This semester has been a bittersweet experience for me. Whilst there has been an unbelievable improvement in my three-dimensional technical abilities, my motivation and attitude towards university work had suffered as a result of setbacks and negative associations. Within the past few weeks, the hardest challenge that I faced was continuing to give the project my full commitment, as it was becoming clearly more evident that we would not achieve our goal of creating a fully rendered animation by the January deadline.
The beginning of the semester had seemed very promising. Originally, the group had clicked together and we were to get along. However, as the laughs and jokes succumbed to assignments and work, the faintest of cracks began to appear within the dynamic of the team. Either as a result of blissful ignorance or lack of self-awareness – we had failed to notice at the time, possibly as we were still caught up in the excitement of settling back into university and learning how to become a student again. Everyone appeared to be committed as we explored a range of different ideas, contemplating the opportunities that we could achieve with an increased plethora of knowledge gained through the placement experience.
During my placement, my primary objective was to develop my drawing skills and explore the comic industry. Whilst it was in the back of my conscious that this may have placed me at a disadvantage upon returning to university, I had not expected the anxiety to be quite so prominent. I struggled to break from that feeling for the first four to six weeks of the semester – my confidence levels were so low that rather than express how strongly I wanted to focus my efforts on environmental construct and design – as I had discovered that I was somewhat decent at during the placement experience – I accepted a task that terrified me; character modelling.
My previous attempts at character modelling were demonstrated within the boy modelling post – but to reiterate, I am not good at replicating two-dimensional character designs as a three-dimensional structure. However, with the copious amounts of research, I was eventually able to achieve my goal of creating the Boy model. With reflection, I can see that my workflow was very slow, which was also hindered by the drastic changes that were occurring in my personal life at the time. I feel that I let my team down in a sense because I was not able to work any faster to achieve the goal within a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately, given the realistic expectations of my abilities, it would have been unlikely that the character could have been created any more promptly, as I had spent hours gruelling over the character so that it would be to a standard that the team would be content with, and function correctly. I can see now that the time spent on the model would not have made much of a difference to the overall outcome of the project. In a way, each of us are responsible for falling behind at some point during the semester and losing time that we could not recover – but that was never caused by a worth ethic, it was simply the matter of our technical comprehension.
I cannot help but wonder if it was the pressure that forced me to set my confidence issues aside in order to get the tasks done. I have to admit genuine surprise at the sudden jump in my technical abilities over the past few months – it has caught me entirely by surprise, which lead me to the conclusion that it was the fear of disappointing my team – and myself – that has been the driving force to these recent developments.
The real hurdle that the team could not overcome was a clash in personality types. Whereas some people to have a natural symbiotic chemistry that makes collaboration with quite easy, not every working relationship can be so lucky – and unfortunately, the team succumbed to the clash this semester. Personality types was an element of exploration I had researched during placement year, but as Katie and my own types work in a synchronised balance, I was naive and misunderstood just how significant this can be to the success or failure of a project.
Now that we have reached the end of the semester, I am able to reflect the past few months and can identify when things began to take a turn around mid-October. I wish I had been able to recognise what was happening at the time so that we could have recovered, but that is the bitter reality of hindsight.
Prior to returning to final year, I had read Dale Carnage’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” I realise that perhaps I had been relying too heavily on the suggestions of that book, expecting them to be a foolproof way to manage team issues and encourage people to work to their best ability. I was wrong. Despite the fact that we had established an open door honesty policy from the beginning, only three of the team members availed this to resolve conflict and express concerns. When the lack of commitment to attend classes and meet during studio hours began to change from occasional to habit, we should have realised that something serious was happening. However, compassion prevented the rest of the team from being blunt about how that behaviour was impacting one another’s lives and the progress of the project. We had elected to be delicate, and approach the issue with sensitivity and maturity – the priority was concealing the immediate emotion of frustration to spare feelings and keep the peace. Encouraged conversations that tried to resolve this issue continued through the entire semester, yet rather than trying to improve the situation, the difficult behaviour continued to increase.
By failing to address the situations when they began to form, it cost us the fruition of this project. We had such high ambitions to create a visually stunning animated short, and use it to help unrepresented children and teens that were coping with mental health conditions. It is so disheartening to know that despite the genuine desire to help, we were unable to do so.
December hit us all really, really hard. However, the three of us picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and got to the point – how were we going to save this ship?
I cannot express how proud I am of Rachel and Katie – they showed strength in the wake of the humiliation that had been the recent presentations that I feel motivated me during a period when I had been ready to accept bitter defeat. We accepted that we would not achieve our goal, but that was not permission to give up – if not a fully rendered animation, we were all committed to taking this project as far as we physically could.
In January, we were assisted by some extra hands in the shape of Charlie Maxwell and Anna McCraith. Originally, no one had taken on the role of manager, yet someone needed to step up to the position to deal with the new working situation. Initially, I had made point of contact with the two people due to the inability to drop the habit from placement year, when one of my primary roles was networking and management. Somehow, that beginning point of contact transformed into a manager role, as I was suddenly responsible for making sure that their needs were met, and to check up on their work progress. The team did not have a dedicated team leader in the beginning, but I hope that by undertaking a similar role with the additional help relieved the team of some stress in the final few weeks.
Whilst I could have used this post to speak about the technical side of the project, the majority of my post contain my reflections in that regard. It is the social element of the semester that I feel I have not discussed – yet that is a vital aspect of teamwork. It is the social qualities – the human side – of the project that determines performance and success – whilst out project did not come to fruition, the team were comforted by the support of those who reached out to help us when we were at our lowest – and I could not thank them enough for that.
I have said it already, but it deserves repeating – I am proud of Rachel and Katie. We have faced some intense situations that have caused serious mental implications to arise. Yet through all obstacles and hurdles, they continued to pour their hearts and souls into the project until the very end.
I am not going to pretend that I am disappointed that this semester has ended. It has been tough. It has been hard. It has been soul destroying. However, it has also been uplifting, it has defined my character, and I have survived it. I am not walking away from the semester with the goal that I had desired, but I gained so much technical and artistic ability that it has almost made the pain worth it.
For next semester, I am hoping for happiness and continued progress. Everything else shall be a privilege.