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The ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept up, and everyone is back at work. I have a feeling that a lot of New Year’s Resolutions have been broken already. Now I’m not a big fan of all the New Year’s celebrations, but there is one thing I really enjoy doing, and that’s putting together my new Demo Reel for the year.
You can see them popping up all over now, some people opting to call them their 2012 reel, others 2013. It’s not really important what you call it, but what is important is that your new reel looks a whole lot better than your last reel.
How do I make myself better in 2013?
Progression is very important in our industry, and with new technology and software being released constantly, it’s important that you are staying relevant and making sure you are continually pushing yourself to be better at what you do. This brings in the big question: How do I make myself better in 2013?
Now I’m still very new to the motion graphics world and don’t pretend to have it all figured out. I’m still learning basic things daily and being constantly amazed by the work other people are producing. However what I am good at is making myself better. My 2013 reel isn’t the pinnacle of all reels, but it is one thing... it’s better than my 2012 reel.
It’s better by a longshot in my own opinion. You see, it’s not important whether or not you are the best person in the room, state, country or on planet Earth! What is important is that you are constantly improving upon yourself. By doing that, you are placing yourself in a position to be much more successful at what you do. So here are some helpful tips I’ve written down to make sure you make the most out of the New Year!
1: Get Inspired
Watching great work that others have produced always inspires me to get better at what I do. I follow some very talented motion artists on Vimeo and it’s a great way to keep up with their current work and to be constantly inspired. Inspiration can be a great motivator to help get you to that next level. I never try to compare my work to my peers with similar experience/talent. Instead I’m always trying to compare my work to my favorite work out there and I try to figure out what exactly makes it so great.
Now this isn’t something you can just fix overnight, it’s a life-long process. There will always be someone out there who is better than you. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But instead of getting complacent and saying “They are just better than me” or “I can’t produce work like that” try to figure out why they are better. Is it their color choice? Typography? 3D skills? Timing? Everything!! (Trust me, I know the feeling) Whatever you feel it is, try to improve upon that skill in your next piece.
2: Learn Something New
A great way to make sure you are getting better is to make sure you are always learning something new. I really focused on learning more 3D this year and ended up switching programs from 3ds Max to Cinema 4D. I’ve still got a long way to go because 3D programs are so deep, but I’ve learned a lot and was able to add more 3D shots/transitions into my videos this year because of it. I also decided to work on my typography and color theory, so I am reading through books on that and improving upon those skills. What you need to learn depends on your current skillset and field of work but I guarantee you there’s something! If you’re not sure what, feel free to ask around and get other peoples opinion.
If you aren’t getting jobs, try to think about why? What do other candidates have that you don’t? What are the skills listed in job postings that you don’t possess? What do the people that inspire you do, that you can’t? Learning something new may be as simple as trying, or you may need to get training. There are lots of online resources for learning new software and techniques and also courses you can take in person. It’s important to never get complacent and think that you know “enough”. You may know “enough” now but you could very quickly find that “enough” is not enough. A great way to improve this year is to make sure you are learning something new. Always.
3: Shake Things Up
I don’t know about you, but if I do the same thing for too long I get bored. So in 2013, shake things up! Try a different style, a different type of video; go after a different type of client. In order to grow and get better, it’s important that you don’t get stuck in a rut doing the same thing/style over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with getting good or efficient at doing something but try to improve upon that.
Short contests or collaborations are great ways to try a different style. The GreyScaleGorilla 5 second projects are a great place to start. I also participated in the Animation Sequence Project last year, but I’m not sure if I switched up my style too much. This year, I’m working on a segment for the To This Day Project and I’m using a drastically different style then I am used to working with. I look at it as a great opportunity to learn something new, broaden my horizons, and put a little diversity in my portfolio.
So this year, make a commitment to shake things up a bit! Take on something that’s a bit out of your comfort zone or drastically different than your “normal” work.
Shaking things up is a great way to improve and add fresh work to your portfolio.
Collaborating with others is a great way to make your work better in 2013. This is something I didn’t do enough of in 2012 and I’m looking to do more of in 2013. Being able to bounce ideas off of someone else or getting their feedback on a piece can help you grow and improve your work. It’s even better when you can both work on/contribute to a piece to make it even better. There’s a reason why very few great projects have only one guy working on them. In fact I can’t even think of one right now, because all of my favorite work has been done by a team of people.
