How to embrace critiques to improve

May 16, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

Seems my last article on dealing with hard critiques stirred up more questions about critiques and more importantly, how to improve by embracing a critique from the most critical, but professional, sources.

Now professional in this instance doesn’t mean so much that they work in the industry. Rather, it means they know how to give a concise and spot-on critique without getting personal.

It also means they take into consideration the direction given. Was it from a script with little leeway, a creative director with directions or self-directed?

More importantly, they figure out the creative direction of the project either by studying the script or being privy to the development of the project.  This is so their own personal preferences do not get in the way of an open-minded review for the critique.

This is something I have brought up in the past… how easy it is for people to devolve into personal choices, i.e. why did you choose that color or that lighting? Why didn’t you use Depth of Field on certain shots? Lots of things can be arbitrary in production but not so much when you know what the project is about… when you embrace “their vision” and not your own.

A good critique can be vicious in the sense that it rips at the very nature of the work presented which is a direct reflection on our skills. However, when done professionally, it can make us take to completely new levels with that project and future work.

As I mentioned in the earlier article, I’ve had such critiques, and they were game changers that made me seek out other honest critiques from people in and out of the industry.

Some I never heard back from but some… changed my life… the very core of how I viewed my creative talent and how to channel that advice for future projects.

 They certainly taught me a few things:

  1. Read the script, script notes, meetings notes… basically, anything that has to do with the direction of the project… including, but not limited to, your part of the production pipeline.
  2. Reread all of step A once again… just to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
  3. Seek answers to any questions or gray areas of your assignment. Do not take anything for granted. Be on the same page as everyone else. Asking questions when in doubt can eliminate surprises for all involved.
  4. Send in early work samples when allowed.
  5. Read every part of the email chain and everyone associated with it. Don’t be guilty of skimming an important email. Give it the attention it deserves.

Furthermore, do NOT just read YOUR part of the script. Read every bit of the script that is available and practical. This again lowers the possibility of missing something already discussed or obvious to anyone paying enough attention.

Now let’s get to the part that bites. The critical part. The part where your work was rendered mute for whatever reason. The part that makes you sit back and rethink your approach and maybe your attitude when things go sideways.

This is the part that drew a lot of attention in the last article and again I reiterate the same principals of a calm professional approach to the corrections and revisions you were hammered with.

Generally, if it’s an earlier critique… no harm… no foul. Get over the shock, hurt, disbelief and read, re-read and read again till you can almost recite the words. Then turn in your next work assignment with your head held high if you paid attention to what was said and heeded the advice. 

In a paid job, we have no choice but to do the required revisions and move on. Apply the same steady attitude towards critiques that you seek out and are not obligated to revise. If you seek them out then it must be from respected sources so trust those sources and take to heart the advice.

Never shut your mind to any type of critique as all have value in the long run since our business is making people want to watch our work but just as important, seek out critical remarks from trusted friends and sources. Embrace their advice with an eye as to how it can help you improve.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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