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Shut Up and Get Back To Creating!

Shut Up and Get Back To Creating!

A simple guide to gaining back countless lost productive hours

"A strong positive mental attitude will create more miracles than any wonder drug." -Patricia Neal

I’ve been working as a digital artist for 20 years, using computer software in some form or another for just as long. During this time, I’ve worked for software developers, with third-party developers, and have been active in beta teams for many different applications. I have also invested a great deal of time participating in online communities, user groups, and have been an educator in many different venues. In these last 10 years, I have noticed a massive shift in attitude among digital artists toward their software. Because of this, I felt the need to discuss this subject in hopes of helping artists get back to why they started using the software to begin with – to create.

A great deal of time is being spent complaining about software, on software wars, waiting for new software, or waiting for others to provide training. All this time quickly adds up to a massive amount of unproductive hours that could be spent on creating…something. Anything.

It wasn’t too long ago that a user would focus on using the tools they already had to create things that no one could have imagined the software was capable of – working within their limitations to find creative ways of overcoming any obstacles in their path. That generation of digital artists grew into amazing problem-solvers, creating animation and visual effects that still hold up to the work being created today. Though they had early versions of the software that lack the power and feature set of the software and hardware today, these artists were still able to create… something. Anything.

I’d like to offer some advice that might help steer some of the digital artists in the CG communities back to a more productive and positive path – a path that leads to more work being created, opening the flood gates on getting back to having fun creating…something. Anything.

 All Software Has Bugs

That is simply a fact, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the sooner you can get back to creating. Of course, it can be frustrating when you’re knee-deep on a project and, out of nowhere, the software closes down, doesn’t perform the task you asked it to, or corrupts your current file. We’ve all been there.

The software we use may appear simple on the surface, but there are millions of lines of code flowing just beneath the surface, performing amazing things when you simply click a button. Software developers set out to make the most stable software possible. The software is designed to be as flexible and open-ended as it can be, to accommodate the endless number of potential users, each one of them using the tools in their own specific, unique workflow.

Creative artists end up using features in ways that the programmers themselves hadn’t thought of. In these cases, the artists can get frustrated when the program doesn’t quite respond and perform in the way they’d expect it to. Sometimes a tool just plain doesn’t work right and you have to come up with a work-around. This is where a CG artist’s true value shine: problem solving. At the end of the day, we are paid to problem solve. So the tool doesn’t work properly; accept it, and find a solution to continue on with the task at hand.

I’m not suggesting that users should just ignore bugs and issues with software. I’m recommending that you simply accept the fact that they exist and don’t exhaust so much energy being upset that the software isn’t performing “correctly.” When I’m sketching and my pencil lead breaks, I simply sharpen it and move on.

The wasted time and energy could be better spent reporting the bug, moving on to finish the task at hand, using some form of work-around or alternate solution. The most productive use of an artist’s time when discovering an issue with software is to report any and all issues to the developers. It’s more common than you’d imagine. Hundreds of issues are discussed in online communities but never reported to the developers. And even if they get reported, the bug reports aren’t detailed enough, and the report comes across as a rant without proper information for the developers to reproduce the issue and correct it.

Swiss Army Knife

No one software is the be-all and end-all. Most are marketed as such, but the truth is, all software has its strengths and weaknesses. All software can be improved upon, and even though most continue to advance over time, they are always evolving.

When a new technology is announced, many users complain that their software doesn’t include a specific feature or tool set. If the new technology would enhance your current production, simply purchase it and add it to your tool kit. Why get upset with the developers and complain about a feature that you didn’t know about 24 hours before? It’s not uncommon that the feature in question wouldn’t even solve those particular users’ needs or the type of work they are tasked with. They merely want the new shiny thing that someone else has.

Many times new technologies cost top dollar, but some artists expect any and all technology to be included in their software for free, or included in the next upgrade, which is always at a much lower cost than the stand-alone technology. If it’s going to revolutionize your workflow, isn’t there a value to that? You’ll be charging for your work, so shouldn’t the developers charge for theirs?

Sometimes there is a feature that you’d like but there is no third-party solution, giving you no option. Stop waiting for the software to catch up with your ideas and use the tools you have now to bring your ideas to fruition.

Think about all the amazing work that was created with tools far less powerful and feature-rich as the tools we have today. Those artists weren’t waiting for better tools; they used what they had and pushed the tools to the limits, using good ol’-fashion problem solving and gallons of elbow grease.

If you’d like to see a feature added to your software of choice, simply submit a feature request, and then go back to creating. If the tool is a must-have and you can’t wait, buy it and add it to your pipeline. Pretty simple, no?

Forced to Upgrade?

I’m fed up with being forced to upgrade my software…. Oh wait, no one forces me to upgrade.

I’m constantly running into conversations online during which artists are complaining about having to pay for upgrades. There is a simple solution to this problem: If you don’t need the new tools and features, don’t upgrade. Many artists welcome the updates and new features, and have no issue paying for upgrades, as they understand that they can help them work faster or smarter – which, in turns, makes them more money.

Artists also complain about the cost of software without ever thinking about what the software affords them. When someone complains about software that costs under a grand that gives them the ability to make that in a week’s time, I’m confused on what the issue is. And if they are a hobbyist not making any money with the software, they could always opt for one of the many open-source options that are freely available.

The developers invest a great deal of time and money to produce the software that some users feel is overpriced, but are quick to complain about their own wages for the work they do with said software.

I’ve been fortunate to find successful employment as a digital artist. Without the initial investment in the software that I use in my craft, none of my successes would have ever happened. I only purchase software that I can afford, and that will gain a return on my investment.

Mine Versus Yours

One doesn’t have to look too hard to find the massive amount of online conversations about which software is better. These topics and threads accomplish little to nothing, in my opinion. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Artists reply to topics like this by beating the drum for the software they use. I’ve never had the experience where one of these forum threads actually produced any truly useful information. The truth is, every piece of software is “better” than the other. Whatever software you invest more time in will become the one you are most proficient with, thus allowing you to produce better work. The trick is to explore all your options and find the software that best suits your needs and workflow. I’ve seen amazing work being produced by users of every software, regardless of price or popularity.

The software wars have stolen countless hours from artists, and it appears to be getting nastier by the day. I believe some artists spend so much time bashing other software and its users simply to help justify why they are using the software they have invested in. No one wants to have made a mistake investing countless hours and dollars in a particular piece of software, so defending their choice comforts them, in some way.

Software is not a religion, it’s a tool. Use whatever tool works best for you, and be open to trying newer tools. Most importantly, don’t get hung up on what software others are using! Instead, focus on what they are creating, how they are creating it, and which tips, tricks, and techniques you might be able to pick up from them and use in your own work.

"The only way you can sustain a permanent change is to create a new way of thinking, acting, and being." -Jennifer Hudson

What’s an Artist to Do?

 So, does this mean artists should blindly accept the software that is available and not voice their issues and feature requests? Absolutely not. My opinion is that it is our responsibility to keep the developers informed of any and all issues, feature requests, and anything that would improve the software. But once you’ve brought your concerns/suggestions to the developers, move on and put your energy toward doing the one thing that got you using the software to begin with –  creating…something. Anything!

With all that said, I have to wrap this up so I can go use the software developed by people much smarter than myself, to create things they would have never imagined the software would be used for.

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MODO: Introduction to the Contour Tool

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Removing fireflies in Photoshop