Making a career out of animation has affected more than just my work life. When you work as an animator, whether freelance or studio, there's a huge learning curve that goes on throughout your career. That learning curve doesn't end with your animation skills. Many of the lessons I've learned in perfecting animation techniques have served me well in my personal life, as well.
1. Patience really is a virtue.
I have a temper.
I won't pretend otherwise. When I was younger, it was always a struggle for me to contain my temper and bite my tongue. I was impatient, easily frustrated, easily angered - and I lost friends because of it, not to mention being embarrassed on more than one occasion. What surprised me was that when I sat down to work on an animation, that temper vanished. I could spend hours painstakingly detailing just a few breakdowns and in-betweens without frustration, without impatience. I was working towards a goal, and that inspired a level of restraint that made a difference in how I behaved towards the work. When I recognized that, I was able to apply that patience in my everyday life and learned to slow down and not let my temper get in the way.
2. Don't be afraid to make a career out of what you love.
Many people follow the money, or familial pressure, when choosing a career. I did, in my first stint through college - and as much as I love computers and programming, life as a Computer Engineering major made me miserable.
It was what my family wanted, no doubt because of the scholarship that took the burden of tuition off my shoulders. But while I was learning about R/S latches and circuit gateways, I was always doodling in the margins of my notebooks and wishing for something else. I don't think I'll ever regret the choice I made to change schools, change majors, and change the path of my life. I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't decided to walk away from the path set out for me and choose my own path as an animation student and, later, an animator and educator.
3. It's okay to start small and work your way up.
Animation newbies may see a finished product and think they'll be able to create that after just one lesson. It doesn't really work that way; animation is a layered process, whether 2d or 3d, hand-drawn or digital. There are progressive steps, starting off simple at the bottom and working your way up. This counts in your animation career, as well. You may start off small on clean-up, or resizing texture maps for hours on end. Don't be impatient. When you've progressed to higher levels, the knowledge you learned in grunt work will serve you well in planning and producing quality animations, and when working with others. You'll look back on those days and, while you might cringe at the memory, you'll also be grateful for the experience.
4. Planning makes a big difference.
Remember that impatient temper I mentioned? Impatience used to get me in trouble in other areas, too. Mainly in that I wanted to just dive in and get started, without planning ahead. I nearly failed my first quarter at the Art Institute of Houston because rather than plan, I'd attack projects head-on and, halfway through the assignment period, run up against problems that I might have foreseen had I planned ahead. After two or three frantic last-minute scrambles to correct the issues and slap something together on time, I learned my lesson about planning my animations - and extended those lessons into planning my career path, planning my finances, even planning when I would pay my bills. I can be a little scattered sometimes, and if I didn't plan ahead I'd probably get my electricity turned off because I forgot to pay the bill. Planning ahead can avoid a ton of little snafus that would otherwise trip you up.
5. ...but it's okay to make mistakes.
I'm extremely hard on myself, sometimes. It likely came from growing up in a single-parent family, where a major blunder could mean my mother missing a day of work to handle the problems I caused, or could jeopardize my chances for a scholarship that would be my only hope for affording college. One mistake could ruin my future chances. The problem is, in life you can't really avoid mistakes. The same goes for animations. You'll flub the motion in one sequence, screw up the proportions on a character in a character sheet. These things happen. I had to learn to stop dwelling on the mistake, and just go back and fix it. What matters is learning from the mistake, and then correcting it. Granted, that doesn't mean it's okay to give yourself permission to fail, especially when mistakes can cost a great deal of money or screw up production timelines. But mistakes will happen, no matter your greatest laid plans. Learn from them. Fix them. Move on, and don't beat yourself up over it.
6. Don't be afraid to show emotion.
Without emotion, animations fall flat and fail to engage the audience. Without emotion, your personal relationships suffer. While I wouldn't advise the exaggerated emotions of your typical cartoon, there's no need to be a wooden doll that belongs in the Uncanny Valley, either. Don't be afraid to splash your character's emotions on the page or on the screen. Let readers empathize with them, understand them, share with them. And don't be afraid to show a little emotion towards those you care about, so they can understand you and empathize with you, and you can do the same. Being perceptive of others' feelings can actually help you in your animations, adding nuance and depth to your portrayal of your characters' emotions via body language and facial expression. In modern society, in many instances it's not socially or professionally appropriate to show excess emotion. Don't let that govern your whole life. When it matters, let it show. I can personally say that I wouldn't be with my partner now if I hadn't learned to let my guard down and show more feeling than the self-contained, isolated person I used to be.
7. You can't do everything alone.
And on that note...one of the hardest things for me to learn, as an animator, was to accept help. I'm fiercely, almost painfully independent. I like to think I'm Superman, and I can do everything alone. I'm not, and I can't. Animators work in teams for a reason. People have complementary skills, and when you combine those skills you can produce something far greater than you might working alone. In our personal lives, it can be easy to say that we don't want to burden others with our problems, or seem pathetic for needing other people. The fact remains that humans are social creatures, and we evolved into a society of complex need-based inter-relationships. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to rely on someone else's expertise. It's okay to work together, rather than forging on alone. And it's okay to admit that sometimes you need other people. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer in 2010, and I don't think I'd have been able to cope with her death if I hadn't broken down and admitted to my family that I needed them as much as they needed me.
Maybe I'm an oddity, in that animation has affected my personal life so much. Maybe not. I know in writing this article I had to dig up some rather private things and really reflect on this: on how being an animator and working with other animators has shaped me as a person, hopefully for the better. They say our life experiences define us, and I suppose my life experiences as a professional animator have done a great deal to define me.
Have you learned any valuable lessons from animating? How do your experiences as an animator define you?