10,000 Hour Rule

While not specific to animation, the concept of the 10,000 hour rule certainly makes its way through the community, from students, masters, and everyone in between. It’s a perpetual topic for creatives.

The rule, popularized by writer Malcolm Gladwell (my high school art teacher used to read to us from Blink while we mediated…), argues that it takes 10,000 hours for someone to achieve mastery over a particular skill or subject. It’s also often referred to as the ’10 year rule.’ Like any sort of vague creative rule of thumb, there’s plenty of writing both condemning and condoning the idea, and generally its interpretation is simplified and/or misinterpreted to the point of being incorrect.

At the same time, I think with a bit of aforementioned context, it’s still a great jumping off point to discuss bettering oneself.

10,000 Drawings

There is a popular quote in the animation industry that certainly runs adjacent to this sentiment.

We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.

Walt Stanchfield

Walt Stanchfield is most famous for his time as a Disney animator, teaching others. He, along with Eric Larson were responsible for creating the training program at the studios in the 70s that brought up many of the artists who went on to play pivotal roles at Pixar and Disney during the 90s. For the longest time, the bulk of Stanchfield’s lectures were passed around as photocopies, but later were bundled into two published volumes, Drawn to Life Volumes 1 and Volume 2, that have become staples of any animation student’s library.

The same mix of condemning and condoning apply here as well. But let’s take what we need from this concept, ok?

The Deciding Factor

It all boils down to intent.

Now, the actual ten thousand hours of practice spread (most realistically) over ten years is a rough average of course, not meant for everyone and every situation. I don’t think it was ever intended to, to be clear.

And intent–the most important factor of this–tends to get lost in conversations. Its core stresses quality time over quantity of time–not just more time on task, but better time on task. Experts may not log any more hours than you, but they practice differently than your average person, doing what cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice.

In Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, she cites the original researcher, Ericsson, who, as she put it “is the world expert on world experts.”

From Duckworth’s book:

First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can’t yet meet…Virtuoso violinist Roberto Diaz describes “working to find your Achilles’ heel–the specific aspect of the music that needs problem solving.” Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal.

Intent is arguably more important, or at least, could undermine any well-intended but mild effort.

I try to stress to my students the importance of active practice over passive practice. That an hour of focused daily practice will put you miles ahead of a few hours of passive, mindless work, say, throwing a movie on in the background and working while watching that. Now, to be clear, I’m not opposed to having music or something on in the background, but you need to be honest with yourself about how well you personally focus or are distracted by external things like that and your phone. I’ve definitely seen professional artists work with ample distractions around them and still get quality work out, and I’d argue that’s because they’re actually ‘masters’ of their craft or are well on their way. But if you’re still a student in the academic sense (because we’re all students forever, right?), you’re at the very start of your journey. It’s especially important to get started on the right foot.

I’ve heard stories of artists who recognized a certain aspect was a weakness of theirs, like drawing hands or cars, and focusing on that and excelling in that particular area. I remember attending a talk with animator Aya Suzuki years ago and her mentioning having to pass on an opportunity to work on the rebooted Neon Genesis Evangelion films because she’d had limited experience with more mechanical and hard surface designs, and city elements. Looking at her body of work, it’s clear that she opted to focus on more organic elements and character animation, and mastered this area.

Active Vs Passive

What exactly does that look like?

Have you ever read a book or an article and found that you couldn’t recall any of the information you just read? Maybe you got to the end of a paragraph and realized you hadn’t actually read it–you just went through the motions of reading it. But you weren’t actually engaging with and retaining the text.

Or what about watching a film while scrolling on social media? Are you really actively engaged with either screen if your brain is divided between them? In this world of hustle culture and constantly optimizing and hacking our productivity, I can understand where this might seem more beneficial. But in the long run, you’re better off giving each task and skill you want to learn your undivided attention.

Deliberate Practice

It’s about knowing what areas you do want to delve into. As I quoted earlier, it’s about knowing the weaknesses you want to improve.

Ten thousand drawings aren’t helpful if half of them were mindlessly done, if you aren’t learning from each one and cumulatively bringing that knowledge and experience into the next one.

If you’re trying to do this as a career, or just anything beyond a fun hobby, I encourage you to try to be deliberate in your art practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect–perfect practice makes perfect. ‘Perfect’ here is relative and a bit hyperbolic of course, so don’t fixate on that as much as recognizing how you practice is way more important than what we give it credit for.

The Cartoon Brew Podcast

This week, animation news site Cartoon Brew launched their new podcast.

Hosted by…me!

I remember being a college student, checking Cartoon Brew daily, grasping for anything I could about this elusive industry, to being in the industry, understanding the news I was reading on a deeper level having gone through some of it myself. It was surreal when my first pieces went up on the site, and when I’ve gotten to go to amazing places for the site, because in every situation it’s been a chance for me to meet people excited about the work they do and me getting to share that.

It’s been chances for me to get to learn more about a thing I love, and I’m grateful.

This podcast hopefully will follow suit.

Our first episode can be found here.

We’re working to get on places like Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The first episode is about the pandemic’s effects on the animation industry. It’s a LOT of info (and I know, I talk fast, it’s a very valid note!), and I’m sure there are people who are sick of hearing about it. I even wasn’t sure about it, but I also felt it would be weird to not acknowledge it. As a news site, this is literally the biggest story, and the longest, most widespread story. How could we not create this snapshot of this moment? This is the event people will refer back to during this time. I feel like when you’re a kid and you’re in history class, it all feels so aptly distant. This is one of the few times (and sadly none of them have ever been good) that I’ve felt I was living through history, that I knew this was a literal textbook moment.

