I decided to write this blog post because honestly, I wish I had read one like it years ago. After 12 years of making my living as a 3D artist, I can tell you this is not a career path that inspires healthy living. The realities of any CG artist’s daily life can steer one into a cycle of unhealthy behavior which can be very difficult to fully recognize and break free from. Modern living is potentially sedentary enough without us making it worse! Only recently have I come to better recognize my unhealthy daily habits and begun the processes of breaking the cycle.
My goal in writing this post is to simply share what I see as the big obstacles for the healthy living of those in the CG industry and some solutions I have found that work well for me personally. Hopefully some of you will find this information helpful and it maybe even encourages you to make some changes in your own routines.
What is the Sedentary Lifestyle?
I would have been insulted if someone suggested that I’m basically a couch potato. “No way! I do stuff! Like sometimes I run and surf, and I have a membership to a gym and my kids keep me busy… and..” Living a sedentary life doesn’t mean you literally never move, I’m sure you do stuff, rather it’s a combination of factors that equal a daily routine that involves little to no REGULAR physical activity. Regular is the key word here. Doing a little something now and then means it’s not part of your routine. On other hand here are some things that probably are: Sitting, using a computer, reading, playing video games, watching TV and so on which are all sedentary “activities”. Wikipedia gives a decent breakdown of the risks associated with the sedentary lifestyle. Now, certainly any office job involves an excessive amount of sitting, using a computer etc. but I believe 3D / VFX & Game artists are often lost in the eye of a perfect storm of sedentary habits with an extra helping of stress & sleep deprivation on top! Opening our eyes to these habits and their adverse effects on our health is the first step in getting our daily cycle moving in a healthier direction. Let’s take a look at what I see as the big issues and what we can do about them.
The Big Issues:
Sitting is the big sedentary “activity” and most likely the biggest part of our day. We tend to work long hours which pushes an already unhealthy amount of sitting into overdrive. This compounded by the fact that many of our favorite pass times involve more sitting in front of screens such as film, video games, TV etc. The hours spent not sitting start looking pretty slim. As mentioned in the Wiki entry, sitting still for periods of 4 or more hours already carries increased risks never mind 8, 12 or even more hours. I myself have had crunch days that ran from 8am to 3am the following morning or not sleeping at all. That’s potentially 19 or more hours of sitting! My more typical days run in the 10 to 12 hour range, as it does for many in our field, which is a huge amount of sitting. Note that even those who exercise regularly need to take a serious look at their sitting habits.
Well, Get up!
It’s just that simple. Don’t sit so much dammit! There are a number of ways to help make this happen.
My personal favorite is the Sit/Stand desk. In fact there is a whole movement around the concept of standing while you work as you can see here at JustStand.org. I myself picked up an adjustable standing desk from Geek Desk a few months ago and I tell you I will never go back! It’s not that you stand all day, as that can also be not so great. Rather it’s the change of position and giving your body regular lengthy breaks from sitting. I stand roughly 50% of my work time now and it feels great! As a bonus all this standing burns additional calories (as many as 50 per/hour of standing) which is helpful for anyone looking to shed a few pounds! Here is a calorie calculator so you can see how much you might burn a day by making the switch. I can confirm as many “standers” claim, that they have an increase in energy and focus since sitting less. Obviously there is significant cost associated with the sit/stand desk option so it may not be for you or your employer but I urge you to seriously consider it as the positive benefits are huge and nearly immediate!
Nutrition, though not directly related to the sedentary lifestyle, is another area we CG artist tend to slip. Since we are often under the gun, we go for food that is fast, and easy to come by. Pizza, sandwiches, bags of snacks and soda are par for the course more often than many of us would like to admit. That’s not to mention our caffeine intake which is almost our life’s blood in times of creative crunching. Even if we eat healthy once we’re home our work nutrition is most likely sub par.
