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Hard labor

April 9th, 2007

or, Conception to Delivery
or, More Fun to Put In than Get Out

Once upon a time, I wanted to get more work doing 3D animation at home, but I didn’t know how. As I’m a recluse by nature, my vestigial speaking skills tend to confuse people, and typically I get more work if I stay home and keep my mouth shut. I suspected that my “demo reel” might possibly be a factor in finding work, and at the time I didn’t have a lot of 3D on my reel. So partly to flesh out my reel and partly as an ability-stretching exercise I conducted a test to see what sort of piece I could come up with in three weeks flat — design, model, animate, bang. The result was the 30-second piece with the orca and bear bouncing around.

flying bear from 'Tlingit vs. Haida'
I can hear the floor!

It wasn’t groundbreaking, strictly speaking, but people seemed to like it, and I got some interesting job offers. Not bad for three weeks, I thought. What could I do in three months?

Chicks Dig Planning Ahead

So I whipped up a schedule, extrapolating from my experience with the three-week project, and offhandedly farted up a light-hearted but ambitious project based on some doodles I found in the street. I spent a week sketching a stream-of-consciousness storyboard and began to build.

I got a couple of good solid months in. The project was moving quickly. I had everything built and rigged, and had finished a blocking pass — then something happened. I don’t remember what it was. Something to do with other people. I was pulled away, and the project lost momentum.

Distractions started piling up — trivial things like rent, moving to New York and back, death and taxes, a brief stint as ambassador to Finland. In the middle of all this I took a job that should have been much easier but developed into a full-on classic death march, complete with the client displaying the first three stages of grief on repeat over the phone. It worked out alright but I floated through the last week in the sort of dissociated state I imagine a fox experiences while chewing its own leg off to escape from a trap. After that I had no energy left for any kind of output at all. I needed an intake break, and I took it.

But even while sitting on park benches staring at trees, the unfinished project kept bugging me. Follow-through on unpleasant necessities is a sore point for me, and I really wanted to see what this thing would look like, and I decided it was an unpleasant necessity, so I kept coming back to it.

Turns Out They Were Giants

Almost two years of delays, breaks, and restarts later, I am finally finishing. There were many surprises, and I’ve discovered a lot of blind spots I didn’t know I had, and in retrospect a few small changes could have eased the process tremendously. I’m not kicking myself over it though — I don’t really know anybody else who does what I do, and I’ve never seen any sort of breakdown of a project like this, though I really could have used one. So in the spirit of patching holes in the world, soon I’ll be posting a summary of the major stages of the project, with a smattering of pithy observations, in the hope that at the very least it may function as a Lascaux for future 3D bison hunters. Maybe there are good reasons why I’ve never run into such a breakdown, but I don’t know what those are either. I’m guessing it’s related to the recluse thing.

The lessons I’ve learned are probably not exclusive to privileged white male independent 3D animators, but I don’t have the hubris nor energy to distill any universal truths from my story. So if you need any of those, consider the distillation your own unpleasant necessity, and good luck to both of us.

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