Thursday, April 19, 2012

Working with Humans

Chances are, as a creative and imaginative individual, you may not be thrilled at the prospect of being a "team player".  The same inner creative force within a person that compels them to crank out masterworks may pit them against the vision of their fellow artists when within a cooperative setting.

Recently, I was assigned to an short film as the only Matte Painter (and Painted Texture Artist) on board.  We had a team of 18 women and men working on a film that was 85% computer art and 15% live-action integration in under 10 weeks.  The tone of the project was inspired by the classic noir film "The Third Man".  Experience levels across the board varied wildly.

Expectations were high.
It was time to learn how to play nice with my fellow artists.

This is the final product.

Here's a break down of all the work involved.

The following list is some of what I took away from the experience.  The lessons learned apply not just to visual effects but to nearly every other kind of collaborative experiece I can think of.

Lesson 1) Know Your Job.  Do Your Job
My job was to produce Matte Paintings, to help build a texture reference library for the team to use, and to composite the live action plates into my painted scenery.

Sometimes, people just don't pull their weight.  My instinctive reaction is to pick up their slack, to work twice as hard and get all the work done.  Unfortunatly, an artist is often put on these projects to only  accomplish a specific set of goals and covering for someone else may set everyone back.

Here is my approach to peacefully solving the issue of another artist not doing their job in a way that impedes your progress.
    A) Talk to them face to face
         (if this is not possible send an e-mail and CC the supervisor);
         be specific about exactly what you need from them and when.
    B) If this does not produce results within the talked of timeframe,
         have a face to face discussion with your supervisor.  Include all specifics.

Lesson 2) Taking Daily Criticism
Every time we met, our director would go over all progress and the entire team had the opportunity to voice their opinion of each others work.

This is of the utmost importance to the final product, being nice for the sake of sparing feelings will have a negative impact on the final quality of the shot under review.

On the other hand, being under the critique gun was pretty harrowing at first.  Once the intial shock of having your work deconstructed in front of the entire team wore off, I began to really appreciate the opinions of my teammates and co-workers.

To get the most out of critique, take comprehensive notes.  The director is always right and if I cannot convince him that he is wrong during critique, then all the changes he suggests will be implemented as soon as possible.  I then factor the rest of the critiques in order of how much I agree with them personally and creativly.  Some suggestions just don't hold up and it is your perogative as an artist on how to change your shots.

It can be difficult to conform your artwork to the vision of another, but if everyone on the team is working together in this regard, the tone and visual style the director has in mind will show through in the final combined product.

Last thought on this: don't just take criticism...ASK for it. 

Lesson 3) Know How to Stop
In the fast paced world of digital effects, the due dates come very quickly and it is important to not a work a shot to death.  Working on something that was missed during critique?  Show your supervisor; you might not feel done with it but it might be time to call it quits.

A shot is not done when it is perfect.
Art is not done when it is perfect.

The hardest question I kept having to answer near the end of the project was "Are you done with this?".  The artist within me is never satisfied, but I have to reconcile my creative impulse with my professional need to complete all the tasks assigned to me.

Working hard is important.
Working intelligently is even more imporant.

Happy Cooperation!
Josh Evans

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