Comfort Zone

A couple of years ago I taught an advanced rigging course at a local University. When I received an evaluation from the students after the course, their feedback didn’t surprise me. About 20% of the class really got what I was trying to do, pushing the students out of their comfort zone and making them think for themselves, it wasn’t easy but they stepped up and went for it. About 80% of the class hated it and just wanted to be spoon-fed information and told what to think.

Guess which 20% will be the most successful and will grow to become future leaders in the industry…





The problem with problem solvers is that if they don’t have a good enough problem to solve, they’ll invent one.


If you’re a problem-solver, have you ever been proud of any solutions you created even though they didn’t get you closer to your real goal at the time?


If you manage problem-solvers, do you always structure tasks in a way that allows opportunity for the regular small wins that they crave, while keeping them on the path to the result you really want from them?




The Cycle of an Artist


Thanks to animator/writer/director and all-round nice bloke Pat Sarell for this insight.


Junior artists are fueled by passion for what they do, through they may not have the skills, technique and knowledge to do it well. So they train to become better.


Mid-level artists learn the skills to become more competent, but in doing so they also learn to follow rules, particularly those that play to their strength and help them avoid aspects of the work that they are less adept at. Their knowledge of how they should work and of their competencies constrains them, and often with those constraints the passion that once drew them to their art fades.


Senior artists have developed sufficient knowledge, confidence and have broken enough rules over their career to have freed themselves from the constraints that held them back as mid-level artists. They can now re-connect with the passion they first had, but with the ability to fully execute on their ideas.


If you’re at a place where you’ve lost the passion for what you do, don’t give up, you will find that passion again. Now’s the time to dig deep, keep learning, know that you’re on the path to becoming a senior artist and that the path may not always be a straight one.




What’s More Important?


What is more important to you? The success of the shot you’re working on, or having a sense of ownership and individual accomplishment from your contribution to it?


Very often it’s just not possible to have both. So ask yourself this question: How prepared would you be to sacrifice your sense of ownership, that ability to look back in years to come and say “I did that all by myself”, for the good of the shot?


If you’re convinced that your ideas are the best despite differences with the rest of your team, or if you’re not even inviting input from the rest of your team, is there a chance it’s just your ego potentially sabotaging the shot? Are you putting yourself before your team?


I know I’ve been guilt of this several times in the past. Have you?




Filling The Gaps

When I was first in a position to make hiring decisions I chose people who thought and worked similar to how I did. It’s validating to be surrounded by like-minded folks and there’s less confrontation when everyone is on the same page.

I knew I had matured as a team leader when I started making hiring decisions based on skills or attributes that differed from the existing strengths in the team. Diversity was far more beneficial than uniformity had been, though at first it was tough to let go of the notion that my way of doing things is the best and learn to be open to other possibilities.





“To fill the creative, technical, communication, leadership and other skills gaps that can hold creature and character artists back from achieving their potential as artists and in building fulfilling and rewarding careers.”


At Dynamic Anatomy our mission statement comes in 2 parts. This is the first part, to provide education that empowers professional artists to be even better in all aspects of their work. To teach the things that most schools and employers are not even aware they’re neglecting.


Badge Of Honour

There was a time that I wore the number of hours I worked as a badge of honour. I was especially proud of the time on one of the Harry Potter movies when I worked 36 hours straight, only leaving my desk for dailies and pee-breaks, just to meet an internal deadline. Stoopid. Working that way seriously impacted my health and happiness.

Please learn from my mistakes. Go home. Get some exercise. Get some sleep. However much you work, there will still be more deadlines next week.

… and if you’re in a lead, supervisor, or management position and have any respect for your team, it’s your responsibility to set the sustainable working conditions.



Spaceships, Robots and Unrealistically-Proportioned Women.


I was a student around the time that 3D World magazine launched. As they still do today, they invited 3D artists to submit their artwork. There were 3 common themes to the pieces they printed, all so cliched that the idealist in me swore that I would never be involved in creating any of those 3 subjects. Spaceships, robots and unrealistically-proportioned women.


Of course, my first job after graduating involved creating and animating spaceships for a theme park motion ride. My first film job was on Tomb Raider II, in which I had to create and animate an unrealistically proportioned digi-double of Angelina Jolie. And one of the toughest challenges of my career was creating the animation rig for Chappie, a robot with so many moving parts and mechanical restrictions, but which had to behave and interact just like a simple human rig.


Sometimes artists need to compromise on their ideals to pay the rent. Sometimes artists need to compromise on their ideals in order to get a break that leads them on to better options in the future. And sometimes tastes change, especially when an idealist wakes up and realises that some things are popular for good reason. When done well, spaceships and robots are awesome!


