Recently, some friends and I got talking about Super Smash Brothers and it reminded me of the first time playing that game on N64 at my friend’s house. We picked our characters and the match began. It was so much fun fighting the AI characters. We simply crushed them. They’d spawn, I’d send them into space. Then, full of confidence from our ruthless victory, we cranked the difficulty up. I don’t remember landing a single blow. They were juggling us (This term refers to a player’s ability to keep their opponent in the air without letting them take an action.) with such little effort. Determined that we now knew something we didn’t before, we fought them again. Same outcome, over and over. Eventually and after a lot of practice, we were able to defeat these computer players and felt such a swell of accomplishment, but for several rounds, we hit a plateau. Then, once again in our hubris, we challenged two of our friends to matches and they beat us like we had never even heard of this game. My point is that we definitely beat them eventually, and to this day I’m a better Smash player than them. But the journey was peppered by weeks of shameful losing and it took sharp attention, effort, and dedication in the face of repetitive defeat.
Fortunately for me, I got more from that game than just the countless hours of entertainment, it was also one of many things that sparked my interest in pursuing 3D art and animation as a career. And so I began studying. Learning animation was a fantastic challenge, I was absorbed. It felt the same way as mastering that video game: challenging but addictive; it was frustrating and I couldn’t quit. Every new skill I acquired, every new project I finished, it was a challenge followed by a reward, and it was so much fun. And then I got to a point where there was a new skill I was specifically told I should learn. Coding. It ends up that writing code was a very important aspect of the particular job I was interested in.
“Well that would be helpful, but it’s not really necessary.” “I don’t want to be a programmer anyway, I like the art side of the process.” “I’ve tried, I can’t even think in that way.” I materialized all of these excuses and very effectively talked myself out of approaching this unwanted challenge. So I went back to doing projects using the techniques I already knew. But something didn’t feel right. I was having a tough time enjoying my work. I realized this and learned some new software I was interested in. I learned about other aspects I wasn’t knowledgeable in, like lighting and rendering. And while it was difficult, I still didn’t feel that same excitement upon learning the new skill. Eventually, I bit the bullet and enrolled in an online class focused on coding. The first several weeks were grueling. I had trouble understanding the most basic ideas. I was struggling to keep up with the pace of the class. I didn’t know how this was going to help me.
And then, about 3 or 4 excruciating weeks in, something clicked. I started to understand some things. First, it was just getting the syntax right without having to look it up every time. I wrote a script that automated a huge, repetitive chunk of work. Then I was able to rewrite that tool to do the same thing but more efficiently, with a fraction of the amount of code. Ideas started lighting up my head like fireworks. Possibilities were filling my head. I got that excitement back.
This is just one example. Our lives as creatives are littered with these challenges. As people enter the arts, whatever that may be, we experience joy and fulfillment. We get positive feedback, we feel good about our work. However, there comes a day for every artist where it doesn’t come so easily. Maybe it feels like that positive reinforcement won’t ever arrive. This is an important moment and will define your success as an artist. My favorite explanation of this conundrum was revealed in a behind-the-scenes video at Phil Tippett’s studio, the stop-motion animator responsible for work in Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and more. It’s a very brief, but important, moment. As they are entering his office, he points to a small print-out taped to his door. It is the etymology of the word “Passion”. It comes from the Latin root ‘Pati’ which means pain. He explains that passion does not mean euphoric exuberance. Passion really means sticking with what you love through the discomfort and the suffering that precedes the euphoria and enjoyment.
So the next time you feel like you hit a wall, or your project doesn’t get the reaction you wanted, or you feel unhappy about what you made, just remember that it’s because you’re passionate. And wear that passion like a badge of honor because it means you’re about to knock it out of the park (with the home run bat).
Austin Broder is a curriculum developer and instructor at Digital Media Academy. When he isn't busy teaching 3D modeling, you can find him creating exciting new projects at Animation Redefined.