Animation and the Joy of Learning
One of the most heartbreaking things I see as a teacher, parent, or animator is a young person putting so much pressure on themselves that they lose the joy that attracted them to an art form (or activity) in the first place. As a young animation student I was drawn into a sequence of excitement, opportunity, achievement, and comparison (to those more advanced than myself), and then to insecurity and frustration. Each time I saw someone’s animation I had to know if I could do better. If I could be more valuable. As if becoming more adept at a certain skill had any bearing on who I was or my value as a person. But I continued to put pressure on myself to understand complicated concepts instantly and execute them effortlessly. Little by little that pressure robbed me of the joy I felt when animating. And it continued not just through school, but well into my career. Until finally I couldn’t keep up with it.
After four years working for Walt Disney Feature Animation in the late ‘90’s, I found myself cleaning out my desk and saying good-bye to the job that had been my dream since 6th grade. While I had talent, I couldn’t draw or animate as well as the other artists there, some who were my age, but many who had been animating for decades. And instead of approaching my position with a humble curiosity, I had instead withdrawn into myself hoping that I could somehow pull some animation off on my own that would ‘Wow!’ those around me, which of course I couldn’t. As a result, I found myself without a position on the newest film, without the opportunity to learn from those who had so much more skill than myself, and without a desire to continue animating, a process that had always fascinated me and something I truly loved to do. What had I done wrong!? I had expected to learn too much too quickly. I had attached my character and self-worth to a skill that took thousands of hours to master. I had abandoned the joy of learning.
I finally did give up putting that unachievable pressure on myself and I have enjoyed animating in the world of film over the last 25 years, although I still feel it sneak up on me every once in a while. Now I see the pressure in new places, the eyes of my children and my students. I think with the technological advancements today it makes it even harder for this next generation. A world of information and opportunity is at their fingertips. Almost everything is effortless…and yet there are still things in life that are truly hard to master. Growing up and maturing. Learning to interact with people. Knowing thyself. And, in the case of my students, animation. When the movie goer watches an animated movie they ingest years of work from hundreds of people in a couple of hours. Unfortunately, sometimes a student will expect the same level of skill and expertise from themselves that they see on the screen. I make it a point to always take the pressure off an assignment. Each of them is at a different point in their journey. Each is valuable. And it’s getting them excited about the journey that is the real key. Then doing something wrong becomes a fantastic opportunity to learn. And not a discouragement, but rather a moment to build momentum. If we embrace failure and mistakes as the catalyst for understanding and disconnect it from our value as people then we have a learning model that is powerful, and enjoyable! At least it was that way for me.
Chad Stewart is a seasoned homeschool dad with 8 children all at different stages of growing into adulthood. He has worked in the animation field for the last 25 years and was on the animation team for movies such as The Emperor’s New Groove and Tarzan. Beginning as a 2D animator he then moved into the world of 3D animation and worked as an animator on projects such as Stewart Little 2, Open Season and The Polar Express. He has taught at an online animation school for career-minded adults and began THE ANIMATION COURSE in 2014 to bring his knowledge and love of the animation art form to school-aged students!