Stop Watching and Start Doing (No More Cooking Shows)

November 17, 2008 - By 

Photo by Here’s Kate

Hi, I am Nick, and I was a tutorial junkie. I just couldn’t help myself. Tips, tricks, and how-to tutorials were everywhere. I watched them all. I felt like I was learning a TON.

It wasn’t until I tried to use what I learned in a REAL project at work that I realized that I was practically clueless on how to actually do anything. It wasn’t that the project was difficult… it wasn’t. The problem was this:

Watching or reading about something is not a replacement for doing it yourself. Working from scratch gives you real problems to solve and real things to learn. Sure, it’s fun to just read about techniques, or just play around. But, why research a problem or try to solve a difficult technical issue when you’re “just having fun?”

There are rarely problems to solve in most tutorials. Usually the “instructor” runs though the tutorial step by step with no missteps or blunders. The proverbial cake is already cooked. He is just running through the recipe. Yea, you can replicate his exact tutorial but what if you want to make it slightly different? Usually you’re stuck.

Try this instead. Make your own small project from start to finish. Or, try to replicate something that inspires you. Now there are real problems to solve. How do I render for widescreen? I need to make that spin around. I want to make the material reflective. How do I do that? I need the timeline twice as long. How do I cut this out of the background? Alpha Channels? How do I make this go backwards? Go look for the answer. Now we’re actually cooking instead of just sitting on the couch watching a show about it.

Posted In:  Ideas
  • i totally preach this something like this at work – it get’s to a point where it’s like quit talking about doing stuff and just DO IT! i totally agree with this!

  • Well put! Something a lot of people need to start doing.

  • This is also EXACTLY why students who “study” math and physical sciences by just reading the textbook usually do poorly.

  • Holy Crap! You just called me out! Thanks…I secretly thought I was the only one who does this.

  • Hello, my name is John and I am a tutorial junkie also. I love to watch tutorials and I dont do what is hard because I love to learn new stuff lol. I have prob seen every Cinema tut on the net also. Good advice! I found this post because I have the key words Cinema 4d tutorials in my Google alerts lol.

  • I gotta say that this is exceedingly true. When I was introduced to 3D Modeling with TrueSpace in 1996, there were no tutorials or YouTube videos to try. I basically made a 3D animation from start to finish- finishing in the summer of 1997. It was crude, but for a 17-year-old, it worked. And it made me understand the concepts of modeling, splines, motion paths, and (for god’s sake) RENDERING TIME. The same goes for learning how to program in ActionScript when I was assigned the task to build interactive pages.

    Now, I’m attempting to learn Cinema 4D. A tutorial to learn the basic interface is helpful, but I’m sure that when it comes to brass tacks, I’ll need to start doing something with the software in order to truly learn it.

  • I can’t applaud this old post enough. After chatting about it, Nick, and after getting my own ass in gear to start making original work I just can’t agree more. The problem solving is where the real learning happens, and the speed you gain in your process is invaluable.

  • thank you so much fr this post. it hits me on my head instantly. being a design student that i am i thought i was learning the right way. all problems that you’ve mentioned is true. i better stop sit n watch the show. i shall start “cooking” my own thing.

  • I think all editors/compositors/graphic artists/3d/painters/garage mechanics/dentists/(insert occupation here) fall into this trap from time to time. I know it happens to me as well. It’s so much easier when someone else is doing it. It’s like the armchair quarterback who say’s “I could have made that throw.” I find myself getting into a tutorial sometimes only to realize later I don’t have the plugin or the layout setup correctly, etc. I still have issues in c4d learning how to make things seem natural (lighting) or having text “pop” in. Great post and keep up the great work! btw do you have any grayscalegorilla cooking aprons left, mine are complete covered with artistic goo. may have to head over to threadless.


  • This is a problem I’ve faced with sooo long! I seriously can’t tell anyone how much of a drag it is to get caught up in those tutorials and stuff. I just had to start telling myself that I am just wasting time, and force myself back into working…

  • This may be a bit of a late post, but thank you for posting this. I too when I first got the trial of after effects I went straight for some basic tutorials, and I thought cool but I wanted to know more so I went and watched more and more, then I finally got into the program and hadn’t learned a damn thing, I went back to the tutorials to check what I was doing wrong and just ended up copying what happend in the tutorial.

    But the tutorials did help me get an understanding on how everything in after effects works, but after that I totally agree experimenting and playing around yourself is the way to go. Although I do find the tutorials somewhat like I’m in a class being tought things, but it’s not untill you do the things yourself that you learn the valuable skills.

    This comment is getting too long but; I learned Sony Vegas from the ground up no manual or tutorial, and I’m a complete speed boat natural in it. But since I first got After Effects all I’ve really done is watch tutorials, and I’m really slow at doing things in it.

    Just wanted to add that bit.

    But again, you just made me realize what I should be focusing on, so thanks again.

  • Brilliant! lol. I feel rediculous, but I must admit that never crossed my mind. I don’t believe I’ve really cooked before. I mean, I’ve experimented, but I was so safe with experimentation. Thanks! This helps a lot.

  • Wise said, knowledge and practice should go together.

  • True but so difficult.
    I find myself wanting to do something creative, only I don’t know what so I look at what other people have done which looks really good and then it just brings me down since Instead of making me want to do this, I ask myself HOW did they make this thing? I don’t even know where to begin…


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