*UPDATE [Fall 2018]: This post was originally published in the Fall of 2011. A lot has changed since then. I started The Oatley Academy in 2012 and I now devote most of my time to my work with our students there.
I shelved my webcomic because I got overwhelmed with too many projects (but I still hope to create time for it sooner rather than later). …and speaking of too many projects: We have been gradually consolidating our multiple podcasts: The ArtCast, Paper Wings, The DIY Animation Show and Stories Unbound back into one, amazing podcast for Visual Storytellers.
My point is: Though this post doesn’t reflect my current daily routine, I believe the lessons here are still relevant for those who aspire to work at a mainstream animation studio and also create personal projects.
People always ask me about my daily routine.
Sometimes this question is code for or coupled-with “Do you ever sleep?” and sometimes they just want to know what my work days are like at Disney.
Although a worthwhile productivity talk requires more words than this post can hold, I’ll share about my daily routine and my life at the studio. …which will give a little insight into my disciplines for productivity.
If you have more questions after reading this, please send us an email.
I try to wake up every day at 6:30 am.
Occasionally, I cheat and wake up at 7, but since I started my webcomic (Greg The Megabeaver’s Prehistoric Sideshow), I’ve been very disciplined.
I make a pot of Trader Joe’s Organic Bolivian Coffee, work on my comic for three hours (caffeinating all the while), groom, pour another cup of coffee to go and leave for work.
I usually brown-bag-it so I can get the most out of my lunch break. (…more on this in a later post.)
Occasionally, I schedule breakfast or phone calls with close friends before work. Close friends are pretty much the only ones that override the otherwise selfish guarding of my morning time. The meaning of life is relationships, right?
Oh, and I set aside one morning a week to record The Paper Wings Podcast or plan Paper Wings content and strategy with my business partner/ co-host Lora Innes.
On a side note: If you’re trying to achieve something and you can’t bring yourself to sacrifice a little sleep, TV or convenience for it, then it’s probably not meant to be. But the key is to not blow your life up if your dream IS meant to be. I have danced (more like krumped) across this line many times in my life and I have to keep my selfishness-radar armed at all times or I’ll go full-workahermit in a flash.
“Workahermit” …I made that up. It’s a combination of a “workaholic” and a “hermit”.
I arrive at Disney just after 9:30.
It only takes me about 8 minutes to get to work.
The first thing I do when I sit down at one of my desks (one for real drawing and one for my computer + Cintiq) is look at my work from the day before.
This might be a physical drawing or a set of concept sketches, a digital drawing, reference photos or a work-in-progress “VisDev” painting. I like to change it up a lot. It keeps my subconscious activated. …which makes the work more enjoyable and elevates my work.
Switching media often is my most effective way to find and maintain FLOW.
I assess the work from the day before, consider the approaching deadline and plan out how much time I will spend on each unfinished element. I’ve done this for so long that I can budget my time with surprising accuracy. When I get changes from a superior, the schedule can change.
I have one formal meeting every day with my Art Director, Production Manager and Art Department Coordinator.
This is usually a really fun time for me because I love my colleagues. It’s fun catching up personally and professionally. (Disney attracts really good people.)
The meeting is at my desk so we can all look at my work on my own machine. I usually navigate through the files inside of Photoshop – a “show and tell.” My AD and I will usually do a tag-team thing where we each take turns drawing or painting over the piece and making notes on things to change or add etc…
I work with them to make an action plan for the day and we set expectations, re-assess deadlines etc… These meetings can be five minutes or thirty – depending on how much there is to work on.
At the beginning of the production that I’m currently working on (not yet announced), I was designing five or six characters at once. That was insanity. Now that a lot of big decisions about the characters have been made, I’m more focused on one character at a time and I have even finished a few of them.
We also have at least one weekly meeting with the director, producers, the PM, the ADC and the art department.
That’s where we (the art department) do a big slide show of everything we completed the previous week. These ‘Director Art Reviews’ are great because that’s where I get the strongest sense that I’m witnessing the making of a movie.
The process of animation is so slow that it can feel like I just come in every day to draw and paint and that’s the end of it. When we meet together to review everything and talk about it – that’s when you see it all come together. You get the sense that you’re a part of this big, communal effort. It’s also where I get the strongest sense of humility because everyone’s work is so amazing…
If I’m starting a new character (my favorite part of the process) I like to change my environment.
I collect and print out my reference and go to one of the cafes at the studio or to a nearby Starbucks. I usually just sit and sketch all day long. Sometimes I’ll have two or three days to just explore a character. Other times the schedule is more compressed.
I often spend the entire day painting.
After I get art director and director approval on a design (line art drawing – sometimes with tone or flat color done in Photoshop) I move onto the VisDev painting. A full VisDev painting takes about one week per character – sometimes less.
You can see a bunch of my really polished VisDev paintings in my portfolio.
I leave the studio around 6:30 or 7.
During crunch time on a production, I will work overtime. Or sometimes I’ll do regular time on my main production but hop over to do OT for a different production, for the marketing department or for something involving Disney Consumer Products.
Generally, I try to use mornings for me and evenings for others (family, friends and my apprentices at Paper Wings). I also try to make and return phone calls in the evenings.
Lately (as I’ve been working hard to launch my comic) I have been working past 8pm several evenings a week but I don’t really like to do that. I’m never at my best when I work past 8. At my worst, I’m grouchy, slow and easily distracted. Unless I’m addressing an urgent matter, I’m much better off if I save it for the next day.
That’s the kind of stuff I dump into my lunch breaks…
If I don’t have a lunch appointment with a friend, I use them to address all the random stuff from personal errands to checking in on friends to scheduling social media posts or doing research for my comic.
But I want to write a post about “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Lunch Break” eventually, so I’ll save that topic for later.
Do you have any more questions about my daily routine? Send us an email!