As the semester is coming to an end I noticed an uptick in students mentioning their difficulties managing their schedule and getting work done. This happened in my online and on-site Academy class and even the Animation Mentor class I just finished, so it's a common issue for a lot of people.
Now, I can't really make suggestions regarding people's personal life since I don't know what they have going on. You could be overloaded with too many classes, or classes and a job, or classes and a family, or classes and a job and a family, etc. etc.
But animation wise I can make some suggestion regarding your workflow and how you can save time.
Know what you want to do.
It sounds simple and is really hard to do. BUT. It's better for you to spend more time thinking and planning out your animation than animating. Why? If you just start a shot you will run into problems, noodle things to death, restart, get a lot of notes from friends and teachers and it has a good chance to end up being a mess that you're not happy with.
But if you spend time coming up with just the right idea (and yes, there is always room for changes down the line), with good thumbnails, or storyboards or reference (or all of them combined), then you have a really solid ground work as a starting point. You know what to do and you can execute. It's not uncommon to spend 50% of the time planning things out and 50% of the time animating. That being said, the schedule at school might lean towards more time spent animating, so talk to your teacher and ask if extra time can be allocated for planning. At the same time, it's also important to practice quick brainstorming and quick planning so that you can animate the shot as soon as possible.
Have your tools ready.
Make sure your rig you've chosen works and doesn't have crazy bugs, so test out your rig. Sudden rig problems can be a time suck. Have a pose library ready (hands and face). No need to make poses you won't need, so once you're done with planning, you will have a good understanding of what hand poses and facial expressions you will need for your shot(s). Reposing fingers over and over is also a huge time suck. Same for mouth shapes. A body picker is also helpful. Try to avoid to do tasks over and over. If you do, then there's probably a tool or script out there that will help you shortcut wise.
But the main focus of this post is on your workflow regarding addressing notes and how you work through those notes.
Make a list of notes and work in chunks.
Having a critical eye for self-feedback comes with time and practice and experience, so at the beginning you're going to rely on your teachers and friends when it comes to feedback notes, and hopefully those notes will be somewhat structured. By that I mean the following:
- the first notes should address the general tone and feel of the shot; is it as funny or sad as you're intending it to be? Was the audience's reaction what you were hoping for? If you're going for a sad tone and everybody is laughing, then you might have to re-evaluate the general acting choices, staging, etc.
- on a visual and technical level you will want to address major issues first: are the poses clear, is the timing successful in portraying the right acting choices and emotions of the character(s), are the body mechanics working? Address the root first, then the chest, then the head, then the limbs. Of course you will have to go back and forth and some actions will have a specific focus but in general you will want to fix the broader controls and work your way into more detailed areas. It's of no use to polish fingers and sweat over arm arcs, if the root needs a complete overhaul (and if you move your root it will mess up your arm arcs for instance). Working in a layered fashion will help you go through each body part.
- once the main structure and timing is working you can go into details like hands, fingers, feet, the face, etc.
Once your eye for self critique gets better you will be able to identify the major points that need fixing. Areas that make you cringe upon first viewing of your aBlast (or whatever you want to call the movie of your animation; depends on the software).
Let's pretend you have pages of notes for a 10 second shot, what's the best way to address them apart from what I mentioned above?
Work in chunks.
Unless you're doing a single action your shot can be broken up into beats, chunks, sections, etc. If a character is walking, sitting down and resting, then you already have three distinct sections your shot can be broken into. If the walking has multiple complex actions, then you can divide the walk into those separate chunks as well. That way you concentrate your fixes on one area. You will be more focused and it's going to be mentally also more manageable. If you don't care about beats then you can also attack your shots in 50 frame chunks. Or 100 frame chunks. Attack one section, done, next section, done, etc. etc.
Of course this can get pretty complex if you have multiple characters, interactions, creatures and humans, camera moves, etc. but the same chunking and focus principles apply.
You might also have a shot with a central objective exercise wise, like a weight assignment, or a sit down, but you've added a few actions before and after the main exercise. It's also helpful to just concentrate on that section only until it's working really well. If you still have time, then you can start working on the beginning before the main action, or the end, whatever makes the shot better, and maybe you even have time for everything. But that way you're not wasting time on details on a section that's not the main challenge (like portraying weight).
I hope this helps and as always, if you have any questions, let me know!