Monday, April 12, 2010
Owning Your Weakness
A life in animation brings certain realities. On the negative side it's an often-unstable living. On the positive side is the privilege of a life spent doing something you love. If you want animation to do more for you, like give you the ability to buy a house, have a family, take a vactation once in a while, then you have to do MORE in animation. You have to network, keep your skills up, work and play well with others, and grow your talents outside of the realm of a paycheck. The less you do in all those areas, the more brilliant you'd better be to make up for those deficiencies.
As for me and my weaknesses? Where should I start? I'm the guy that Howard Beckerman, a wise and dear friend of mine, used to refer to as "someone who can't draw well but has great ideas." And, you know what? He got the "can't draw well" part right, and hopefully I'll still prove myself on the "great ideas" part. If Howard could see my weakness, so could others, including (most importantly) myself. On the first day of my first full-time job in the industry, at Michael Sporn's studio, I was so ashamed at my inability to draw a simple character in a few poses that I covered up my surviving drawings (the ones that didn't get crumpled into the garbage) with blank paper. All the studio's employees had to pass by my desk on the way to the lunch table and they each uncovered my drawings a little further until all my shame was exposed clear as day. Nobody offered a high five and there was no, "Hey! This guy can draw!" compliments.
These were all artists I respected and I wasn't fit to breathe their air. After the trauma of sitting through that experience the studio's affable production manager at the time, Robert Marianetti, gently asked me, "What did you show to get hired here?" The message was clear to me. I was in trouble. And, whether or not my job was truly on the line, it was important that I BELIEVED it was. I took home the model sheet, drew the characters every night until 3 AM, studied the storyboard for the pilot we were working on, and emerssed myself in the seemingly endless hours of animation that Michael's studio had completed in previous years. Little by little, I clawed my way out of the abyss and it was hard not to get emotional two weeks later when Michael promoted me to work in the studio full-time, hiring someone else to do my previous duties as studio runner/messenger.
I don't share this story to show that one can make up for a critical deficiency within two weeks. The point is that ANY day you start is where you begin. For me it was owning all the hard work that I HADN'T done up till that point and doing something about it. It's a good many years later and I'm still on that mission, to overcome my weaknesses, to try to make a contribution to this industry, and to simply keep my place in it. I would have never guessed, before my career began, that owning my weakness could prove so motivating. It's become the cornerstone of my philosophy.