I have been a bit absent as of late. Lots of things happening in all aspects of my life right now! One a work note... there is a new Wreck-It Ralph 2 trailer out this week! Check it out!
The movie comes out November 21st! Please go check it out! It is a hilarious movie and the animation in this one is some of the best we have done at Disney. The animators really went to town trying to loosen up the faces of all these cartoon-y characters.
Alright, next topic! I had a question emailed to me after my last post about supervising. An animator in a new supervisory position asked how you go about creating a team that keeps each other motivated and inspired and not become competitive and hold their animation knowledge too close to their chest. I thought this was a great question and wanted to take a moment to chat about it.
One thing that I found when I arrived at Disney was just how open the people there were to sharing the knowledge that they had. Whether it was a technical trick or an artistic pointer, most everyone was open to giving ideas if they were asked. I think the same is true today, although it is a bit tougher these days as our team is more than double the size as it was back in 2010. I think there are a few factor that lead to a group being engaged in this way. The first that comes to mind is passion. The people I have been fortunate enough to work with in the industry (all of my jobs, not just Disney) have been filled with people who were over the top jazzed up about movies, animation, acting, etc. Team lunches typically turn into discussions about movies or television shows recently watched with in depth critiques and analysis. Or conversation turns to the work we are all focused on at the time. Wherever the conversations lead, they are led with passion. In order for passion to be fully expressed, their is another attribute that must be present and that is safety.
For new leaders with new teams... or any leader of any team, I guess... I think it is important to make sure that these types of casual conversations are available and safe. Everyone should be able to have their opinion. Maybe you hate The Fugitive because it you think it is dated and cliche. I strongly disagree with you, but the more we can chat about what specifically works or doesn't work for us, then the more we tart to broaden our perspectives on acting, film-making, technique, what have you. The same is true for talking about how we approach our animation. Sharing opinions, techniques, workflows or anything else must be made to feel like it is not only acceptable but encouraged.
When I started at Disney on Tangled, I was lucky enough to have John Kahrs and Clay Kaytis as my Heads of Animation. Within about 3 months of me being at the studio, they made me give a multi-hour demo of my workflow and process. At the time, I thought it might have just been that they needed everyone to animate faster, but in retrospect I think there was something much bigger and more impressive to their request. It got conversation started and got people more comfortable with sharing their process and their tips and tricks. Over the years, we have embraced and encouraged this type of sharing. We have had half a dozen workflow demos. We have had 3 or 4 talks from animators about comedy where they simple showed clips of what they found funny and why thought it was funny. Daniel Klug set up a weekly Anim Pit Stop meeting where he shows clips he finds inspiring, asks specific people questions about their workflows, or just shows little Maya tidbits. We have had talent shows for people to show off their skills outside of animation, and we have had round tables with leaders to talk about leadership styles and challenges of leadership. The biggest thing to me in all of that is that is has been a full 360 of perspectives. Leaders talk about their perspective and encourage everyone else to do the same.
I think that leads me to the last and most challenging aspect to creating that inspiration loop. That is competitiveness. It is no secret that the animation industry is super competitive. There are a LOT of people who want jobs and not a ton of jobs to go around (fortunately that is improving with so many new studios and animation opportunities in the world). Also, animation is, usually, a business and businesses have to make money to keep the doors open. All of these factors typically lead to the feeling of fighting for your job, therefor their pay, therefor their life. If you are in the mindset of fighting for your job, then you quickly become less likely to share your knowledge as it may give someone else the edge over you. While there may be some amount of logic to that train of thought, I personally believe it is incredibly short sighted. The more you share, the more you get back in return. The more nuggets of wisdom you get to put in your pocket. The more you share and engage your fellow workers, the better their work gets and very rarely does this type of engagement and growing of the team goes unnoticed by supervisors or management. I would much rather have an animator that is pretty good and makes time to grow and engage her/his fellow co-workers, than an amazing animator that keeps tips and tricks to himself. I think creating an atmosphere where people feel that sharing is worth it comes down to the leadership of a department or team. John and Clay showed it to the whole crew when they made me talk about my process. I have seen it many times over by my leadership at Disney when they take into account what we sometimes refer to as "citizenship" during feedback sessions.
It is a tough thing to keep going consistently, but when all the engines are firing; the passionate people are given the opportunity to have their opinions, share them freely, and feel safe from losing their job... the team as a whole becomes stronger. If you are a new leader, think about what opportunities your staff have to share what they know. If there isn't an opportunity, make one. Make it recurring and small at first. Ask for lots of volunteers. Figure out multiple venues for people to be able to share. Some people HATE to talk in front of others. Let them create a video if they want. Facilitate the sharing of those videos. Create an email alias or a slack channel purely for inspiration. Celebrate people who help others while still getting their own work done. The whole team will benefit in this environment.
I hope this rambling answered the questions I received. Like usual, if this made no sense at all... great! Let me know and I will do another post to clarify!
Hope this was helpful and don't forget to watch Ralph 2 in theaters November 21st!! ZAP!