Making a Project in Your Spare Time? 6 Point Checklist to Succeed!

Posted by Lee on November 22nd, 2014 | Comments (7)

Gotta love when you’re in the zone!

So, you’ve got an idea you would love to find the time to turn into a film, animation or game. BUT, you’ve got: 

  • A Full-Time Job
  • A Part-Time Job
  • College/University
  • Life in general that has to be done
  • Etc.


I think the real truth is that you won’t find anybody that has unlimited time to just work on a side project, life is busy! The way that I’ve found to reach that amazingly satisfying point of completing a project, or learning the skills I wanted to from an endevour, *every time*, has been when this following checklist has all lined up.  


This is the first of articles I’ll be making here at CG Masters over time, and I feel it could be one of the most important I’ll write! I’m really pumped to share this list with you (and a few short films and spotlight film/game makers to boot), and I hope it gives a little boost to the efficiency or time you will feel you’ll have to confidently push to finish your goal project!


1. Balance

Elephants Dream… Proog knew how to balance!

It seems simple enough, but there is a bit of an art to this. If you get into the project and work an extra hour or two past your body-clock’s bed time, you’ll be fine for the next day… maaaybe one more. But if the weekend is a ways off, you’ve got to make up the hours of sleep you missed, so take one real early night and catch up on sleep! Body-clock becomes simple math in the end, a tool you can work with. Push hard a few nights, and then make the sleep hours up and your body will normalize. That way your day job won’t suffer and you’ll get more done when you return home to work on your project completely powered up.


2. Control Your Weekend

More time to work! ….wait what??

A lot of times you’ll think, “oh weekend is coming, I’ll get so much done and I can visit all these friends, do all these errands AND still have a solid 10 hours Saturday and Sunday to work on my project”. Quickly you’ll find as soon as the weekend arrives your friends and family know you’re now free and suddenly the weekend will disappear with no time set for your project!

Make sure to schedule your project as importantly as your main day job! You deserve to give your own work credit. So find one morning/afternoon on a Saturday/Sunday, or a Friday night to really catch up with friends, family and any errands to run, and clear the rest of the weekend (for real!) so that those friends messaging you to come to the zoo can wait to see you next weekend. You’ll be amazed how much time you really can make out of the weekend, and you’ll feel great being able to have a complete day to work on your project, compared to after a workday during the week.

BTW, don’t forget to actually take a weekend off every once in a while! If you’ve been going great on your project a few weekends, it will be totally guilt free and all the more enjoyable!

3. Set the priority high


This point works its way into all the others, yet is important in itself. Your brain is quite adept at keeping things efficient, sometimes too good! Rather than trying to force your project to be a priority (which is suggested a lot), let’s look at why your brain may lower something in priority, even though you *know* it excites you and is important.

Procrastination. In essence this is actually a good trait to have. It exists when your brain knows it needs to wait for more information to move forward. The downside is when you think you need to wait for information to appear, but the answer is right there in front of you! A good example might be a certain rigging technique. You hit a road block, your brain is answering with ‘well we’re stuck, we should wait for the situation to change’. It will now be time to go do something else as there’s nothing you can do. WAIT! This is where the core of priorities lies. Instead of switching to passive mode right away, try to push just a little to investigate, and see if the hidden information is not right there to be found. Using the rigging technique as an example, you can prioritize a bit more time to research and reverse engineer some rigs from BlendSwap, find how it applies to your situation and it’s very likely that you’ll have the answer, and suddenly make a *huge* push to completing your project. 

How many hours, days, weeks… months? Could go by waiting for the answer, but knowing where to find sources of research material to reference and reverse engineer: Such as BlendSwap mentioned above, the Open Movie/Game projects, and the IRC Chat Channels is where you can find a lot of helpful feedback and information. The Blender Community’s fantastic at this, keeping us all moving forward!


4. Keep Motivated

It’s alright Sad Sintel!

Now you may have heard some basic dot points on how to keep motivated on your project in articles. But here I’m going to bring what to me is the absolute principle of whether something stays logically worth doing through the challenging parts. This really is the most important point that balances all the others on top of it, I can’t stress this enough. It’s not just about simply motivating yourself stubbornly, it just won’t work. At its core:  IF YOU ARENT GETTING PAID (OR ENOUGH TO MAKE THAT THE PRIME MOTIVATION), YOU MUST WORK ON SOMETHING THAT EXCITES YOU MORE THAN THE HIGHEST THINGS ON YOUR ‘I WANT’ LIST. Past the initial wonderful feeling of the idea in its inception, there are ways you can remind yourself of just how great the thing is you’re making. Feel that satisfaction, imagining it complete, where will you be? What will it be like in detail? What does it achieve for you personally and outside yourself. You will feel that real buzz when you storyboard, or write/imagine the sequence outline. But in the months ahead you will need a constant energy booster to know you’ve picked the right project and not back down. That is, the drive to grow, to improve and create something with those new skills is where some real true happiness can be found.


5. Adjust course as needed

Take time to re-evaluate whether to keep on the same project, or take
the knowledge and resources learned into a new direction!

If you find yourself in a rut or a hard point in the project, this evaluation will have to happen. Take a moment, see if you really did your timeline projections properly into the future. A lot of times you may have lined up too much work for just you, or not counted on needing so much time for your day job, or just life in general.

There is an upside to stopping work on your project, even ‘giving up’. This is not failure in a bad sense. Should you really feel you’ve backed yourself into a corner (as I have done many times in the past), here are the reasons this is so helpful to your future projects:

- If you get some paid work or a career down the track, the stakes are higher, and you’ll have to know how to navigate to avoid the the dead ends and over blowing time and money budget. Learning these limits with low cost/risk tests will help you get better and better at realistically planning and completing projects on time and with the highest quality (less redo and backtracking).

