Focusing on the Tools at Hand

Apr 04, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

Animation tools

It seems like a shiny new animation tool is coming out every month -- if not every week -- that promises to make our lives richer and fuller in the visual arts industry.

There are 2D and 3D animation packages out there that could only be dreamed of 10 years ago, packed with tools and wizards to make our jobs easier and our work lives simpler.

And that is the problem.

There are so many new offerings, features, and tools that we risk jumping from one new release to another, instead of focusing on a select group while honing our skills to push that group of tools to their maximum potential.

I'm seeing a lot of animators jump from tool to tool as new ones are released. It’s no longer uncommon for there to be several tools that basically do the same thing installed on one’s system.

There is nothing wrong with embracing new technology or advances but that doesn’t mean we must abandon previous tools because something new and shiny came out.

I know about these things… I love new and shiny… I was born for new and shiny but jumping on new and shiny every time it's released detracts and distracts from our ability to master existing tools already in our toolbox.

As a software reviewer, I see a lot of visual arts software every year.  Most of them do basically the same things in different ways. Some are thinly veiled attempts at copying a competitor’s popular feature while others are the result of legitimate research and development.  

I have always been one to embrace new tech when it comes out, but the deluge of new visual art software and new features are almost non-stop this past couple of years.

Raytracing is another exciting feature being released and while it will certainly improve those photo quality renders not everyone has the equipment or the software to do so hence another round of upgrades to both.

Ten years ago, there was no motion capture software for the average animator in the studio much less at home or in a school lab. Now there are numerous types of mocap from node based to marker-less camera systems.  Not all are affordable to the enthusiast or hobbyist but there less capable cost-effective solutions on the market that can help shoulder some of the load powered by webcams or Kinect type sensors.

Throw in the various Physical Based Rendering (PBR) solutions for texturing and you can understand how easy it is to keep jumping from tool to tool because there are so many solutions out there. In fact, there may be more solutions than there are problems.

All this leads to informational overload when it comes to tools. Our inboxes are stuffed with announcements and there are getting to be so many vendors at the various conferences and expos that its difficult to see all them.

Back in the day (here we go) we didn’t need all these tools. Actually, we didn’t have them, and we were allowed the time to work with applications for years not months. In those years the apps matured and so did our skills. There was little we couldn’t do with enough time under our belts.

Today… we learn an application as best we can in as short a time as possible then we move on to the next “great app” and further splinter our skillset diluting or even devaluing years of commitment to previous software.

No… I’m not saying we mire ourselves in the past but I am saying maybe we should check out some of the features in that new bright and shiny software. We may already have apps on our system that will accomplish the same thing further extending our skillset with that app. Down here in Texas we call that “dancing with who brought us” as it allows a familiarity not seen in this modern-day shotgun approach to software.

Maybe it’s time to not jump all over the next “great thing” and spend more time learning and honing that last “great thing" we jumped on.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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