For today's inspiration animation, here's a showreel from Cartoon Saloon, the studio that made The Secret of Kells, currently screening in select theaters across America (shameless plug).
Throughout this showreel, you'll see a wide variety of animated styles ranging from computer animated, hand drawn, and stop-motion. Cartoon Saloon teaches us that you can't always specialize in one style of animation. Sometimes, in order to keep the business open, you have to apply your talents to a wide variety of projects with a wider variety of visual styles (usually based upon what the client wants or what the project dictates). I feel that the commitment to flexibility was one of the strengths of the animation program I went through at R.I.T.
During my three years in Rochester, I worked primarily in 2d hand drawn/computer assisted animation but I took every extra class I possibly could (ranging from 3d computer animation to stop-motion/puppet animation to experimental animation). I can't argue with the school of thought that says you should master your craft--as ol' Ben Franklin said 'jack of all trades, master of one.' But I consistently find solutions from a cross-pollenization of ideas from my other animation courses. That's partly why I continue to make the 10 hour round-trip drive to Toronto so I can attend animation workshops at the Toronto Animated Image Society. Even if it's something that I've studied before, there's always something new to learn and always questions that I have to ask their expert animators. This past workshop was no exception.
Earlier in the month, I attended the TAIS Pixilation workshop, again, expertly taught by Bryce Hallett of Frog Feet Productions (more on that in an upcoming blog). It was during said workshop that Bryce discussed several staging techniques used in Pixilation. On the drive home, I was thinking about how I could apply what Bryce taught us to my current animation project. Two weeks later, through a convoluted stream of logic, I decided to revisit masks in Flash--a tool that I had rejected at the beginning of this project due to the way Flash handles them. A little experimentation later and I had the solution to the problem that had ground my progress to a halt. Note that I'm working on animating needlework stitches in Flash CS4 (read that: 2d vector animation while simulating a three-dimensional workspace).
So what does that have to do with Pixilation, the art of stop-motion animation using humans as puppets? Absolutely nothing! And absolutely everything. Y'see, I'm one of those nuts-and-bolts people who suffer from "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. However, by moving to another animated medium, it takes my focus off of the problem that I can't solve and puts it on a series of problems that I can solve. In this particular case, it was that little break that boosted my confidence. And by reviewing the techniques that I had learned over the weekend, it led me to the correct solution to the current problem that had halted my work.
As I'm sure you can tell by now, I'm an advocate of having a side-project to work on while working on client-related projects. This is actually a concept that was given to me by my friend Steven Ford back when we were working through our M.F.A. Thesis films. Applying this advice has led me to a much wider range of solutions that I would not have figured out otherwise. And it doesn't even have to be an animation related side-project. You have no idea how many problems I've solved while mowing the lawn or folding laundry! It's all about taking that cross-pollination of ideas and giving your mind permission to use all of its available resources to find the uncommon solution to your particular problem.