 -You’ll learn new skills! Some of my personal projects that were surely grand, but unlikely to be finished, are where I really was able to push the envelope of my own skills, using the motivation of an amazing idea, you are able to catapult past some challenging learning and become much better in a certain field. Pushing far like this can sometimes result in hitting a wall, a place where maybe you learned so much, but went the wrong direction with it or the scope was just too vast for only yourself in spare time. There is no shame in heading back to the drawing board for a new great idea, with your new powers within you. No matter what you work on, the skills you pushed to learn will stay with you forever. 

- You’ll still have some great stuff to show: A lot of my first reel works were a few shots of projects I wanted to be a 10 minute animated film. Did I finish it? Nope! Did I end up with some epic shots combining to about 15 seconds? Sure did! So it follows a reel need only be 1-2 minutes long. I had about 4 incomplete ‘ideas’ for every finished project, but no matter what I had a finished reel, and the design I had planned for a whole film, showed a bigger world in the few shots I did complete. Resources and characters, materials and textures can all be salvaged from one project, combined with the skills you take with you, these all combine to say ‘Go for it!’

Finally, here and there it is time to make a project you can really complete, and swap pushing to learn new skills and use the ones you’ve already got! The idea you finish is the one people will remember for years to come (and it surprised even me!), you’ll also learn a lot about how to deal with unchangeable deadlines. Find some holiday time or a chance where you can work on something consistently (even if one weekend day a week) for a month or two. Set a deadline, you can’t move it for anything, and see how quickly you can smash out the idea! You’ll be surprised how much you can fit into the deadline, and also feel quite happy seeing the skills you did push to learn effortlessly transferred into creation. 


6. Invest

The ‘Tears of Steel’ team hard at work thought??

If you’re working or have studies during most of your week, take a small slice of your income and dedicate it to the cause, buy that training subscription, course, DVD or book! Free tutorials are all around the internet and have a great wealth of knowledge. But for the part-time artist on the go, focused, catered comprehensive training is where to look. With professional level training, you can fast track your skills should you only have, say a couple of weekends to really spend, and don’t have a whole lot of time to search around, link up techniques from many different smaller tutorials (which, with the time is completely valid and highly recommended way to learn!). 


Go for it!

These 6 main points are what I have found to not only keep me motivated on something (in this example a side 3D project), but have honestly been some of the biggest reasons for my growth in this craft. Getting a foot in the door of the industry is a great way to increase speed of creation (keeping up with your coworkers is another great motivation!), but personal projects will always keep your creativity keen, keep you connected with the community, always receiving feedback and improving, and will likely make you a wanted commodity (more on getting hired in another article)!


Artists of Note


Marco Spitoni

When I was but a lad, this guy was the king. He worked at a CG company and over years he plotted each evening and weekend on his visual symphonies. This is the epitome of work and personal project balance. Now he’s working at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s VFX facility as Previs Supervisor!

Check out his website:


Ian Hubert

For years I’ve been pretty much about fan-boy status with Ian Hubert. His old short films initially caught my attention as they were super quirky and I just loved that he not only completely put himself out there, making his work unique, but this allowed him to work tirelessly on all parts of the film making and animation/VFX process. His skills are only matched by his creativity, and I was *so* so happy to hear and then see him direct the Blender Open Movie Tears of Steel.

Check out his website:

Bassam Kurdali

Bassam was the director on the first Open Movie ‘Elephants Dream’ and it was just fantastic to work with him. His animations and training courses are always a joy to watch. He has been able to make a fantastic balance between art or programming freelance work and his own project ideas. His ability to gather and lead a team make him one of the best project leads using Blender.

Check out the website for his (huge) successfully crowd funded side project, Tube!


See Lee Salvemini’s Author Page

DVDs by Lee -
Character Creation Volume 1 – Modeling
Character Creation Volume 2 – Rigging
Character Creation Volume 3 – Texturing

  • Lukas Vidoeify

    Great post!
    But at 4. Keep Motivated it must “stubbornly”, not “stubburnly”… ^^
    Have a nice weekend,
    Lukas Videosify

  • Lukas Vidoeify

    I just realised that It’s actually funny I mispelled my own channel name… xD

    • Lee Salvemini

      hahaha, it’s the weekend now we get a pass right :D All fixed and glad you like the post, thanks!!

  • Michael Slater

    Dude, I remember watching your short project on youtube, ‘Cyan Sun’.

    What was to become of this as it looks juicy! Is Kryorn to return as prophesied?

    • Lee Salvemini

      Ahahahah, yes! I was really tempted to even link this, so I’m glad you did it here :D That is the exact output of the example ‘set a deadline, make it within your skill limit’. 17 at the time, I gave myself a month, one week to make the character, one week to animate and one week to render it all :) And it was one of the few short films I really completed before starting as junior animator at a studio. The ones you finish everyone knows the most indeed :D

      Also with his return? I actually have what started as a film trilogy, and might become an episodic game now, featuring (not as main character but a very important one) none other than this guy, who has made his way from some dead planet in an unknown universe/dimension to another through a blue sun ;)

      Thanks for finding that one again, happy blending!

  • Francisco

    Nice post! Thanks for helping me to keep going! :D

    • Lee Salvemini

      Thanks so much Francisco I’m glad you found it helpful! Good luck with all you are working on, wish you success :D -Lee