Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Perfect Workstation - How to be an animator and not ruin your health

A student watches a tutorial on his iPad, and does the exercise a separate screen
A good workstation is not a luxury - it's a necessity. The dirty secret of the animation and visual effects business is that sitting still and clicking away at a video workstation all day long is very bad for your health. Carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury (RSI) are serious health problems which affect many, many people working in the industry.

Why don't we hear more about it? Because people don't like to talk about it. Employers don't talk about it because they don't like being sued. Employees don't talk about it because they fear if they admit to having problems they will lose their job and perhaps their career. So get educated, look after your health, and make sure it doesn't happen to you.

First of all, don't use a mouse. At least, not for long periods of time. Long term use of the mouse will lead to repetitive strain problems. The mouse is much more dangerous than it looks.

A mouse. More dangerous than it looks. Source: Wikipedia
Far better than a mouse is to use a tablet. Wacom, Bamboo, whatever works. Buy a decent one that is a reasonable size, a minimum of A5 - anything less than this is too small. And test it out first before you buy it. Remember that a good tablet will last for many years. I run a Wacom Intuos 3; I've had it so long I can't remember how old it is. Many years, anyway. It's great to animate with, and you can't really run Photoshop without one.

Maya workstation with a Wacom tablet
When you use Maya, remember that you will need both hands to run the software properly. Your left hand will hover over the hot keys - W (move), and E (rotate). Your left thumb will be positioned over the ALT button so you can use your wacom pen to dolly, move and zoom. If your left hand is not on the keyboard at all times, you are doing it wrong.

It is very important to get your posture right. Sit up straight, don't slouch. All the buttons on your keyboard should be within easy reach, without stretching.
Good posture. Not just for typists, but for animators too. Source: Wikipedia

I see students in the classroom all the time who are trying to run Maya with one hand. They are slouching, their right hand on the mouse and their left hand hanging limply at their side. You simply cannot animate this way - it just doesn't work. So pull your chair up, pull your keyboard forward so that all the keys are within easy reach of both hands, and sit up straight. You'll be glad you did.


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