Models of unrealistically-proportioned women though? Still not cool.




Effective Carrots

WTF!!! Effective carrots??? Fred’s really lost it this time!

True, but there is method to my madness. I’m thinking of the carrot and stick analogy for motivating creative employees and from everything I’ve thought about this subject I can boil it down to 3 key motivators.


Money works of course, but only for a short time. A pay rise is appreciated at first, but soon becomes the new norm and can even be resented if too much time passes before another one is given. If there’s any hint that someone else is earning more then money as a primary motivator can actually have the opposite effect.

I’m not suggesting for a second that employers shouldn’t pay their employees a very competitive wage, they absolutely should if they respect their employees. Salary on its own though is an ineffective motivator for loyalty and effective working practices.


Validation can be so much more effective, and is a renewable resource. For artists, feeling like our work is seen and appreciated is priceless, and costs a company or supervisor nothing except a little humility. A cost that is sadly too great for many to bear.

If a creative employee goes home each night with a feeling that their contribution to the team and the project was of value, and was valued by their superiors, then it is so much easier for them to keep putting in more and more effort.


Growth is another human need that has a double benefit. To be supported in progressing towards our career aspirations not only benefits the employee but also the employer who gains a more skilled and appreciative worker. If we work in roles that have no progression, where we know we’ll be fighting the same battles over and over for years to come, passion for the work can quickly fade. Some people like the stability of this, but often they’re not the passionate ones who want to work their butts off and make a difference. To really inspire continuous energy, most people need a sense of growth and accomplishment.

This can be very challenging for leaders and employers, as it can mean taking risks in moving people out of roles in which they are proven and trusted and into roles where they don’t yet have a track record. I would argue that it’s a bigger risk to keep them in the same role, as you risk either losing their drive or losing them altogether.

To be fully content and work with sustained passion and productivity in our creative jobs, the right combination of all three of these is essential.



The Vunerability to Learn


The key to most successful learning, whether in a formal educational context or in day-to-day life, is vulnerability.


It’s very difficult to take on new information and new ideas when we cling to the certainty of the old ideas. Especially as professionals, the more time we have spent doing similar work, the more of a comfort blanket we have wrapped around ourselves in the form of habits and ways of doing things. Comforting though it is, it can also blind us to the potential to do things better.


Being open to new ideas takes balls. Seriously big cojones. Because it requires letting go of the certainty that what you’ve been doing and the way you’ve been doing it was the best way.


Not everyone is capable of that level of vulnerability, but the ones who are have the best potential to stay ahead of the curve and achieve much better results in the long run.




The Herd


“Almost everything important is at first opposed by stakeholders in the status quo.” Steve Blank.


Human beings are tribal. We may have cars and iPhones, but evolutionarily we’re barely evolved from cavemen. We’re herd animals. We like to fit in and know our place, it gives us a feeling of security and safety.


We also have a strong sense of individuality. Especially for those with strong creative instincts. That creates quite an internal contradiction.


Doing things differently can appeal to our creativity but also trigger fear and insecurity. Innovation comes from leaving the herd, feeling that fear, and pushing ahead anyway. If you’re on your own, that’s individuality. If the herd likes what you’re doing and chooses to follow you, that’s leadership.


There will always be critics and trolls, who shout whenever they see any violation of accepted norms. Because they fear change, they fear being left behind if the herd moves on without them.


Dynamic Anatomy is here to be different. To challenge artificial boundaries that hold artists back from achieving their true potential, and to encourage those brave enough to do the same. That doesn’t happen by staying with the herd.


“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage.




Specialist vs Generalist

When I was a computer graphics student about 18 years ago (boy does writing that make me feel old!) one of the most useful things I learned was from an informal chat with one of the animation lecturers in a car park one afternoon. I enjoyed everything on the course, from math and programming to animation and design, but was required to pick an area to specialize in for the second half of the course. My lecturer told me I had to specialize because that’s how you get jobs.

When an employer hires they do so to fill a need they have, so they’re looking for the best fit for that specific need. BUT, once you land the job, the more of a generalist you are then the more useful you’ll be because you can be adaptable and you can communicate with all of the other specialists in different roles.

The most successful specialists also have a considerable amount of generalist experience.




What your teachers know is what got them where they are, not necessarily what will get you where you want to go.

They can often talk a good talk, that’s their job, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re correct. Learn from them. Ingest and digest all the ideas and information you can from them. Then make it your own. Use that knowledge, let it be the foundations on which you build your career. But don’t ever let it limit you. Learn to recognise and discard all of the crap that may have limited them but don’t let them push it on to you.

Oh, and make sure you learn from folks who actually know what they’re talking about 😉