t start the day with intake! The first 3-4 hours of the day are the most efficient and focused for creativity and problem solving. The subconscious mind has already been working on the most relevant problem or task of the day, so it’s best to start with that in the morning. Beginning the day with information intake—especially email—derails that thought process and more energy must be spent to re-center on the important tasks of the day. I wait until 11am to check email to make sure I get the most out of those first 4 hours.

Limiting intake also means not filling breaks and free time in the day with more intake. I was guilty of this for years. Lunch break was a time for TV or Youtube videos. 5-minute breaks were to check Twitter. The result was I did not work efficiently and always found it difficult to concentrate and re-center on new tasks. The ideal break involves exercise, fresh air and a change of environment. This activity clears the mind and gives it time evaluate the next task.

Of course, information intake isn’t 100% harmful. It works best when placed in finite time at specific times of the day. This does 2 things. It gives freedom to focus when working on important tasks. “This task is my entire world right now. All other issues can wait until their scheduled time.” It also forces efficiency. “I only have 15 minutes today to review Twitter and Facebook, so I can’t look at every photo, watch every video and read every article.” Tasks grow to fill the time allotted. This is brutally true for the bottomless pit that is social media.

Intake scheduling is especially effective with email. Answering all emails in two 15 or 30 minute sessions per day allows the brain to stay on a single track and operate at peak efficiency. In a practical sense, it also saves time by eliminating switching between applications, opening up emails and responding. After closing an email, my app (Gmail) is set to open the next email without returning to the inbox. So it’s easy to batch process without distraction.

In closing, I’ll touch briefly on selective auditory intake. Animator Milt Kahl was known for his powers of concentration and was a strong advocate of working in complete silence. Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Workweek, says music is ok, but no podcasts or audiobooks. Though I’m sure there are benefits to it, I’m not willing to give up my podcasts yet. However, I only listen to them while doing freely creative tasks like drawing and modeling. Mentally intense tasks such as writing and animation must be done in silence.

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The Myth of Pure Art & How it Kills Business

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“Art must be created using time-tested and established methods and processes. That’s the only way to ensure the artwork achieves and maintains excellence and integrity. Taking shortcuts cheapens the value and impact of work, damages its integrity and can especially damage your reputation as a respected artist.”

“The judgment and critique of your peers in your artistic medium is to be valued and prized above all else. They’re the only ones that really understand your art form, so they’re the only ones that can properly critique it. And they will always call you out on any shortcuts or lazy work.

Here’s the deal – that’s 99% bull.

Lets look at an art form long regarded as the purest and highest form of artistic expression: oil painting. Old masters like DaVinci, Michaelangelo and Rembrandt are known for creating sublime masterpieces with almost super-human skill. Every masterfully placed brush stroke adds to the exquisite whole. Here’s the problem: They all had workshops with apprentices and students that worked on their paintings.

The old masters knew they needed help in order to meet the demand for their artwork and make a good living. So, they set up a workshop where they could oversee the creation of their artwork by other’s hands while retaining 99% of the quality.

I wouldn’t say this is important to thrive as an artist, but essential. Complex, advanced artwork takes much too long for one person to create. So long that the price for the artwork climbs above the audience or market value. Teamwork and concentrated efficiency are the tools that bring the price down and production up to meet audience demands.

“Ok, but apprentices can still be taught to be excellent artists. They’re intelligent people. What about cheating and taking shortcuts during the creation process?”

Advancements in technology are often seen as cheating in the art world. New tools make the art form accessible to everyone, so the market is flooded with amateur artwork, much to the chagrin of the masters.

However, those same tools can be used to facilitate creation and allow the artist to financially thrive. Advancements in technology shorten or completely eliminate steps toward a completed artwork. The principle is the same as hiring an apprentice—take the non-essential and often mundane portions of creation out of the hands of the master artist. This saves them time and allows them to strategize on more important tasks. The advantage of tools and technology is that they leave more power in the hands of the master artist while often completing tasks faster and cheaper than any apprentice could.

3D animation was seen as a cheapening of the art form when it was first introduced. The 1982 film, TRON was denied an Academy Award nomination because computer animation was seen as cheating. Now 3D is the standard and the people that embraced it in the beginning – John Lasseter and formerly Steve Jobs – are leaders and legends in the animation industry.

Technologies can also offer new ways for artists to communicate with their audience. The biggest name in animation of all time – Walt Disney – heartily embraced sound and color film. While other filmmakers worried about how sound would affect silent comedy, Disney embraced it and created gags in his short animations that relied entirely on the new technology.

The artists that embrace technology and teamwork and cheat at every opportunity will not only be on the cutting edge of new art forms, but poised to financially thrive. They will offer new things to audiences at a lower cost than ever before possible.

 

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