Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Dave Mauriello

Back to School
by Dave Mauriello, 1 Jan 2010

Dave Mauriello owns and operates Magic Animation, a custom 3D modeling and animation company. Magic Animation creates award winning work for select clients and projects in various fields such as medical and scientific visualization, educational media and entertainment. This year he's begun sharing his knowledge and experience with students at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University as their newest Assistant Professor of Digital Media.

Learn more about Magic Animation:

Get the details on the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University.

How much thought do you give to your breathing? I'll assume not very much. It's an an automatic function which you can literally do in your sleep. In fact, if you do happen to stop for a moment and think about your breathing, it usually becomes more labored and less smooth until eventually your attention drifts to more important matters and your breathing goes back on auto-pilot. Having processes like breathing be automatic is a wonderful evolutionary perk, allowing for us to accomplish many more things at one time. Chances are if you're like me, a professional who has worked in the same field for nearly 15 years, a great deal of the processes you perform in the course of your work have become automatic and require so little thought and attention that it seems you could do them in your sleep. Again, let's call this an evolutionary perk gained by evolving from that early amateur to a seasoned professional. The only problem is, like with breathing, if you were to stop for a moment and actually think about these automatic processes, you may struggle with them.

I've recently begun teaching 3D modeling and animation at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, and I've been given students who mostly have no prior experience with the subject matter. Essentially, I've been charged with the task of teaching them how to breath. The first hurdle for me was to relearn how to breath myself. Now perhaps things would have been more smooth for me if I were charged with educating advanced students, since I'd be more conscious of advanced topics as they would not be the sort which I normally do automatically but rather demand my full and regular attention. The basics for me, on the other hand, have long since slipped into auto-pilot so that I do them but sometimes I'm not fully aware that I am, nor am I necessarily aware of why. Quite a problem when you have to teach someone how to do what you do, and of course field the inevitable questions of why things must be done that way. "Because" is not an answer, so I've had to go back to school myself, re-examining what I do, how I do it and most importantly, why. After that, I've had to distill the information into a logical scheme so that it's understandable to others.

A rather surprising thing happened along the way, though. I've found that there are more things I didn't know than I first thought. As someone who came to this field from the "fine art" and traditional media world, I've used software tools as a means to an end. I regularly have a goal in mind and I always somehow figure out how to manipulate the tools at hand to arrive at my desired goal. My education has been by fire, a sort of trial and error process until I got what I wanted to get. I'm realizing now how never taking the time to explore all the options at hand, nor never fully understanding how and why the methods I have chosen work, I've done myself a disservice. Furthermore, the increased understanding I've gained has also shed more light on those advanced processes since I have a greater understanding now of the foundations they rest upon. If all that isn't enough, I've also had my eyes open to new possibilities through the exploits of my students. With experience in a field, you intuitively know which avenues are best to go down in the execution of a task, ignoring the others. Well students don't have that experience so they tend to go down strange avenues. Most of the time those wrong turns either leave them lost or are needlessly long routes to their goals, but occasionally exploring those other avenues yields interesting, unexpected results. Such results, I've found, have opened my eyes to even more possibilities in my work which again may have ramifications on my more advanced work.

Am I suggesting all of you go find a teaching job? Well not exactly, although perhaps I've sparked an interest in doing so for you and by all means if that's the case, then I encourage you to look into that. Instead though, what I'm suggesting is setting aside time to go back to school yourself, back to the basics, and relearn how to breath. You may well be surprised at what comes of it. I'd also suggest trying to distill certain bits of it into a form you could present to others. The process can really reinforce your command of the material. Lastly, I'd like to suggest that if you've gone this far, perhaps share this with the world. A few screen grabs and some brief text explaining what you're doing and putting that together as a pdf or a web page would suffice. If you feel more inspired, perhaps you can get some screen capture software like Snapz Pro and make a video which could be posted to YouTube or Vimeo. The benefits of doing so, beyond reinforcing your own knowledge, are many. For instance, you might get some very interesting questions from people. They might run into problems you ever foresaw, going down unexpected avenues like my students have. Also, you might get feedback from other pros on alternatives to your methods. Lastly, which can never hurt, you might gain more exposure for yourself and your work and become recognized as an expert in whatever it is you do.

So go back to school, relearn how to breathe, and try and share what you know. The results of doing so may very well surprise you.

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