How to become an expert animator in 5 steps

April 27, 2010

The good news is that you are already an expert at many things. You have mastered at least one language and have learned to read. By following the technique of learning by doing, you will become an expert animator over time.

The best thing of all is that learning how to animate is great fun. The first time I run a new animation sequence that I have created, I feel like I have performed a magic trick. Maybe it needs a bit more work and polish but the satisfaction is immense.

So what is the special formula that elevates someone to the position of expert in their field? The answer lies in five key stages in the learning process.

When people exhibit a special skill in a particular area such as music, drawing or sport we tend to assume they are naturally gifted. However, scientific research has shown that the differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training.

Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. Neurologist Daniel Levitin says “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, this number comes up again and again… It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery… This is true even of people we think of as prodigies”.

The 10,000 hour theory is also supported by the fact that when I was a lad craft apprentices were usually indentured for five years (40 hours a week x 50 weeks x 5 years = 10,000 hours).

If 10,000 hours seems impossible look at it this way: it is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years. Take it one step at a time and eventually you will reach you goal.

Author George Leonard identified five stages in learning in his book Mastery – The Keys To Success:

Key 1: Instruction. There is nothing better than being mentored by a master animator, either in the workplace or as a student. If this is not possible there are many books written by master animators. Also study sequences from the classic animation films, view them one frame at a time to see how it was done.

Key 2: Practice. The more you do something the easier it will become. Whatever you chosen medium, be it drawn, puppets or computer animation, put the knowledge you have gained from instruction into practice. Set yourself a specific goal, such as 10 second sequence, and work towards it. Once you have achieved this set yourself a harder goal.

Key 3: Surrender. Your early attempts at animation are bound to feel clumsy. Don’t let this put you off. Trust in your own ability and follow the guidance of your instructor (be it a mentor, a book or a film clip). Immerse yourself in your animation and keep going.

Key 4: Intentionality. You should bring willpower, attitude and imagination to the learning process. Keep focused and think ahead about what you want to achieve.

Key 5: The Edge. Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of the small, incremental step. At the same time they are likely to challenge previous limits, to take risks for the sake of higher performance. But before you can play the edge there must be much instruction, practice, surrender, and intentionality.

Check out the following blog for more info on these key steps: The Five Keys to Mastery.

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