Friday, 19 September 2014

How long does it take to become a great animator?

It is a cliche that practice makes perfect, but in his 2008 book Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell argues that in order for any person to become really good at any cognitively-challenging task, they have to practice a lot. 10,000 hours-worth of practice, in fact.

His argument is simple. Getting good at something takes time. By way of example, he cites the case of The Beatles who performed live in a club in Hamburg more than 1200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, and thereby getting really, really good at what they did.
Gladwell also cites the example of Bill Gates, who met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of just 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

Gladwell argues that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of practicing, with the proviso that you need constructive feedback so you don't simply practice your mistakes.  So, doing some simple sums, if you practice something for 20 hours a week, it will take you around 10 years to get really expert at it.
Malcolm Gladwell. Photo: Kris Krüg

Gladwell also notes that he himself took exactly 10 years to meet the 10,000-Hour Rule, working as a journalist at the American Spectator magazine and The Washington Post, polishing his craft as a writer.

Animation is no different. Getting good at it takes time and diligence. The Nine Old Men at the Disney Studio became the best by virtue of years of practice, competition - and being pushed by Walt to be the very best they could be.

It's the same for all of us. My father understood this when - in his mid-40's - he brought legendary Hollywood animators Art Babbitt and Ken Harris to his London studio to train his staff - and himself. Below is a picture of Dad taken when I was a kid.

The good news is this: if you are prepared to invest the time and effort to practice your craft, you will in all likelihood get really, really good at it.

Our 30 week course at Animation Apprentice is really all about practicing, starting with simple exercises and building up to complex ones. Animation is a craft based on timing, spacing and performance. The ingredients are quite simple, whether you are working in 2D or 3D. But how you use those ingredients is the complex part.

No animator can ever rest on their laurels. We all need to practice to improve, continually polishing our craft and expanding our skill set. That goes for animation tutors just as much as it does for students.


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