The Road To Becoming A Better Artist
This is a permanent post--I will update it occasionally. Some aspects of being an artist, and improving as an artist are difficult: it requires skill, creativity, passion and vision. Progress generally involve hard work and there are seldom short-cuts. But other aspects are primarily a matter of organization and discipline. If you reduce your 'wasted' time, you'll have more time to devote to the time-intensive activities. The list below is where I usually find myself wasting time, causing a 2-hour project to turn into a 2-day project.
Lessons I Wish I Would Learn
- Focus on the task; Don't build the world.
- Give yourself deadlines, but don't accept sub-standard work.
- Know when to say No.
- Know what the customer wants, even if you are the customer.
- Limit projects, preferably to a week or two.
- Work big to small.
- Don't put it away until you are done.
1. Focus on the task; Don't build the world.
My initial inclination is to leave a lot of options for my future self. If I wanted to create a render of the Colosseum, it's only normal that I should model all of Rome, just in case I wanted to do a wide-angle shot, right? Most people would agree that is crazy, and yet that is the approach I want to take (hence its inclusion in my Lessons Learned). Instead, I should focus only on what I need. If I want a still render of the Colosseum, start with a very basic setup (drawings, primitives, image planes, etc.) to choose the desired angles/lighting/composition. Then add detail and refine (see Lesson #6). Even if I change my mind later, the re-work or additional work will be focused on the final project and still be way less work than the 'model all of Rome' concept.
2. Give yourself deadlines, but don't accept sub-standard work.
Similar to #1 above, left to my natural tendencies, I will fiddle and tweak and 'improve' on whatever I'm working forever. (Forever is defined as 1 second longer than that moment when my adult ADD loses interest.) This causes two problems: 1) most of my learning occurs early in the planning and creating; the later phases make minor changes, generally changing things I've already done, and 2) it takes time away from other projects, where again I could be learning and improving. So it is important to set deadlines.
The corollary, however, is that just because the deadline is met doesn't mean the result is good enough. It is difficult, but important, to be able to objectively assess your own work. Most people tend to the extremes--either everything I do is garbage or I am ready to single-handedly replace DreamWorks! The truth is somewhere in between.
3. Know when to say No.
In this case, I am generally referring to additional projects. I find myself frequently coming up with great ideas, usually while I have several projects half-finished. In fact, as I encounter difficult problems in my projects, I tend to come up with more 'great' ideas than usual, probably because it gives me an excuse for putting of the problems. The most productive decisions I make are generally, 'No, I don't have time for that great idea right now.' It usually motivates me to finish the problematic projects more quickly, and the really good projects I keep in the back of my mind until later.
4. Know what the customer wants, even if you are the customer.
As a result of issues #1 and #2, it is not unusual for me to start a project and get distracted by something shiny. Having a clear, preferably written, goal will help minimize the distractions. With actual customers, periodic updates are good ways to keep the focus, reduce last-minute changes, and allow positive improvements. But even if you are working on a self-directed project, periodically taking a step back and assessing how you are doing (and whether you are on schedule, see #2), will keep you focused, which generally produces a better final product.
5. Limit projects, preferably a week or two.
Most people probably overestimate their abilities and underestimate the work required for a particular project. Limiting a project to a maximum of two weeks helps ensure you aren't frittering away time and energy without getting the result you want. This doesn't mean you can't take on longer projects; it recommends splitting them up into sub-projects. If you have something that will take 4 months to complete, split it up: 1 week for the storyboard, 1 week to model character X, 3 days to model character Y, etc. This not only keeps you on task, it allows you to practice estimating skills that will be important as you move up the creative food chain!
6. Work big to small.
Or maybe 'Rought to Detailed' is more accurate. It may be my engineer personality, but my first reaction is always to start with the building blocks--if I'm modeling a building, I'll want to start with bricks, or if I'm modeling a car, lugnuts seem like a good place to start. For one animation, I once spent a month trying to model the state of Utah with Digital Terrain Elevation Data. (Spoiler: That's not a good plan!). Most of the time, I adjust the camera for a better shot and my lovingly-created details aren't even in the scene! Start with rough sketches for the storyboard. Start with low resolution and minimum samples for the test renders. Start with basic shapes and diffuse color materials until you have the shot framed or the sound track timed. This gets you a solution quickly...it might be a really ugly solution, but chances are you are going to change things so don't waste your time until you are happy with the final look. And anyone who missed an assignment in school because the final render crashed knows it is better to turn in something than nothing. The same is true for client deadlines (keep rule #2 in mind, though). The tweaking, finessing, oh-my-gosh-I-just-had-a-great-idea-ing always take the most time. Get your final version roughed in as soon as possible so the detail work doesn't get thrown away.
7. Don't put it away until you are done.
I've spent the last several months going through old files cleaning, organizing, updating and polishing. One thing I have learned is I could be the worst 3D artist alive! I had lots of bad habits that I could hide enough to finish a particular project, but if I wanted to reuse or expand anything, I was in big trouble. Despite the fact that the client doesn't want it or you have other things you would rather do, take some time at the end of every project to make you models/rigs/materials/etc. ready for the next project. Future you will thank you!