I admit, I’m one to talk. In high school I would have two slices of pizza, a Mountain Dew, a chocolate milk and two frozen Snickers bars for lunch! (Please don’t tell my parents) Obviously this was horrible nutrition, but I had a fast metabolism and ran almost year round for school as well as skateboarding most afternoons so it never occurred to me how bad it was. It wasn’t until college when all my physical activity came to a screeching halt that I noticed these were really bad choices. Freshmen 15? How about 25, maybe more.
Today I eat pretty well mostly thanks to my wife’s healthy cooking but what I have learned about nutrition along the way is that moderation and mindfulness is all it takes to build healthy eating habits. Nothing Earth shatering here but here’s some of my nutrition tips:
- Cut back on the sugar! For example if you’re a serious soda drinker, put it down and get some water. Even “Healthy” flavored waters often have a ton of sugar even if they do have “electrolytes”. Now and then is fine, but chain drinking sugar water seems to be a national epidemic in the States at least! Sugar water isn’t what plants crave and neither should your body!
- Did I mention cut back on the sugar?
- More veggies, fruits, nuts etc. as your snacks.
- Read labels! You would be amazed how just knowing the nutritional content of your food can change your behavior in a positive way. Ever seen how much sugar, fat and calories are in a few oreos? Take a look sometime, it’s impressive.
- Eat reasonable portions. This is a big one and is also maybe the hardest to do. If you eat out a lot it’s even harder since we tend to eat what is put in front of us. A good rule of thumb for most is to eat half of that Pad Thai and take the rest home for lunch tomorrow. Saves money too!
- Always remember food is fuel. Cheesy to be sure but that simple thought can help you make all around healthier choices.
Touched on this when talking about sitting but it’s worth singling out. Excessive late hours bleed us dry and makes us much more likely to adopt unhealthy habits. Always being under intense time pressure while simultaneously lacking sleep makes enormous amounts of stress on our mind and body. Constantly pushing ourselves to the limit only serves to burn us out and harm our health. More on this in the Work Schedule & Stress section below.
The nature of our work means a ton of keyboard and mouse jockeying. This means our days are full of repetitive motion, perhaps the most dangerous of these being mouse movements and clicks. It is a well know fact that these kinds of motion make us very susceptible to Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Throughout my career I have had to take special precautions per my doctors orders as I have had numerous compound fractures of the wrist (that’s another story). Many don’t think about it until it’s a problem. so how do we go about saving our wrists from future catastrophe?
What’s wrong with just writing?
The mouse is a great invention of productivity that just happens to have some really bad side effects. I say dump the mouse when working in your primary apps! I made the switch to working with a Wacom for everything (except gaming of course) years ago. I use a medium size Intous along with the keyboard and there is nothing I can do with the mouse that I can’t do faster and more comfortably with my wacom / Kbrd combo. Again there is cost with this option but if your wrists are your living what’s a few hundred dollars really? I admit there is an adjustment period but for those working in 3D programs, Photoshop and the like I can’t recommend this enough! The exception to this is when you need to do a lot of tying and the occasional mouse move like I am right now.
Exercise (or Lack Thereof)
Regular “vigorous activity” is what the human body is built for. Walking, running, hunting, hauling, lifting etc. Primitive humans didn’t need to hit the gym because daily life provided more than enough activity. Our bodies needs haven’t changed but life habits have, especially for those in our industry. Granted our thumbs and hand eye coordination are second to none but otherwise most of us have gone pretty soft. Lack of exercise in our daily lives puts us at risk for all sorts of bad things.
The Bad Things:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Mortality (premature death)
- Deep Vein Thrombrosis
- Colon Cancer
- High Blood Pressure
- Lipid Disporders
- Kidney Stones
If you’re active playing soccer, cycling, tennis etc. you are most likely filling the vigorous activity void modern living and working in this industry causes. Otherwise you need to think about hitting the Gym or creating your own home exercise routine. This can be the most intimidating part of breaking the sedentary cycle so know that many have tried and failed here, myself included. Many times I have started something up just to get too busy, or lazy to keep it up. So I will say whatever you do make sure it’s something you can maintain and build upon. Don’t go into the gym with a 1.5 hour workout that has you aching for days and hating life in general. You need this to become a habit so start small and keep it regular. Once you can do that you can build it up to whatever you need.
