Friday, January 14, 2005


Well, faithful readers, you are all going to bear witness to my grapple with this dilemma--whether I should push forward as an animator, or whether I should concentrate on honing my skills as an illustrator. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. However, I do find the process of teaching myself the craft of animation to be INCREDIBLY frustrating... All of this in spite of the fact that I have people like Ward and Jared to guide and mentor me... I am too impatient and I find myself too zeroed in on the drawing rather than the WHOLE process of animating (drawing, performing, thinking, planning).

I don't know, weighing the two together, there are several pros and cons. On the pro side, animation can be a new and exciting evolution for me as an artist and storyteller. I can call on my love of acting and theatre as well as bring a whole new "dimension" to drawing--that being time. It would be a process of breathing life into some of the more interesting characters I create. Illustration is finite in terms of performance and storytelling and this would be a great opportunity for me to break through into something different. Also, I feel like I was destined to work with the moving image in SOME capacity. In theory, it sounds like a no brainer...

However, then we have the con side. I draw well. Pretty well. Well enough to make a living. However I could ALWAYS be better. I sometimes find happy accidents sketching and drawing--things totally unexpected but delightful, that make the whole process worthwhile. I have yet to find this feeling (perhaps due to my impatience with the process) animating. Animation also seems to shine a glaring light on what my weaknesses are as an illustrator and I am at a loss as to how to address those things--as an illustrator would or as someone who is still "learning" how to animate. Another con is that animation is VERY time consuming and I make my living as an illustrator and graphic designer. In the time it takes for me to cobble together a horrible piece of animation, I could be kicking out much more interesting illustrations--getting better at the craft of illustrating.

Animation is a truly AMAZING art form. People like Ward and Jared and others who have the fortitude and patience to see it through truly have thr right stuff. It's almost like a religon with its ritual and the devout nature of the wonderful artists who bring these images to life. These mad monks of animation have my undying respect. They are indeed, a breed apart. Based on my understanding of the craft, I will make this analogy (with apologies to those in the medical field): Illustration is to animation as internist is to neurosurgeon. I don't know...

Back when I used to harbor the notion of becoming a professional actor, a wiser, older (and much more accomplished) actor once said to me, "If you can picture yourself being happy doing ANYTHING other than acting, then do that." He was a good deal older and had been working as an actor since he was in high school. He was single, nomadic--constantly moving from place to place. His car was held together with duct tape and he never had any money for beer. But he was the happiest person I knew at that time. He was a working actor.

I'm not sure what the lesson there is for me except that I feel like I could be happy being a better illustrator as opposed to a terrible animator... I don't know... I really need to think about it a bit.


Jared Chapman said...

It's funny you should post this, b/c I'm moving in the opposite direction. I love animation and would love to keep doing it but at the same time, I'd really like to get into illustration. Outside of work, a large chunck of my freetime has been devoted to learning more about the artform, the industry, and above all else, improving my drawing skills and exposing myself to a variety of mediums. I've also tried to break my old habits of how I approach an idea or concept... thinking outside of the boz, so to speak. I'm not sure if I'll ever get the chance to illustrate, but in the end I'll be a better artist because of this.
I know where you're coming from. Keep at it, don't get discouraged, and practice all you can. You might even check out or local school that can show you the basic principals of animation. You'll get there; it just takes time.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered a career as a storyboard artist? You can continue to develop your illustration skills (for example, through concept pieces for an animation) while developing your visual storytelling (and acting) skills through storyboards.

Of course, storyboarding isn't quite the same as animating, but perhaps it's a happy middle ground that might suit you? Whatever you decide, good luck!

James Palmer said...

I would actually love to break into a career as a storyboard artist but I don't really have an idea about how to do that... Any advice?

Anonymous said...

Well, I did storyboarding for a few years for advertising agencies, and got tired of doing it. I always wanted to get back to illustration. I wouldn't know what to do concerning getting a foot in the door with the film industry, but in the advertising world, just call up AD's and CD's and tell them you do that kind of work, and ask them if they need any done. They would probably have contacts in the film world- knows a guy that knows a guy. There is a guy that used to be in town named Ted Boonthanakit who was amazing. He may still be in town. His website is
Hope this helps!

Ward Jenkins said...

Patience, my dear patawan....seriously, though--James, you are one amazing artist. Do not let animation pull you down. You are an accomplished artist who has a great gnawing desire to animate, which can be a good thing, not a negative thing. Do not look at your attempts at animating as wasting time when you could be doing something more wonderful in illustration. If you look at it like that, then the notion of animation will have a negative connotation.

