Back in school, I had no access to feature film animators. Didn't know anyone, didn't know how they thought about animation, what their process was … didn't know anything. All I remember was me and a few hungry animator friends sharing back and forth some beaten up fifth-generation VHS copy of some Disney talks … and even these were more than difficult to get. It looked like a scene from a total underground espionage movie to pass a friend a Ruben Aquino talk on locomotion in exchange for an Andreas Deja talk on timing at someone's house. Additionally, I'd meet with these hungry animator friends a couple of times a month to frame by frame some old Disney classic VHS or regular live-action movies, until the VHS player heads wouldn't take it anymore. I broke two. Sometimes one of these friends would come back after a few months of doing self learning with some revealing knowledge about how to overlap joints in a character so that the character wouldn't look as stiff when it was being animated. We'd talk about what we learned in our work, even if it was ridiculously basic. Those were still giant milestones for us. We shared whatever knowledge among ourselves, because we didn't have anyone else. Among those hungry animator friends were two of my college best buddies, Bobby Beck and Shawn Kelly.
Once we started Animation Mentor, we put on the table all the things in those experiences we'd like to make more accessible through the internet. We also fought hard at the thought that this "internet community" perhaps wasn't going to work. We heard several times, "I just don't trust the internet, why should my son/daughter go to your school?" Worst part, we didn't have a good answer … we only had our hope that through our motivations, our passion, and our honest effort to create something a little different — that people would trust us.
Trust doesn't come from one day to the next … or one year to the next. Building trust takes time. It is not easy to earn trust when something hasn't been done previously, and there is so many unknowns.
Many times, the three of us asked — "How on earth are we going to do this? Will this work? Will people even connect with each other through this little webcam window?” And I guess, the most important question — “Will people learn an art — that was so difficult for us to learn in PERSON — through this artificial means of communication?" So we decided to put those types of pressures off the table … and simply have fun. The key moments for me were when we said, “screw it, we are doing it, whether it works or not.” Big difference for me.
So we started. The beginnings weren't working. The way we were teaching was very serious, in front of a blackboard and in a room. It wasn't the way we learned animation … and it just wasn't us. So we got out there. We decided to record things on the street, went to the zoo, went on trips. It was about having fun and enjoying ourselves while hopefully sharing and passing along that passion and motivation that has been fueling us to future generations. We wanted these future generations to experience why what we do is potentially the most special job on the planet.
We found that if we are ourselves when teaching the same way we are when animating, the information would come out more naturally than if we took ourselves too seriously. So we all decided to make the lectures and talk to students in the ways we'd like if we all went back to school. We tried our best to create an encouraging, supportive, and respectful environment.
Then, to our surprise, something happened — the Animation Mentor community. We did stress helping each other out, the same way we did when we started. Helping a student mate today means he/she may help you in the future once you are both in the industry. That couldn't be more true. It's happened to me personally with Bobby/Shawn and when other student mates became co-workers — and I continue to see this. And the online communication created by all these hours we all spent in front of the computer when animating made the community grow faster and stronger. Special friendships were created, students were even getting married after meeting in this online animation community. Groups of students were gathering in different parts of the world to talk animation and help each other. Students were not only kind to us, but now recruiters from studios supported us as well. In fact, some of the best times I've had in different conventions and talks were thanks to a combination of industry friends hanging out with students and recruiters of all sorts. Not in a million years did I think this would all happen the way it has.
Animation Mentor means all those things and many many more. For that, this school means a lot more to me than any other educational experience I've seen. So thank you Animation Mentor, for all you mean to me.