Last week was spring break at Western, which gave me some time to get caught up with hunting down current literature for my thesis. It also gave me a great break from driving between Toronto and London, generally in the weekly Friday snowstorms! I had however, the opportunity to stop in at Sheridan College to give my yearly lecture on Producing and Business in Animation to the latest cohort of 3D animation students.
I’ve enjoyed giving this lecture for about 10 years now. As I had the spreadsheets and budgets projected on stage, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe I could use my 17 years of production management experience in writing my thesis? After all, to be a Producer you must have highly skilled management, organizational and analytical skills. And, no matter how many times my wife says only women can multitask successfully, I think I’ve mastered that one as well.
Students are always amazed when I recount that as an animation expert, my single most used software application now is MS Excel! Practically every animated project must start by translating the creative and artistic style into schedules and ultimately budgets. The process becomes repetitive and when one becomes good at it, all a client has to do is mention how many minutes a series is or long a film might be and generally the process can calculate the cost down to the last penny. Although I miss the creative part, there is a certain artistic mastery in developing a budget and schedule.
I’ve been using an on-line tool called Ref Works, which has been extremely useful in automating the referencing process. For students and teachers, it’s a free service provided by your university library. Occasionally it’s a little buggy and I’ve had to develop strategies to get around some deficiencies but overall it’s been an excellent tool. One particular nifty tool is the ability to link the reference within Ref Works with the actual PDF whether on-line or uploaded as a file. This little feature has helped to “relocate” reference material quickly when it has been improperly filed on your hard drive.
However, I’ve been thinking about “how” I track those references within my thesis and more importantly “where” to insert those references when needed. That got me thinking about Excel and Producing. Essentially my thesis, or any thesis for that matter, consists of parts. Simplistically it could be an opening, middle and end or conclusion. However in archaeology we’re about the narrative. So a good thesis should tell a story, whether it’s about scientific data or a qualitative experience, it’s still a story in which the reader must be engaged.
Excel is great for organizing data, so why not have it organize reference material as well? The vertical columns can be the overall paper split into thematic sections. The horizontal columns are subsections in which very specific reference points are made. Each cell is a specific reference which in pure Excel functionality, can then be referenced and tracked in other cells throughout the entire set of thematic sections. Visually, it can allow the writer to see weak points in their referencing by the lack of references within a section or if a particular reference is used too much.
Visualizing my references made me then think about all of the infographics out there and how those connections are made between references within a theses. I found this really neat infographic which provides a good visualization of how data is connected in the writing process. I think it would be a useful tool to visualize how references within my thesis are interconnected as well!
So I started this blog thinking about how to manage data more effectively using my Animation Producing skills. Now that I’ve reflected on how to organize my reference data, I’m also keen on how that data is interconnected and more importantly, how I personally make those connections between references. A visual roadmap if you will to guide the writing process?
As an Animation Producer I’ve been able to incorporate my two favourite things; Excel and Visualization! Now if I could only hand in an animated thesis, my job would be done!