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If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. Feedback is the most important tool for an artist. It allows creatives to learn better workflows, produce more effective products, and gain new perspectives on their own art. But let’s be honest, it’s not as simple as following every piece of instruction, from everyone, all the time.

Effectively using feedback to better yourself and your art is a skill in itself! So if you’re feeling stressed about a client’s critiques, confused by a colleague’s notes, or even discouraged over a tough round of edits, don’t worry. We spoke to several of our incredible instructors, all of whom are entertainment industry professionals in various disciplines, about how to make the most out of feedback. So don’t miss out on this guide, including tips such as:

  1. Establish Communication Rules Early
  2. Ask Questions
  3. Evaluate Your Reviewer
  4. Value Issues Over Suggestions
  5. Follow Your Vision (at First)
  6. Hear Everything, Listen Selectively
  7. Present Solutions, Not Problems
  8. Embrace the Process

1. Establish Communication Rules Early

When it comes to getting feedback, you don’t want anything to get in the way of good advice. Especially not easily avoidable misunderstandings. By setting some ground rules for communication, you and your reviewer can feel comfortable collaborating.

Here are some logistical considerations:

  • Frequency of reviews
  • Chain of command
  • Type of critiques (creative vs technical)
  • Project timeline
  • Really, anything that you want to know to feel confident working with someone

Even if you’re just asking a friend to look something over, don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for or when you need notes back. You’ll get the feedback you were hoping for in the least stressful way possible.

Read “Why the Reclusive Artist Stereotype is a Myth” for more communication tips.

2. Ask Questions

We’ve all been there. You receive a note that you don’t understand, but you keep nodding your head like you know exactly what your reviewer is talking about. While it’s tempting to put on a fake-it-while-you-make-it air, this is not the best course of action if you want to create a functional project.

Feedback is not a one-way street. You’re supposed to engage with your notes, make sure you understand them, and even build off of them. When we asked Technical Director Mathias Royrvik what he would have done differently throughout his career, he said he wished he asked more dumb questions.

So don’t mistake asking for clarification for weakness. Ask questions!

3. Evaluate Your Reviewer

It’s very important to evaluate your reviewer while they evaluate your work. The person giving you feedback could be a client, an artist, or a friend with an entirely different discipline. No matter what, they’re bringing a different background or level of experience to your work. Instead of letting this hinder you, like ignoring confusing or unusual comments, you can leverage their unique perspective.

That being said, you also need to consider whether you are working with the right reviewer for your goals and vision. It’s not a bad thing to have differing tastes, but it can create a frustrating collaboration with no clear endpoint. So when you find people who understand your work and push you in the right direction, hang on to them!

Unfortunately, it’s an occupational reality that you don’t always have control over your reviewer. If this is the case, try returning to step one and communicate as much as possible. At the end of the day, they want the same thing you do: a great end result.

Read “How to Leverage Feedback from Unlikely Sources” to learn more about where to find surprisingly helpful reviewers.

4. Value Issues Over Suggestions

After considering your reviewer, you might have found that (and this is putting it nicely) they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is especially true for clients who hired you to be the expert. But that doesn’t make their opinion less valuable to you. It means you should approach this feedback from a new angle.

Instead of listening to suggestions like “this should be faster” or “can we make her outfit red,” try to focus on the issues they have, such as “this scene isn’t as exciting as it should be,” or “she’s coming across too meek.” Because while your reviewer may not be a professional, they’re still an audience member. And if something doesn’t work to them, it probably will bump for other people as well.

Of course, if you’re working with an art director, this becomes less of an issue. But if you are the most knowledgeable person on the project in your particular area, own it.

Just watch Lead FX Technical Director Edward Ferrysienanda and VFX Supervisor Philip Engström share their thoughts on reading between the lines of feedback.

5. Follow Your Vision (at First)

Though we like to think there can’t be too much of a good thing, it is possible for feedback to hinder you. Mostly, if you get too much, too soon. As Comic Artist Jason Brubaker points out, by asking for notes early on in your process, you don’t allow your original vision to come to fruition. What could have been a great idea turns into something else entirely. Perhaps something not as good. Combat this by presenting fully formed ideas and projects. If your vision doesn’t work, that’s okay. But you don’t want to take on three new ideas when the first one worked just fine.

You can run into the same problem by asking too many people to look over your work. Your well-meaning reviewers will bring in their unique perspectives, giving you a lot of different directions. Some of which will contradict. Unless you’re in a brainstorming phase, this is not what you want from your feedback. So be thoughtful about who and when you ask for notes.

6. Hear Everything, Listen Selectively

You should acknowledge every piece of feedback, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it all. Many professional settings have a natural filtering system. When Senior Matte Painter Marcos Shih works on a film, the director will give notes to the CG Supervisor, who then decides what feedback to give the rest of the team members. The CG Supervisor can simplify complicated notes, turn an issue into a suggestion, and even push back against the director.

If you’re not in this sort of professional setting, that’s okay. But you need to have your own filtering system. So before you agree to implement every piece of feedback on your next draft, consider what will actually push the project where it needs to be.

7. Present Solutions, Not Problems

However, you don’t always have the luxury of simply saying “no” to a bad idea. And when this happens, you might be tempted to point out all of the reasons the piece of feedback is flawed. But this isn’t a productive use of your time.

If a client really wants you to use an idea, don’t just say you can’t do it. Try sketching (or modeling, rigging, animating, etc.) it for them the way they ask, and show them where the problem lies. If they still prefer their idea, well, they’re paying for it.

But you can also present some of your alternative solutions. Instead of showing up empty handed, you can display what they ask for, as well as two versions you secretly know are better. Hopefully, the client will see the benefits of taking your advice (although there is no guarantee). But either way, you’ve shown that you are a productive and positive to work with.

8. Embrace the Process

It’s easy to talk about how important feedback is, but in practice, it can be a much harder task. And it’s not just logistical misunderstandings or trying to read between the lines. It can be hard to watch something that you’ve worked on, something that you love, be picked apart.

It’s not unusual to feel defensive or disappointed. And you’re entitled to these emotions as reactions. But after a rant to a friend or a walk to release stress, try reminding yourself that the process works. And if you let it, it can be an exciting process rather than an aggravating one!

To Senior Environment Artist Ben Keeling, feedback is a journey and a skill in its own right.

So picture this article as feedback for receiving feedback: an opportunity to grow, improve, collaborate, and get a new perspective. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Read “Why the Reclusive Artist Stereotype is a Myth” for more communication tips.

Read “How to Leverage Feedback from Unlikely Sources” to learn more about where to find surprisingly helpful reviewers.