Sunday summary (#1)

Blog header image - 3D render of Brighton houses

Another month, another failed attempt at the simple task of keeping a blog up to date. So I thought maybe having some sort of weekly round up might encourage me to actually get on with it. Maybe.

Anyway, I guess the point in this is to reflect on what I’ve been doing this week. Given that this is the first one though, I thought I’d summarise a bit more beyond the last week on what I’ve been focusing on.

If I’m honest these last few weeks have been tarnished with plenty of existential crisis, hopelessness, apathy, anger and confusion. Every now and then I’m reminded of the gaps in my skills, and instead of being able to look up and say “well actually, I have a hell of a lot of skills!” I find myself wallowing in self pity and wishing I’d made better life choices. This time it was triggered when I was attempting to draw some character designs for my long overdue website update. I was reminded once again that despite a degree in graphic design and now working as an animator, I actually can’t really draw particularly well. That then reminded me of how, while I’m good at many, many things, I’m not particularly amazing at anything. Hear me out.

Comparing skills development and career progression routes.

If you were to take a typical career progression, most people start without a clear idea and so will navigate lots of routes through school and further education. By the time they’re in higher education or other qualifications or just in work, the idea is usually clearer and the route starts to straighten up. It’ll never be a straight line, but progress becomes a bit more direct. As an animator, that might be studying art, getting into design, discovering motion graphics, learning animation techniques; drawing, storyboarding, stop-frame, 3D, whatever. And gradually some of those skills might drop off while you focus on the ones you enjoy more (or find more profitable). There’s no end point as such, but the route picks up pace, straightens up and gains focus.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken that early navigation to the extreme and made it a way of life. I’ve spiralled around many different interests and so progress has been much, much slower; maybe even slowing down as the spiral widens over time. Sure, lots of these skills are related, but the diversity has left me much less focused, less sure of what I really should be doing. I know I’m not alone in this; being lost is a common feeling.

The result is that I look at my own work, and naturally compare it with those I look up to; those who demonstrate a much more defined skill – many of whom are younger than me and seemingly ahead of me professionally. Animators, illustrators, programmers, artists, film makers, musicians and the rest who’s skills allow them to create some incredible work. The same work that inspires me every time to say “that’s what I should be doing actually” and drop whatever I was just about to make a breakthrough with. And of course, with those comparisons comes this feeling of inadequacy, and a looming sense that – as someone turning 30 in two months – I’ve missed my chance to really achieve what I’d hoped.

(Whilst writing this, Spotify decided to pick ‘I am an Amateur at Everything’ as the next song to play to me. Thanks for that.)

But bringing it back to the last few weeks; this whole feeling was compounded when I received, well, a certificate of all things.

My Postgraduate Certificate in Computing with Digital Media from University of Sussex
To be stuffed into a drawer and forgotten about.

Turns out that after dropping out of my MSc half way through, I was entitled to a “Postgraduate Certificate”. An achievement no doubt, but not the Masters I’d been aiming for. Cue the sensation of not quite living up to my ambitions. On top of that, receiving an email from the university informing me it was in the post which opened with “Congratulations on successfully completing your degree!” felt genuinely patronising, and only added to the bitter taste I already had for the whole shambles of a year it had been.

Bart Simpson looks at his "Everybody gets a trophy day" trophy.
Maybe next time they can pat me on the head and tell me I’m a good boy.

So what the hell are you doing about it?

Right. Finally. I guess this is where I talk about what I actually have been doing. And despite the above moaning, I’ve actually been doing quite a bit.

Firstly, after a couple of weeks working with fellow motion designer Richard Dufty, I was reminded that I really, really need to get into Cinema 4D. It’s such a crucial tool as a motion designer, and there’s definitely been jobs I had to turn down because I just don’t do 3D work. So of course, I picked up some tutorials on Skillshare and got learning. Despite completing a module on 3D modelling in my MSc, I’d pretty much forgotten everything. But a few hours of tutorials and a bit of practice later, things were starting to come into existence…

If anything, I was really getting into it. Sure it’s frustrating at first but I felt like I was making quite a bit of progress. My plan had been to produce something every day; a short animation or a model or a scene or just…something. Turns out that’s quite difficult with 3D as it can take hours to render a piece out and I just don’t have that much time, but still making something as often as possible is a reasonable goal.

However, that had to go on hold when I realised the influx of work I’d had at the start of the year had sort of dried up a little. I suddenly had to get back to looking for work, and I decided this meant updating my website.

See I’ve been learning how to run ads through Google (another thing I guess) and while it’s been successful in the past, I felt that my own website was creating a stumbling block. So I decided to rework it, including introducing some SVG animations. There’s not much to show of the website at this point, but here’s some previews of the animation ideas (which was where the whole sulking about my skills started).

I’ve also been exploring the other tutorials on Skillshare and thinking there’s a few things on there I could start learning. Joshua Davis has a few courses on there that I’m quite keen to go through. I was also very inspired by this video to learn Houdini, which I had only heard of by name before but subsequently learned is available for free to learners/hobbyists.

Steve, you’re doing it again.

Yes I know, I know. But what I didn’t explain before was that after all that sulking about my indecisiveness, I did actually come to a more positive conclusion. Or two.

Firstly, I do have skills. Here I am talking about making stuff in 3D and rebuilding my website and marketing myself as if they’re just housekeeping. Those are all things I should be proud of. Sure, I’m no expert in any field, but I shouldn’t have to be a world champion to feel like I’ve achieved something.

Secondly, I am – and will always be – still learning, and there’s no reason why I should limit myself. I’m capable of making a living doing what I do, and I have no doubt that I will naturally focus myself over time. Sure, it’s maybe taken me longer to settle than others, but in the process I’ve learned a whole load of different things and gained from that, whichever way I look at it.

So where do we go from here?

Or more, what update can I expect to share next week? Well, priorities will always be actual client work, but in between (wahey) those I’ll be focusing primarily on my website. A bit of animation practice, a bit of WordPress practice, and copywriting, and planning, and graphic design, and everything else that goes into making a beautiful, effective website to market your own skills.

As it stands, I have quite a few jobs on, so no doubt the next update will be (you’ll be glad to hear) much shorter.

See you then if not before!

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