~ How Silhouettes Changed My Direction

I’ll be frank with you.

This is going to be a long post, so you’re gonna need some coffee, tea, or Red Bull or whatever your potion might be. Deidee gets a little philosophical in today’s blog installment.

Still with me? OK, here we go.

Learning how to animate has been a long road for me and I still have a ways to go before I’d even really consider advertising myself professionally as an animator. But I have goals for this little hobby of mine. Not only do I want to be a “puppeteer” of rigged models, but I also want to do the big stuff that the really good animators get to do.

If you look back at a lot of my posts, quite a few of them are inspiration videos showcasing what I want to emulate. There’s two themes: the animated shorts of visual awesome-ness that stir the emotions, like Lifted, and the ever-so-magical digital visual effects (VFX). RocketJump (minus the guns and crazy explosions) is my personal litmus test for VFX. They’re the creators of the stellar First Person Mario: Endgame and the slightly inappropriate Mr. Toots.

Making this stuff is my hobby, but it’s also my dream, and I believe that the key to a fulfilled life is listening to that quiet, persistent voice deep inside. Its job is to remind you of your dreams and the path you should be following (even if it’s only part-time in the evenings and on the weekends).

What it whispers can feel scary, at first. Maybe what it’s suggesting is so far-fetched that it would be alarmingly counterproductive to the status quo. You end up dismissing it and shaking your head. “Nonsense,” you think.

On the other hand, curiosity is human nature and that quiet voice is ever so persistent. Allowing the imagination to expound upon an alternate life – one in which you’re living whatever the whisper might suggest can be almost too much to bear. Knowing that in a second, the elation your imagination is teasing you with is going to slip away and leave you with a pseudo-memory, and a dry, cracked lake bed of emotion. “I could never make that happen, anyway,” you try to reassure yourself as you, yet again, let the thought go.

It’s been my experience that life doesn’t get real though, until you stop thinking about what makes you happy and you start doing what makes you happy. It’s scary to take those first steps.

I’ve written before about having once been a teacher. It was a career path I chose based on what I thought was expected of me. At one time, I truly believed that I’d retire as an esteemed educator, maybe having taught at the same school for 25-30 years and forever knowing each of my students by name. Recalling stories of their earlier shenanigans with a matronly chuckle when I’d see them out and about with children of their own. I smile when I think about that lady. Her aspirations are no longer mine, but I remember her affectionately.

When my inner voice kept reminding me that teaching was no longer fulfilling me, it seems like fate that a series of events happened that would set me on a path toward finally figuring out how to explore my dream of simply learning how to animate. I won’t get into all of those events today, but I will share that they culminated with me enrolling in a simulation and game development (SGD) program at a local community college. Keep in mind that for a seasoned classroom teacher, the idea of enrolling in a game development program seemed ludicrous to my friends and coworkers. Because of that, I had doubts, but being the savvy individual that I am, I realized early on that I could probably learn a lot of the animation skills in the SGD program that I’d need in order to get my foot in the animation door and not break the bank in doing so. Game characters are animated, are they not?

The great news is that the program has been an excellent experience. I learned Photoshop; Flash; 3ds Max; and SketchUp, and I have been exposed to industry-standard applications like Unity. Being a closet gamer all along, I’ve been extraordinarily interested in learning the in’s and out’s of game development. Each class has brought me closer to eventually working with a team of folks to build our own game – an experience that will allow me to stretch and exercise my animation skills. I’m 3/4 of the way through the program.

That is, I should say, I was 3/4 of the way through – up until my inner voice and silhouettes changed my direction, last Thursday.

These guys are silhouettes.

Three figures stand in a horizontal row. No details have been fleshed in, only the outline of each figure is discernible. The first is a robotic figure. The second is a stocky figure with arms that are bulky and reach almost to the feet. The third is a cross between a centipede-type figure and a humanoid person. The third figure has an extraordinary large head topped with a crown.

They’re used as a first step in the character development process for games. The basic thought is that if a character doesn’t look too interesting in silhouette form, he/she/it isn’t going to look too great fleshed out in color and as a 3d model. Makes sense, right?

Well, last Thursday, I was in the first week of my Character Development class and the assignment was to create four of these fun little drawings. The instructor was also using this time to teach Photoshop skills – basically things I’ve known for ages, so my mind was starting to wander. I was starting to feel as though my time could be spent elsewhere. As I started hammering the silhouettes out, I came to the conclusion that the simulation and game design program was no longer right for me – a decision that surprised me in how suddenly I made it, but felt right because I again, was hearing that little voice inside.

There’s a number of reasons why it’s not right for me anymore. What worked so well for me for the first 3/4 of the program was that the courses I needed were offered online. The program no longer does this. I’m just feeling too darn old to work all day and then go to night class until 9:30-10:00 at night. Another reason is that I’m a freelancer at heart. Asking me to draw and create at a very specific “lab” time doesn’t jive with me as well as I’d like it to. Artistically, I create in bursts and that doesn’t happen, usually, until I’m home and relaxed (or at the very least, at work and fresh for the day), which doesn’t work well for night classes.

As the other students worked hard at creating their four silhouettes, I stopped after my third and quietly tallied up all of the reasons to stay in the program and all of the reasons to leave. In the end, there were more than a handful telling me that this chapter was ending and only one reason telling me to keep trying to turn the pages. It was that darn game that I’d get to create at the end.

“Not enough,” that voice whispered.

I took a deep breath and sighed as I looked at the other students around me. Already they felt kind of alien to me.

So, my solution was to find an online program that would teach me more of what I want to learn and on my own time. Selfish? Maybe. The ingredients for a happier student? Definitely. So, I’ve dropped my SGD classes and I’m pursuing an online animation school that’ll start up in the spring. These courses and The Fireflower Airship are going to be a large chunk of my 2014, but I’m seriously and enthusiastically looking forward to all of it and I’m looking forward to showing you what comes out of it.

So, here’s to a new year, a new direction, and listening to the voice inside that reminds you of how to reach your dreams.

~ Cheers!

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