We all know that feeling, right?  It’s late at night, you’ve got a deadline coming up a lot sooner than you’d like, and all you can keep thinking to yourself is, “This just isn’t good enough.”

Or maybe you just saw another student or co-workers knock-out work for the week and the first thing that pops into your head is, “My stuff’s never going to look that good.”

It’s the kind of stuff that makes it impossible to put hand to mouse or pencil to paper unless you find some way to deal with it.  My mentor this term at AM, Nick Bruno, said something in class the other day that really stuck with me:  Animation is 100% about having confidence in your work.  And he’s absolutely right.  It’s amazing how much of this job is about self-confidence rather than the actual doing of it.  Come to think of it, it’s a lot like baseball in that respect.  As the great Yogi Berra put it: “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

If you can’t take an idea you have and completely commit to it, then you’re already dead in the water.  Animation is a unique medium in that it requires you to have large amounts of enthusiasm for a single idea—and hold it there—for days, weeks, or (more likely) even months at a time.  That’s a long time for anyone to be excited about anything.  It also leaves a lot of opportunity for doubt to rear its ugly little head. 

It’s not like rehearsals in film or theatre where there are other people on set or in the audience who laugh when you do something funny.  And even if something isn’t funny, there’s no downtime before you can show someone else a new idea.  You can just give it another shot then and there.  There really isn’t an equivalent to that kind of immediate feedback in animation.  Animation really takes a lot of time and if you aren’t totally excited to work on your shot, it’s really going to show because you won’t be able to give it the attention it deserves. 

So here are a few things that I try to think about to help keep my mind right while working:

1) Don’t let other people’s work intimidate you.  It can be really easy to let the quality of someone else’s work bring you down.  If you let it, it can take the wind out of your sails.  Just remember, there will always be someone better than you.  Remember that you love this art form!  Treat it like looking at a great painting and enjoy it!  Don’t be so self-conscious that you can’t let something great inspire you.  There are lots of folks out there that make it look easy.  Trust me, even to them, this is the hardest thing they’ve ever done.  The truth is talent only takes you so far.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the secret’s not in the talent, it’s in the trying.

2) Sitting on your butt does nothing for you.  No one in the history of the world ever got anywhere by sitting on their hands.  The only way to get better is to try.  Find some way to keep learning.  Find some way to approach a problem in a totally new way that breaks down that mountain of knowledge into smaller humps that don’t scare you as much.  There’s going to be so much out there that you never knew you never knew, and the only way to find it is to look.

3) Hold onto your good moments.  It may not happen as often as you’d like it to, but you know when you get something “right”.   We all know that feeling when we sit back and say, “You know what?  That’s not half bad.”  It can be really easy to gloss over those moments.  Maybe the rest of your shot still looks like crap or maybe your deadline is tomorrow and there’s still a ton of work to get done.  It’s really important to sit back once and a while and say, “Hey!  I did something right today!”  Those are your moments of progression!  Hold on to them!

4) Frustration is a good thing…but you still need to get over it.  I keep trying to remind myself when I get in a rut that frustration is a good thing. It means that you care enough about your work to be angry when it's not right. That's passion!  That said, however, it’s hard to animate angry.

5) If you’re starting to lose enthusiasm for an idea in your shot, GET FEEDBACK.  It’s impossible to laugh at the same joke for a month.  And once a joke stops becoming funny, it’s really tempting to start picking it apart and say, “Does this really work?”  That’s when you need to bring in the cavalry.  Find people whose opinions you trust and see if you can get a laugh out of them on the first watch.

6) Be honest with where your skills are at.  I know I can get a little hesitant about getting feedback when I know something’s not very good.  But part of putting your work out there is being able to say, “My work’s not good enough right now, and I need your help.”  It really is a hard thing to do.  But I always try to remind myself that it’s okay if I’m not the best animator in the world right now.  I’m learning!  Own up to where you’re at skill-wise even if you think you’re terrible!  You busted your butt to get to where you are now, be proud!

7) If you’re looking for work like I am, don’t give up.  I’ve been out of school for almost a year now without so much as a single email or phone call.  And that’s okay.  It just means I’m not ready yet.  Hence the going back to school :)  It makes perfect sense that with all the people out there looking for work that no one would want to hire a mediocre animator.  And I'm okay with that.  I actually think I'm blessed to have chosen a profession that won't accept half-assed work.  And when I'm ready, I'll get hired (and so will you!), but not before.

The bottom line is you’ve got to get out of your own head.  Everyone deals with this stuff.  You’re not alone.  Not even close.  There are so many other obstacles to becoming a great animator and you can’t let yourself become one of them.  Animation is hard enough without having to beat yourself up about it.  Never forget how awesome great animation can be.  Animation is about the relentless pursuit of perfection.  But it’s the pursuit that’s the important part, not the perfection.