So I took a snapshot.

And now, I can start taking more.

However long it lasts, I’m happy I could contribute to our understanding of this moment.

The Past and the Future are Our Now: A Look at Environmentalism in Princess Mononoke & Wall-E

Wall-E (2008) is one of the strongest films to come out of the big US feature animation studios. I would argue that it might be one of if not the most important animated feature to come out that decade, including internationally.

Even with the leaps and bounds we’ve made with animation in the last decade, I still feel like if an animated feature at a major US studio with no dialog and a slow, meditative pace for the first 30-ish minutes was pitched it would get turned down immediately or green lit until it drowned in notes and was averaged out to look more like the gag or dialogue driven, quick paced snappy visuals we’re used to. While those are not inherently bad things, their complete takeover of the medium at large just makes Wall-E stand out that much more. (Honestly I’d love to go back to opening weekend now and watch people watch this film in theaters. Did kids get impatient? Or were they fixated on the screen? Were parents confused? Who knows!)

There are so many factors that are out of a director’s control, especially at a big studio, that it’s a miracle when any film gets made, full stop. That Andrew Stanton’s film seems to have come out relatively unscathed and different from any film before (or after) it is a testament to how unique and thematically strong it is.


This post will contain full spoilers for Wall-E and Princess Mononoke.

It will contain slight spoilers for Nausicaa.

You can listen to this article if you want! Click here to jump to the recording.


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My First Cartoon Brew Article

As the month of October comes to an end, I can’t help but realize how quiet I have been on this site. My last post was about SIGGRAPH was in August! While I post pretty frequently on social media, that’s of course not the same as a full on post. But with work on my thesis film taking up all of my time–to the point that I am even behind on my vlog series on YouTube that documents it–I thought I’d briefly mention some other places to find me. And maybe to remind myself that while I can’t do as many of the things I want while in my final year of my MFA, that I still occasionally get to do and see wonderful things. 

Cartoon Brew!

I wrote a post over at Cartoon Brew! While the post is about an event that already passed, I still wanted to document it here on Animation Complex as a small milestone for me and my love of writing about animation. Something, as I already complained about, don’t get to do as much. So this opportunity was even more of a treasure to have come in such a creatively controlled year.

To write this post, I got to interview two of the women who put on the event, and it was such a fun conversation for me just as a person let alone a interviewer with a goal in mind. 

Simply Robotix!

One of my dear friends, Monique, runs an animation blog called Simply Robotix. We met when we both worked as PA’s in Blue Sky Studios story department, and bonded over our love of animation, writing, and wanting to DO MORE. I am so, so blessed to have her friendship, and to have someone who is so supportive of me. I think there are times when people’s overlapping interests create friction between them, but that has never been the case. I want our sites to grow big and old together.

She interviewed me earlier this month, which you can read about here

Two other things of hers I am excited about is her recent recap of Nickelodeon’s visit to SVA (which where I am working for my MFA and where she earned her BFA). I wasn’t able to attend the event, but her post more than covers things. Second is her Diverse Toons series, which is a panel series that’s being hosted in various places in NYC. You can read a recap of a past on hosted at SVA featuring Blue Sky artists here. A new series featuring all women (and all friends of mine!) is being held November 10th, so be sure to follow her for updates!

Action Film Autopsy Podcast

One of the first things I do when I move to a new town is get a library card and check out the kinds of classes and events the community there gets up to. A few years ago I moved to a new town and saw that there was a podcasting class. Despite already knowing the basics of it, I decided to go, figuring I’d meet interesting people and be motivated to start a new project. I never did that podcast (yet) but during that class, I built this entire site, detailing my progress to the class week by week. So I’ll always be grateful for that class.

The teacher, Mike, became a friend of mine, as did his wife Kai and another classmate who is BFFs with them, Ric. Ric is a writer who’s done it all. And the next thing he wanted to do was a podcast. 

The Action Film Autopsy is a podcast dedicated to dissecting and discussing action films. Most episodes are amazing interviews with people who work in the industry–stunt coordinators, fight choreographers, etc. The podcast updates every other week, but he has a recap episode every couple months that are just film reviews, and I’ve been guest-hosting those with him for a while now. The podcast recently passed the 50 episode mark, and it’s been fun watching it grow and seeing Ric enjoy himself making it. And of course, getting to argue and debate on some episodes. Take a look through the back catalog and give it a listen! It’s also now on iTunes if that helps. 

Ferdinand Bonus Features!

Another small one that I wanted to document on here for the sake of a MILESTONE! Look, Mom–I’m in a DVD! 

Channeling my inner Mike Wazowski

The bonus features and I go way, way back. These were a large part of my early learning about film and animation and figuring out the path that I wanted for my career. I used to want the job (not knowing if it was a job or not) of making the bonus features, because I wanted others to learn about the behind-the-scenes. You could argue that that’s what I want this site to be, now that I’m over analyzing myself.

A co-worker sent this out a little while ago–the video is unlisted so I didn’t know it was posted online! I’ve seen this feature before as it’s on the Ferdinand Blu-ray, but now you all can see it.

I’m in there for a blip, a shot of me laughing, but the day we filmed this was so surreal and funny that I want to share. It was a roller coaster ride working on Ferdinand, which I detailed in a post, and this video just serves as a fun little reminder, almost like home movies.

Newsletter/Mailing List

Lastly, I’m going to be starting an email list so that anyone who wants to keep up to date with my posts can be notified. It won’t be anything too crazy. Probably a little email once every couple weeks or once a month even as school gets crazier. So if you are interested please sign up with the form here.

Thanks for reading!

-Jen