Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teaching from the Hip: Risk, Fail, Trust, Repeat

In 1999 I started my industry career as a hand drawn 2D animator on the Dreamworks production Joseph, King of Dreams. During the next 4 years I worked for various animation studios across Canada.
In 2003 I began to deliver high quality, double quota animation. The director asked me to share my technique with team mates. During this time I developed the Smiley Guy Studio flash animation protocol that’s used to this day and has been carried into other Toronto studios (in some form or another). In 2005 I was invited to supervise animation on Odd Job Jack. I learned how to manage a crew, maintain schedule, stay on budget and properly delegate.
Training animators led to training designers, layout and story board artists. I built protocol for each department to keep cost down, quality up and delivery on time. One way I did this was by allowing and enabling failure. When my guys took a risk and failed, they learned more than just the fix. I listened to the client, but I always, always openly supported the choices of my guys. They learned that I trusted them one hundred percent to do their best, not to do it right, which is an important distinction. Risk is paramount to breakthrough.

I also learned to kindly demand persistent, incremental improvement.  “Can you make it one percent better?” The answer was mostly, “I think so.” The result was always a leap in productivity, quality and moral. I could see the results of trust. I could feel the results of vision. We rallied around risk and incremental improvement, curiosity and experimentation took hold. A low cost 2.5D animation technique was born and landed us several big jobs (but that’s another story). By 2007 I could wear many hats at one time on any number of productions because I had built solid leaders, solid teams and solid training/production protocol. It was in 2008 when I began to train replacements for myself.  
In 2009, once I had spread my leadership workload around, I was able to focus in earnest on developing animated series for large clients like Entertainment One, and Breakthrough Entertainment. I was also able to develop a number of Smiley Guy Studios series, some of which have moved into production and/or meaningful relationships with networks.

In 2010, after thirteen years of very enjoyable servitude, I was approached by a physicist, Dr. Geoff Steeves with a stellar idea... Together we started an educational not-for-profit corporation called StarAcer Academy, the coolest science adventure comic for kids! With the help of some the world’s most famous astronauts, the Canadian Space Agency and NSERC we’ve bootstrapped into reality. Check it out at -

Now in 2012, about to launch the second iteration of StarAcer Academy, my above experiences have led me to believe that I would enjoy teaching art, design, entrepreneurialship and animation to young people. I want to share the entrepreneurial spirit, macro and micro comprehension of the creative process and a sense of certainty in a world of seeming uncertainty. I’ve learned that any complex process is like a combination lock once you remember the sequence you can impart the sequence. Anything that can be done, can be analyzed, understood and shared. 

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