Since learning of the 10,000 hour rule (that to become good at something you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice) I've tried every day to apply deliberate practice to drawing.
I'm happy to say that I'm seeing results!
Below is Scene 13 from my film that I completed in January, 2013 (the lip sync is off because I animated before recording the voice):
Below is Scene 13, revised as of January, 2014:
What I see is: better character design; better character acting; better animation.
Admittedly, the only reason I re-did the scene is because the audio didn't fully match my animation. But now I'm glad I did. It took 3 weeks and 3 days to fix it (not to mention the days I'll need to color and composite each drawing) but that time was well worth it.
Most importantly, my drawing has improved dramatically since last year. I'm no Glen Keane, nor probably ever will be, but it's a huge accomplishment that I've improved in comparison to my skills from one year ago.
It isn't about being a better storyteller than others; it's about being the best storyteller I can be.
In summary: I was ready to animate Honey; I discovered that my original design for her face wasn't holding up to further manipulation and didn't look sufficiently "cartoony" for my taste; I discovered I can't caricature for crap; I bought a great book about caricature.
I collected some samples of styles I like then I got to work drawing.
All of that constant drawing of ONLY Honey's face became tiresome but I kept drawing, adjusting her eyes, nose, mouth and head shape until I created a combination that worked for my eye.
It took about THREE months but I finally got her to a point with which I'm satisfied.
The October, 2013 drawings:
The November, 2013 drawings:
The December, 2013 drawings:
And the final designs:
To reference Lino DiSalvo's comment about the difficulties of animating emotions for female characters, I think it's interesting that I didn't struggle nearly as much when designing Luthor. I think it's because that, as a male, I wasn't as concerned with his attractiveness. It looks like this idea that women ALWAYS have to be attractive regardless of what they're experiencing is more deeply ingrained in my American brain than I like to admit. Note to self: GET OVER IT!
Ultimately, I'm glad with the decision to put film production on hold until I designed a Honey I could be satisfied with. I purposely use the word "satisfied" and not "happy" because it became clear during the design process that regardless of how hard I tried, my skills, at this present moment, were simply too limited to allow me to design the Honey that made me happy. Settling for "satisfied" for the sake of re-starting production was a practical decision with which I can live.
I'll always remember that line from the movie "Jerry Maguire."
Jerry thinks he's having a breakdown. But as he progresses through the experience, he instead realizes that it's a breakthrough.
I recently experienced something similar.
Back in October, 2013, I was preparing to animate a new scene with Honey. Once I sat down to work, however, I discovered--to my horror--that I didn't really know how to DRAW her!
Then the struggle began.
In years past, I would picture images but lacked the skills to get them down on paper. In the last 3 years, I've improved that skill from regular practice. But trying to animate Honey made clear to me that I have another drawing shortcoming: I can't caricature. As a result, the mental image I had of Honey and the one I originally designed weren't matching.
And unlike years past, I was DETERMINED to get past the roadblock.
Brad Bird said in extras on "The Incredibles" DVD that the only reason to tell a story in animation is to caricature (which is why I didn't like the animated films "Tokyo Godfathers" and "The Illusionist," among others. The style was too realistic and lacked caricature and was therefore boring.) I decided after hearing that to make Honey as caricatured as possible.
As I began drawing, I was reminded of recent comments made by Disney animator, Lino DiSalvo (head of animation for Frozen) about the difficulties of animating emotions for female characters because they're expected to always be "pretty." I didn't find DiSalvo's comments as awful as others because I felt he was simply repeating what his bosses told him to do which is: keep the women pretty. Always.
So despite wanting to make Honey look more "cartoony" and caricatured, a part of me wanted to keep her attractive as well because she's one of the few black leading ladies in animation. She's representin' in a way, whether she likes it or not.
Once it became clear that I needed some serious caricature help, I turned to the best source I knew: Tom Richmond. Immediately I bought his book and got to work reading it and applying the principles (I still haven't finished it.)
Amadhia Albee, formerly known as Timothy Albee, is also one of my earliest influences, like M dot StrangE and Terrence Walker.
I can't recall how Albee entered my radar but I'm glad she did. When I learned of her self-made, 22 minute film, Kaze, Ghost Warrior, I immediately bought both the DVD and the book that explains its creation. I especially like how then-Timothy's name appears exclusively in ALL of the credits of the film except for executive producer, the only credit she shares with others.
Albee left her studio job, moved to Alaska and, in the company of her sled-dogs, created this film in six months using two computers. Now that's some hardcore DIY! Albee then released a book, CGI Filmmaking: The Creation of Ghost Warrior, detailing how she made the film. It's definitely worth the read. The book contains the complete script and final shot list, production and location stills and a thorough explanation of the film's entire creative process. While thumbing through the book as I typed this post, I realized it would be helpful for me to re-read it since I'm deep in the production process of my own film.
I recommend that DIY animators watch Albee's film and read her book. Despite it being published in 2004, the overwhelming majority of the information isn't dated. Albee talks about filmmaking principles that will always be relevant.
M dot Strange is undoubtedly one of my biggest influences. No one defines DIY better than Strange. Plus he doesn't own a car and rides a bike so what's not to like?
Here's his bio from his website:
Self taught animation filmmaker born and raised in San Jose California. Currently runs Mysterious Doll Films, the worlds smallest cg animated feature film studio which has completed three films in the past six years. Starting in 2013 the studio will release a new original animated feature film every year.
M dot is also a musician that has produced over 15 albums including scores to his last three films. He is also an author having published two books in 2012. He's married to an Icelandic artist and has a bike.
His first feature film WE ARE THE STRANGE premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and it won the Golden Prize for most groundbreaking film at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal the same year.
M dot was crowdsourcing and crowdfunding before they were buzzwords. He was been featured in the New York Times, Wired Magazine and other international publications as well as being invited as a featured speaker at several international events. M dot's current work includes the animated feature film I AM NIGHTMARE, the comedy series BADASSERY and music videos for the bands Rabbit Junk and Mindless Self Indulgence.
Admittedly, I like Strange's DIY attitude and work ethic more than his work. His aesthetic doesn't appeal to me which is fine, I'm confident that my aesthetic probably wouldn't appeal to him. That's irrelevant. What's important is that he's an ARTIST. He has something to say, a burning desire to say it and he's not stopping until he's done saying what he has to say. He won't let technology, money, experience or any other factors stop him from telling the stories he wants to tell. He takes time out of his busy schedule to share his experiences at festivals, conferences, books, on his blog and through his videos.
If you're an indie artist of any kind, Strange is someone with whom you should get acquainted. I'm confident that he'll inspire you as much as he's inspired me.