Learn why personal projects not only help to consolidate your learning but also have massive value throughout your career.
One thing which is true of all creative subjects is that we learn the most when we put theory into practice and actually make something. This is why all of my classes are designed to be project based rather than dry theory.
Those students who follow the classes and build the project will gain a better understanding of how things work and are more likely to remember the information they’ve been taught.
Taking it up a notch, I always love to see the class projects which are submitted where a student has personalised their project in some way. This can be as simple as changing a colour scheme or as advanced as basing the project on their own design. By customising the class, the student is really testing their understanding of what they’ve been learning and their ability to put it into practice in a different scenario.
What I’d like to advocate however is taking things a step further. Once you’ve mastered the basics of what you’re learning, try to break away from the classes and tutorials altogether. Design your own simple project and see what you can achieve without following along. When you hit difficulties, you may need to refer back to a class you have taken but, for the most part, see what you can achieve independently.
These personal projects serve multiple purposes and their value changes throughout your career.
Initially, personal projects help to consolidate your learning. They clearly show your strengths and weaknesses in a way which is masked when you’re closely following a tutorial.
As you improve, your personal projects will form the basis of your personal portfolio or showreel if you are planning to make animation your career.
Sharing these personal projects online can be a great way to get feedback on the quality of your work and can also lead to unexpected opportunities. My first job in animation came as a result of a personal project I had shared online.
If you go on to work in the animation industry, you’ll find that it’s common for people to stop working on personal projects. When you’ve been sitting in a studio animating all day, few people have the energy to come home and start all over again in the evening. Whilst understandable, this is a mistake for a number of reasons.
When you work for a studio, the work that you do is typically covered by an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), this means that, until the project has been released, you are not able to show your work to anyone. What often happens is, towards the end of a project, you’ll find yourself applying to other studios, but you’ll be unable to show any of your most recent work. Since this is likely to be your best work, it can make the process of job hunting difficult. If you’ve been working on your own animation on the side, all of that is available for your showreel.
Even if you do have access to the work you’ve done in a studio, the nature of most productions means that much of it will not be ideal for a showreel. Shots are designed to serve the story you’re telling rather than to show off your animation skills. Budgetary constraints also mean that you’ll often need to finish shots sooner than you might like and they’ll not be as polished as you’d want for a showreel.
Personal projects are where you can push your boundaries, try new things and risk failure, in order to grow and improve. This is harder to do in most studios where there are time pressures and other limitations which restrict how much you can experiment.
Finally, not every project that you work on throughout your career will be to your liking. Having personal projects on the go can help to keep you creatively energised so that you can still bring your best to the work which may be less inspiring to you.
Whilst I’ve stressed the personal growth and career benefits which can come from personal projects, don’t forget that, above all, they should be fun. These are the projects that you have complete control over so be as creative as you like and enjoy the process.
Wherever you are on your animation journey, if you don’t currently have a personal project on the go, maybe now is the time to start one.
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