Thankfully there are others out there to help you get started. I recommend checking out Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness Blog. He’s knowledge, funny and knows where you’re coming from. His recent post on Playing is a great example of why you need to go there. Also make use of great sites like LiveStrong.com. There you can find help with nutrition, workouts and inspiration. My current workout is based the this 40 minute full body strength routine as described here along with a few miles of running each off day. In the past 2 months of this routine I have lost over 15 lbs, gotten stronger and feel great! Previously I had always just kind of winged it and never really committed to making it a habit. I can tell you having a set workout and goals makes all the difference. What’s my goal? To fit in my old wetsuit and get back to surfing year round. The best waves in Maine are in the winter after all.
Remember there are no good excuses for not keeping yourself reasonably fit. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn but I finally get it. Fitness is the foundation all your other healthy habits can be held up by. Not to mention the increased energy and overall feeling good! And if you are having a hard time getting started let Steve fire you up!
Work Schedules & Stress
I make my own schedule based on our workload so I usually have no one to blame but myself when that schedule has me working around the clock in a perpetual crunch. Though I hear things aren’t much better in many facilities out there, so the negative effects of crappy schedules is important to note. Crunching now and then goes with the job to a certain degree but there need to be limits and let’s not forget a 40 hour work week should be our baseline. All too often we fall into these 50, 60, 70 hours a week or more becoming our baseline. Not good!
Creating a sustainable schedule
I’ll admit it, historically I have been pretty horrible at this. I am learning though and trying to change my ways. So let’s think about how the shitty schedule comes about, shall we? Here’s the factors as I see them:
- Too much work, not enough time.
That was easy! So what to do about it? As a small shop, Russ (my business partner) and I find ourselves often in the position having to turn down work or commit ourselves to many long days and more all-nighters then we care to admit. To help remedy this we have tried to plan better by being more realistic about the hours involved in a given task. We then determine between the deadline and our available hours what kind of overtime are we talking. If it’s more than we feel is reasonable it’s time to plan ahead and make some calls to our list of freelancers we know and trust.
All too often we want to keep everything under our control or feel we can just get it done faster/better, but there is a high personal cost for such things. Simultaneously we discuss timeframe with our clients. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked all night for days to meet a deadline that turned out to be completely arbitrary. Find out when they REALLY need it by and try to base scheduling on that. Everyone wants it yesterday not everyone needs it yesterday.
If you work for a facility that has you crunching, I feel for you. That means whoever is in charge of scheduling is either delusional about how long things take or is looking to save $$, or worse just thinks the job should demand limitless devotion. In either case it’s a tough nut to crack. You’re only option may be to look inward and see what changes you can make to make your time more efficient which will hopefully reduce the amount of overtime you need to work. For efficiency I highly recommend the Pomodoro Technique! The idea is to break your day into many 25 minute (or whatever works for you) segments with short breaks in between. You can use a timer like Pomodairo to keep you on task. I use it regularly and it certainly helps reduce distractions and I find myself typically much more productive. Other than that you can always try talking with your employer and hope that they understand healthier workers make better work.
It’s a lot to consider but I promise you, being honest with yourself about your daily routine and the impact it has on your health is one of the best things you can possibly do for yourself. I only recently had my eyes opened after going through the busiest work period of my life. I allowed my work to take over every aspect of me life. I watched my energy levels plummet, my weight increase, my cholesterol levels skyrocket and so on. All because I settled into the thought that I was just too busy to do anything about it. One day I sort of panicked with the realisation I have one body and I’m sending it down the crapper for really no reason at all! Don’t let your health take a backseat to work and everything else like I did. It only gets harder with time so stand up and make a change now. You’ll thank yourself later!