So if you currently work in a team, that’s great! Try to focus even harder on using each other to improve yourselves. If you aren’t currently a part of a team of people, it may be a good goal to try to become a part of one. I feel like I’ve reached a point in my career where I want to collaborate and work with others in order to produce even better work and grow even faster. So collaboration is a big goal for me this year and a great way to improve yourself.
5: Do Personal Projects
Working on projects for yourself not a client can be a great way to experiment with new techniques and get better at what you do. I know how difficult it can be at times to take on personal projects, especially when this is your full time job. However, I think it’s important to not always be working for a client and having to do things their way. I didn’t do a whole lot of personal projects, but I was able to do projects such as the Animation Sequence Project.
I mentioned above and I also volunteer my time to produce motion graphics for a local church. When volunteering I’m able to have creative freedom in the pieces, and also produce something that is useful for others. It’s a win-win for me. So in 2013 try to take on a few personal projects and see how far you can push yourself, you might just be surprised!
6: Produce the Work You Want to be Doing
I’ve always made it a goal to produce the work I want to be paid for, not the work I’m currently being paid for.
This is a big tip and one that will go far to not only impress your client, but also progress your work. I’ve always made it a goal to produce the work I want to be paid for, not the work I’m currently being paid for. What I mean by that is, say you are doing a $1,500 video for a client. (I’m just throwing out numbers right now, that’s not what’s important.) But you want to be doing $3,000 videos. Give your current client, a $3,000 video; don’t get caught up in the budget and how many hours you are supposed to work. What ends up happening is you produce a better piece then the client was expecting, and you now have a solid portfolio piece to help try to get your next client to pay you that $3,000.
Keep repeating the process until you’re at the price point you want to be at. I understand this is a business and you can’t always run things that way, but when you have the opportunity to, do it. It’s been highly effective for me and the reason why I’m still raising my rates on every single video I produce, two years later. This not only benefits you financially in the long run, but also makes sure your portfolio is constantly improving.
7: Make Your Last Video Your Best Video
I have a pretty simple goal with each video I produce and it’s the driving force behind my improvement and growth. The goal is: To make each video better than the last. It doesn’t always mean that it’s a drastic improvement but find something you feel is the weakest point in your current work and improve upon it in your next piece. By following that simple goal it’s very easy to go chronologically through your portfolio and see the improvement. Every once in a while you make a very good piece and it’s hard to out do it, and that’s okay! But generally speaking, if you are working hard, learning new techniques, and striving to produce better work, you should be able to outdo your last piece.
This is advice I give out to a lot of people just starting out in the industry because it’s been so helpful to me. However I think it could apply to just about anyone. I think it’s a shame when you see someone whose flagship video is one they produced years ago and have subsequently produced many new pieces. You can only ride the success of a video for so long, so start trying to outdo it early on so you have a new portfolio piece ready to take its place as your flagship video.
8: Have Fun!
Having fun is important. Most of us would probably agree we didn’t get into our respective fields for the long hours and tight deadlines. It’s important to remember why we started doing what we are doing and channel that into our work. I find that my best work, is the work I’m having fun working on.
So if you aren’t enjoying your current work, try to figure out why not and change that for the future.
You’ll not only be happier, but you’ll also be producing better work. If that means doing more personal projects, great! If that means quitting your job and freelancing to have control of your work, awesome! Check out my article from last year for some tips on doing that.
If that means you need to delegate or collaborate more so you can focus on the work you want to be doing, make an effort to do that this year. Enjoying and having fun with your work is something I think is very important and is also equally important to producing great work.
Wrapping Things Up
I hope everyone who has made it this far has gotten something useful out of this. I can’t guarantee success for you; these are just a few things that worked really well for me. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t matter if it’s January or June, you should always be trying to improve. I didn’t have a single goal change because the New Year rolled around, but I did think it was a good opportunity to write this article to encourage everyone to go out there and produce great work!
Let’s all make a commitment to have our 2014 reels, absolutely embarrass our 2013 reels! Thanks everyone and feel free to ask questions or comment below. Have a great year and get better at whatever it is that you do!