Consider yourself lucky if you're an artist who gets to work in an environment where constructive critiques are the norm. Not everyone has the ability to get this type of invaluable feedback that can ultimately help make good work turn great.
The best way to be successful at critiquing your own work is to pretend like your work is going to be critiqued by someone completely different. Treat yourself as two different people: The artist creating the project (i.e., in "project mode") and another artist who is critiquing the project (i.e., in "critique mode").
It's a lot easier to trick your brain into thinking you're looking at someone else's work when you don't have to switch back and forth between mindsets. Sometimes it can be difficult to get yourself out of the mindset of being the artist that created something and instead look at it as an artist who is looking for ways to improve the work. These tips are applicable to just about any project, from your next personal motion graphics project to your demo reel.
Set Aside Time to Critique
As the saying goes, there is a time and a place for everything. The same is true for critiques and this is especially true if you're critiquing your own work. Of course the exact timing will vary depending on your work load and schedule, but a good rule of thumb is to schedule a critique for about half an hour long at least once a week. Try to schedule it at a time when you're not coming off of working on the same project you're critiquing. This will give you the added benefit of being able to see the project with the fresh eyes of a critiquer before looking at the project as the artist working on the project.
Question Your Critiquer in Project Mode
If someone else were critiquing your work, you would no doubt have some questions for them. The same is no different when you're doing your own critiques. As you're working on the project during the week, jot down any questions you'd like to ask your critiquer. Are the deformations under the arms looking OK? Does the design stay on screen long enough for the information to be presented?
Of course, don't use these questions as an excuse to pass over work. Keep working as you normally would to improve the project. This can include a lot of playblasts, RAM previews, etc. to try to make sure the deformations are looking OK or the design is readable.
Before your critique session, try to narrow down the questions to the most important three things you want to ask. This will help your critiquing session go more efficiently. It can also be helpful to decide on these final questions when you're still in the "project mode" instead of "critique mode". For instance, if you're doing your weekly critique first thing in the morning each Friday, then it'd be a good idea to get those three questions ready at the end of the day Thursday. This will help you to start the day on Friday with the mind of a critiquer and have the questions ready.
Don't Change Anything in Critique Mode
When you're in your "critique mode", make sure to fully embrace your critiquer mindset. For most artists, getting into "project mode" is extremely easy to do. And once you're in that mode, it's really tough to get back out. So don't let yourself flip the switch to go into "project mode" when you're critiquing your work.
The easiest way to do this is to not allow yourself to actually do any work on the project. Instead, answer each of the questions you jotted down from when you were in "project mode" and if you notice any other oddities or issues, be sure to jot those down as well.
Don't Look at Source Files in Critique Mode
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip, but unless you have incredible self control it can be very tough to keep yourself from fixing the one keyframe that's slightly off when you can see the keyframe right there in front of you. If you can keep yourself in the critique mindset despite temptations like this, great! For the rest of us, another trick might be required.
How many times have you been watching something on TV or a Blu-Ray and noticed something you think should've been fixed? This is your "critique mode" coming out and as an artist it comes out more naturally when you're watching someone else's work. So the idea here is to trick your brain into thinking you're watching someone else's work.
When you're in "project mode", shoot off a quick playblast or preview render of what you're going to give to yourself in "critique mode". It can also help to take this a step further and set it up to play back on your TV. That way when you do your critique you're not only critiquing a video file that can't be edited, you're also doing the criqituing from a different screen than you are when you're working. This might seem silly, but it can actually go a long way to tricking your mind into switching from "project mode" to "critique mode".
As you're watching your project on the TV, be sure to have the questions handy so you can answer those as well as a notebook to jot down any other issues you might notice.
Set Up Your Next Critique
Before finishing your critique, set up your next critique session. As previously mentioned this is ideal if you are working on a consistent schedule, but even if you're not it's important you set your next critique day and time. This will let you know when you need to get new questions or updated preview renders ready when you're in "project mode" without having to really think about it.
Don't let yourself miss these deadlines. If you treat them as if they are deadlines you're reporting to an Art Director, you'll find you tend to procrastinate less. If it helps, sometimes it's a good idea to even go a step further and set up reminders for yourself in "project mode" at this point as well. For instance, if you just finished a critique session and you scheduled the next session for next Friday at 9:00 AM, you can set up a reminder at 4:00 PM on Thursday that you need to make sure to finalize the questions and get the updated preview renders ready to go.
Starting Your Own Critiques
There is no right or wrong way to set up a critiquing schedule and as mentioned before your exact schedule can differ greatly depending on your situation, but the key to any successful project is to set up a schedule of checkpoints so you can make sure the project isn't drifting from the original intent or procrastinating. Set up your critique schedule and be sure to stick to it.
Are there other tips you've found have been helpful when critiquing your own work? Let us know in the comments below!
Learn more about keeping the feedback loop open from others in a post an article on The Art of Getting Great Feedback.
You can also use these self-critique tips and get started on your own work. Take advantage of our free PDF guide full of tips to make your demo reel come to life: