Thursday, 29 December 2011

A look back on 2011

So here I am sitting here with my shiny new keyboard (a Microsoft sidewinder X6 for those interested, which should add some useful time savers with the programmable keys ;) ) And it’s time once again to reflect on the previous year. It’s the 29th December, and only 2 days away from what could well have been a very big line under my career. As I mentioned way back at the start of this year, things were not going well for me after I was awarded the 1st Autodesk masters award for Mudbox (My friend Neil Blevins of Pixar just got awarded the 2nd one... A big congrats to Neil as he deserves it), let’s just say this didn’t go down well with a certain small amount of people in the digital sculpting world. It was felt I didn’t deserve it and that I only got it due to ‘popularity’ (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean anyway). So they started a whispering campaign that ended up costing me 80% of my freelance work and a lot of opportunities as a result.

Nothing focuses the mind like not having any income coming in and a family to feed trust me! They say desperate times need desperate measures, so nothing was off the table as a solution. I ended up that ironically although my tutorials could be found at just about every major fx house on the planet, and that many people now have careers thank to the knowledge myself and others have imparted over the years to be flat broke and to be honest with little prospect of this changing. So I had to sign on the dole, something I never thought I’d have to do again.

I also gave myself a deadline for my career. The plan was that if I didn’t find a solution to this by new years even this year I would pack it all in. (As I’m not really in this game to dick around.) As you’ll have noticed New Years Eve is just a couple of days away at the time of writing. So could I do it? Could I leave 3D behind and call it a day? Yes although it would have been hard and destroyed a little part of me to do it. But like any husband and father feeding your family has to come 1st.

My 1st idea was the infamous ‘of Gods and Men’ short that to be honest I blame for the stroke I had within a few days of ‘finishing ‘ it. Now I use the term ’finishing’ loosely as there were a lot of problems with that short. It’s a shame as if I’d pulled it off, then it would have been an impressive feat. But I got into a mindset that I had to ‘prove’ that I was still relevant as an artist and claw back my career which was pretty much dead at the time. I was so focused that when work was actually offered I turned it down to keep going on the short. No it wasn’t really very sane to try and do as was originally planned an entire film quality short in 4 months on 2 hours a night sleep. It was even less sane that after the backup drives containing all recently backed up work on it went sort of ‘boom’ that I then said I would do it in a few days over 1 month.

While to this day I remain proud of the stuff no one ever spotted as being 3d, the final animation was an abortion. One massive reason was I was let down at the last moment on the animation for the dragon. As the dragon was the main focus to carry the story forward, I ended up having to animate it myself. Now I’m the 1st person to say I am a shit animater. I had so little time before things had to be sent off to the render farm to render that some shots were animated in 5 mins. That was never going to end well and if it wasn’t for the sense of panic at the time I would have realised this. But I was so focused on it to the exclusion of everything else...I didn’t.

Now I’m not an idiot I did realised that only sleeping 2hrs a night and working the other 22hrs was not healthy. But I thought that if I could pull this off I could once again feed my family. As I said desperate times call for desperate measures. But as I sat at the End User Event in Holland it started to dawn on me after having a few days away from actually seeing the damn thing that when I did something was very wrong.

So I blame the mini stroke I had while there on the shock of realising that for the 1st timed in my life I’d badly and publicly failed at something. That along with the crazy hours, overwork and stress it was causing were the root cause. But when you get desperate you do stupid things.

Once back from Holland (we’ll skip all the medical shit as that’s a dead issue now and as you’ll see in the New Year hasn’t impacted my work in any negative way) the short lasted less than 12 hours before I pulled it. I was left feeling like I’d wasted 4 fucking months of my life, was no further forward and could theoretically ruined my career. That’s how I felt at the time. Out of the sky Mike Seymour arrived just before Holland and had asked me to do a course for FXPHD. Mike to his credit let me show for once that I was not just the ‘Mudbox guy’ or the ‘creatures and monsters guy’ but could do other things. So the MOD301 cathedral interior course was born. As luck would have it most of which ended up being done in the aftermath of the stroke. Turned out pretty damn nice even if I do say so myself. It also served to do what ’Of Gods and Men’ never could.... that I could do other things and do them pretty damn well.

I will not forget that Mike and the staff of FXPHD stood by me when my heath was at its lowest point and when anyone else in the field would have ran like the wind. They stood by me and believed that actually I could do this. I did and it kick started work coming back in again. This year hasn’t been a good one for me in many ways, but the 2nd half actually was a life changing thing. I learned finally that my body and mind does have limits and that I can break it if I don’t ease up. So while the 22 hour marathon sessions of work may be gone forever, I still do what some would call long hours. Why? Simple put because now I am in the position where I know for certain where my breaking point is.

So it turns out that I won’t have to give up 3D on New Year’s Eve this year. Things while not totally A1 on the work front and I’m producing work I’d not have dreamed of producing just 6 months back. Your about to witness next year a fundamental shift in the sort of art I do. Sculpting, whilst important to me is not all I do and I intend not getting as walled into it as I have done. The main reason being there are only so many things you can sculpt before it gets a bit blasé. I’ve always needed a new challenge every day. Now I have a roadmap of sort’s mapped out for next year on a purely creative level I am happier than I have been in years.

So while I realised that people who seem to spend more time having a go at me and others in 3D like me that try to actually help people improve and learn may be annoying, and can become ways be catalysts to problems such as I’ve had this year. The buck always had and always will stop with me. To quote a mate of mine: ‘the haters will keep hating regardless’.

Let’s face it if someone really doesn’t like you there is fuck all you can do to change their mind. So I don’t intend to try. Rather I intend to stretch myself as an artist and continue to make software do things it was never intended to do. Come next New Years Eve I want to be able to look back at the work from this year and say ‘Jesus what I load of junk! I’d better remove that from my site’. You know what? I’m confident that I will make that happen as well as believing in myself I have an idea of where my boundaries are in a very clear way. So it turns out something my dad used to say to me a lot growing up was true:

‘Know your limitations, then you can do what you can do better’.


For those of you wondering what I’ve been up to the last month that I’ve kept so closely guarded, no it’s not a short film and certainly n ot redoing ‘of gods and men’ (also to be honest I’m not stupid enough to do that again solo without some serious back up lol.) It’s something completely different to you’ve seen me do. I can promise that unless I lapse in the next 4 days then not one creature will be seen anywhere in the new work I’m about to show lol. ‘D Day' is 2nd jan 2012, BTW I didn’t pick the day. ;)