There is something unique about animation that I can't really describe, however, when I look at your sketches I do see that unique quality in them. I do feel that there is a raging animator hidden deep within the walls of James Palmer, it's just going to take a while for him to come out. It didn't come easily with me either, so yes, it will take time. Sorry.

But there's nothing that says that you must do one or the other. There are a good amount of animators who turned illustrators out there as well as the other way around. Try to ask around, if I were you. Check out Luc Latulippe and send him an email asking him about his decision to go from animation to illustration. He might have some pointers, you never know.

Storyboarding is a good thing to consider as it is about the storytelling aspect to film and animation. I really enjoy storyboarding. It gives me another venue to think about how to approach the job I'm working on and it's easier than flat-out animating. And I do remember that one dude here in Atlanta who does storyboards for film and TV. Somebody I knew got to hang out with him at his studio a while back. Good guy. Send him an email, too. Ask everything you want to know. Plus, with your talents, background painting would be a better possibility. You never know!

But again, who says that it's one or the other? They can co-exist, if you ask me. But since you already have a good thing going with your illustration, then stick with that, but on the side work on your animation. And with Animation Mentor they do offer a 2D course. It costs money, of course, but it could be worth it in the long run. Plus, you have me here in the ATL to help you out. The door is always open, buddy.

Don't despair. And don't make an ultimatum just yet. Keep this open and it'll work out in the long run. Trust me.

Newsquirt said... is a 3d instructional project. Though they will teach 2d fundamentals that are pretty much used in the 3d area. Could be of good use for ya. Do what you feel in your heart, and go for it. If you want to illustrate do that, if you want to animate go out and do it. Make what you want! Dont get discouraged, you gotta at least try to succeed. Im a 3d animator in games and I have a great time doing it. Good luck in your process. You already have the great illustration skills. Which only helps imo.

Ive been a reader of your blog for a little while now. Keep us informed to your decision.


Ward Jenkins said...

I've talked with one of the instructors and they do offer a 2D course.

Anonymous said...

James wrote "I would actually love to break into a career as a storyboard artist but I don't really have an idea about how to do that... Any advice?"

I'm just an enthusiast also trying to learn animation. The only advice I can offer, I'm afraid, is to practice creating your own storyboard. If you have an idea for a story, try visualizing it and then perhaps even creating an animatic.

To get started, it's always helps to look at other people's storyboards (which I'm sure you've already done). There are books on the subject of course. I have one called "Paper Dreams", which is not an instructional title, but contains examples of Disney storyboards. It's quite expensive, so I picked up a copy second-hand. I'd recommend trying to track it down at your local library, if you can.

Some DVDs feature storyboards too - there's one on the Spirited Away DVD. These can be a great source of inspiration. But ultimately, creating your own storyboard will be the best approach for developing skills in this area (or indeed determining if it's what you ultimately want to do).

From what I've learnt so far, storyboarding means being able to sometimes pare down a scene to it's essentials leaving out any excessive or unnecessary detail. Looking at some of your sketches, you seem able to convey great energy and life in your drawings from just a few simple lines and that's a very good quality for any storyboard artist, so I think you've got a head start in this regard!

I recently stumbled across an animation product called Moho. One of the users of this product recently posted a small piece of animation to a message board (in quicktime format), but he also posted an animatic, and I found it really helpful to compare the two:

The animatic is on the last page of the thread (you'll need to scroll down the page toward the end)

Anyway, once again, whatever you decide, good luck!

James Palmer said...

Hey thanks all... I am, you know, trying to figure all of this out. We'll see what happens. Anyway, cheers to all!!

Newsquirt said...

Hope you dont think I was stepping on your toes Ward. I didnt know they were going to offer 2d as well. Ive been trying to follow AnimationMentor since it's inception and Ive never seen anything about 2d or I was blind to it. Either way, if you've talked with an instructor your word is better than mine. Good luck whatever you do James.

Here's the unofficial Faq for the mentor compiled off of CGtalk

They have a faq over at as well.


Ward Jenkins said...

Hey, no problem there, Jason. In fact, once I posted that comment, I meant to fully explain the situation - that the instructor told me (via email, of course) that 2D may not be posted as a course per say, but you can take one of the main 3D courses and since the majority of the instructors have 2D background, you can impliment 2D instead of CG with the tests, etc. Of course I could not go back and fix that initial comment and thus, I come across as being blunt. My fault! No worries, man. It's all grits and gravy.