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Being Professional Means Cheap Sheets of Plastic

What's professional? If you're an instructor, this is likely a tedious discussion. Recently, while renovating yet another apartment (don't ask) a possible discussion-ending metaphor occurred to me: Being professional means using cheap sheets of plastic.

Professional vs amateur

Students ocassionally manage to get me tangled up in discussions about professionalism, usually after I make the mistake of commenting that the student's behavior in this or that regard isn't very professional. Well, I may just have encountered a new metaphor to use the next time I step in that mess. Radiators, renovations and cheap sheets of plastic. Of course, that needs a bit of explanation...

Output

Let's say you're renovating an apartment. It takes you 4 1/2 hours to paint the living room and it looks great. A professional might be able to do the job in 4 hours, without the minor uneveness in the corners above the window. Aha, exclaims the student. There's the difference between being a professional and an amateur. I reply that there must be professionals who vary by at least that much... or one professional that works faster or slower depending on the day.

Back to animation, its well known that Disney's nine old men all prduced widely differing amounts of footage per time spent animating. No, variation of productivity happen, even among professionals and it can be an important difference - particularly in creative fields such as film-making. Quenching a line of action out of a gut feel sometimes takes time, and that time often plays a role in the ability for the final product to draw a crowd.

Process

A true difference can be found in the numerous hours an amateur spends scraping off dripped paint from the radiator vs. the 10 minutes a professional spends wrapping the radiator with a cheap sheet of plastic before painting. This type of variation in productivity is indeed a sign of professionalism or the lack thereof.

What's this mean for animators? Well, we don't have any radiators to paint, so cheap sheets of plastic won't help much. One simple example is a sign-off pipeline when animating... a stepped progression in getting feedback, from blocked keys to fluid motion with lip-synch and secondary motions. Changes in staging and broad pose can be discussed early in the process, before much time has been spent polishing curves or tweaking subelements.

Results

When I first speak of project or time management, I notice the students zoning out... yuck! Doesn't sound like the coolness I entered animation for. Management, approached correctly, is a mixture of common sense, discipline and respect.

  • Common sense always seems common after the fact, and seldom before... so its seldom a decent guide when forging onward into the unknowns of project management.
  • Discipline is a necessary bitch... it gets used to the degree in which it promises to prove helpful. Which can only be ascertained after the fact... so, it's also more of a hindsight tool. Better for use in that next project, as experience cumulates.
  • Respect is tangible. If you view each task brief, each sign-off, each creative document that you create along the way to completing your project as a sign of respect for you and each of your collaborators, respect for the time and talent you / they will invest and which either will or will not end up on screen, then you have a potent key to open the doors to project management for this project, the one you are now working on.

A common credo in the echelons of management is control the work, not the person. Above, I show a differentiation in evaluating production efficiency which can broadly be categorized as production rate (sec. per week) vs. process (refined workflow). One and the same management credo can be evil or constructive depending on the differentiation its applied to - in other words, the way it treats people.

So....

whether you happen to be starting an indy film, contributing to a school project or painting a friend's apartment, treat everyone involved with respect and get some cheap plastic sheets to cover the radiators with.

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