Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Remedial training

In the military there were some skill sets that we always referred to as being perishable. If you go long enough without using a radio or touching an obscure weapon system it is easy to have a brain lapse and forget the basics. For instance, if someone today handed me a Javelin missile system (hottest weapon you have ever seen) I would more than likely not remember how to fire it. I might be able to hack my way through it but I wouldn’t want any lives to depend on me doing it with any real speed. As scouts who needed to know a little about everything, remedial training was a constant part of our job.

I noticed that visual effects are the same way. Being a generalist has its drawbacks. After six months out of Maya I open it again and feel a small moment of panic before my eyes focus and I find the little icon that lets me make a sphere. It seems that I need to accidentally hit the hot key which permanently rounds out my mesh at least once before I really feel at home again.

Then there is drawing. I need a story board or piece of concept art. I sit down, pick up my pencil and suddenly feel like I have two left hands. I have an amazing charcoal drawing on the wall which I think is only there to keep me from having a small panic attack.

“It’s ok.” I look at past drawings so I can believe what I am thinking. “You just need to warm the hands up again.”

Even though it always comes back and I finish whatever it was I needed to do, the feeling still sucks and I always feel like I lost a little ground by not working on a skill for so long. A few days ago I finally was able to really sit down and start work on my next big project. In one day I was drawing, working on comps and messing around in Maya. None of it was difficult; I just don’t like feeling rusty. It’s like the first run after a long stretch of laziness. The lactic acids build, your muscles are stiff and you suddenly feel like those days sitting around were really not worth it. It sucks.

After that I decided to take the principles from my time in the military and make remedial training part of my daily schedule. I always try organizing my days to maximize my time, and I figured it might be good to just work in some quality time for all the little areas I want to stay fresh in. Even if I use a skill all the time I can still find something new to learn. Today I spent an hour going over fluids in Maya. Tomorrow I will go over some scripts. I don’t have enough time to study everything every week, but by just spending a little time doing random tutorials or work that’s off the beaten path I will keep the rust off key areas. Today, if you need me to go into Maya, I will immediately remember how to make you a mean-looking sphere.

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