Episode 79 – How to learn and retain information from tutorials, books, talks and podcasts

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This episode dives right into a subject that we all are probably guilty of not applying. Eyes glazed over during book consumption, clicking away on Facebook while watching tutorials, or playing around on our phone during lectures.

How do you watch, read, listen to information and absorb it, retain it, and apply it?

This episode is focused on a lot of core fundamentals Allan applies to his learning, as well as many well documented and proven approaches to keeping your core knowledge.


Episode 79 — How to Learn and Retain Information from Tutorials,

Books, Talks and Podcasts



Hi, everyone!


This is Allan McKay — and welcome to Episode 79! This Episode is all about learning and retaining information — tutorials, books, podcasts — and the right and wrong way to learn. Let’s dive in!


[-65:33] Welcome to a brand new Episode. I’ve been putting out a lot of new information out on Facebook Live, interviewing artists on Podcasts, doing live Portfolio Reviews. I just did a session with Dennis Mejillones from Bethesda. If you send me a private message on my public Facebook page with a word “fallout” (https://www.facebook.com/allanFTmckay), I will forward you the models he has sculpted.


[-63:49] I’m putting out new FREE training in a week, about 15 hours of high end production training. There is also a Career Intensive Webinar coming up. Sign up for my free Insider Circle at: allanmckay.com/inside.


[-61:34] Next Episode, I am interviewing the FX Lead for Doom, at id Software. I’m also interviewing Wirginia Romanowska, Jason Martin and Hugo Martin. I just interviewed Arman Yahin, the CEO of Main Road Post. This week, I’m interviewing the guys at Image Engine.


[-62:28] This Episode is all about learning. This is something that I’ve been fascinated with, attended talks on, read a lot of books and even done my own lectures. Knowledge is a weapon and it’s sacrilegious to have access to so much information and forget it. I am about to put out my training and I want you to be ready to learn it!




[-59:59] When you’re learning a subject — how do you learn? The majority of people don’t tend to think about how they learn. One of my favorite books I like to reread is How to Read a Book by Charles Van Doren. It’s interesting to examine how to learn effectively. Usually, we learn through feedback.


[-[58:21] At a certain point, we switch that off and start thinking of ourselves as an expert. It’s great to find people who are humble enough to recognize that we don’t know everything. I always find that such people are the most interesting people. Usually, it really comes down to figuring out the bigger questions. But even when it comes down to figuring out skill sets, we need to keep wanting to better ourselves:

  • Being a better business;
  • Managing time;
  • Becoming a better leader / manager.

All of us need to step up, in one area or the other!


[-[56:19] I remember wanting to get into programing. I picked up coding pretty quickly. At 10 years old, I would buy books and read manuals. At that time, I didn’t know math at that level yet. A lot of it was foreign to me. Without having a way to apply what I read — without seeing a result — I couldn’t learn. [-[53:59] If you don’t have a way to apply what you’re learning — you won’t get better.


[-52:24] The other thing is: You need a reason to do it. I wanted to learn to speak Spanish. At the time, I lived in Australia and never thought I would leave the country. I didn’t have any Spanish speakers around me. The easiest way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in a country that speaks that language.


[-49:43] Have a “just in time” approach — instead of “just in case”. As soon as you figure out WHY you’re learning — when (or if) you get derailed in your learning, you have a reason to get back to it. It will help you. If you learn “just in case”, your skill won’t be fresh. I prefer to do it “just in time”. If you have a week to learn something, you can push yourself. No matter what you’re doing, sometimes, it’s better to delay doing it until the deadline. When it comes to learning a new subject, know by when you need to know it.


[-[47:32] It’s better to talk about things we do wrong. These are the things that help you break the habit. Learning 3D by having a shot or something you’re trying to achieve, it’s a lot more effective. It gives you a goal and you can create a plan, step by step, AND experiment. In the training that I offer, I always say: Rather than replicating my shot, go do your own effect. No matter how well I explain something, if you’re just copying it step by step, you’re still working within the safety net of replicating it as opposed to applying it. You will hit your own walls and find your own solutions. To know how to apply the knowledge is really important! The more you understand WHY someone is doing something, the more you are able to think of its use rather than the specific thing you need to do (in which case it just becomes button pushing).




[-41:44] For a lot of us, the way to learn something is to actually go out and do it. The even strong way to learn it — is to teach that information. We want social proof from our teacher that they are the person to learn from. There is so much information out there, it does us a disservice. It’s hard to tell who is the authority. See how many followers that person has, or read the comments. If a person has a 100 followers, it’s probably not the best person to learn from because they haven’t been effective.






[-37:02] One of the big things when watching a video tutorial is to take notes. I’ve learned hardware within hours just with pen and paper. I would go through every setting in real time and translating it on paper for myself (what’s a good high value, low value, etc.). There is something about having the muscle memory when writing it down — by hand! — you end up retaining it better. If you have the time:

    1. Watch the tutorial through. Understand what it’s trying to do. (It’s a lot easier to see the big picture.)
    2. Go through it again and take notes.
    3. Once you go through the whole lesson, go recreate the lesson using your own notes.


  • Go create your own thing!



[-34:32] The main thing is when you’re watching it, don’t be doing it at the same time. Instead, write it down with pen and paper. Write it down in your own words! That way it becomes your own translation. If you get stuck, you can always go back and review your notes and update them accordingly. This information will stay with you a lot longer.


[-31:22] Once the lesson is over, go create your own thing. Make your own effect. You’re putting yourself into your own environment and hitting your own walls. You’ll come across things that weren’t covered in the lesson (which will inspire you to go learn the next thing). Going through your own journey is a really critical part to making it stick! That’s the difference between understand it and knowing it.




[-[27:57] When you’re watching a lecture, record what you can (or ask for replays).

  • But you still must take handwritten notes! The keywords will make you remember the lecture.
  • Afterwards, write down a report about it. It forces you to process the information (your impression, key things that stood out).
  • Take that report and apply to your own goal. That forces you to utilize that information.
  • Go and execute your own projects. The sooner you apply something, the more effective it’s going to be. You go from the bird’s-eye view to being in the trenches.

After the lecture, if you’ve done the first three steps, you’re able to talk about the subject with other people about it.


[-[20:38] Have a hunger for knowledge! If you don’t know something, go learn it. It may become your next passion.




[-[19:11] When it comes to Podcasts, I usually listen to them when I’m on the go. But I always have my iPhone or Evernote handy. If I think I will use the content of the Podcast later, I write down the key words. Later on, I’ll go do my handwritten notes.


  1. BOOKS:


[-[16:55] If you have a Kindle, you can highlight quotes. You can go over those later. I never tend to go back to my notes on a Kindle. I have to write them down by hand. I have specific notepads on a specific subject. After I finish a chapter, I write a report. I organize my information.


Speed reading is BS. I struggle to believe that it’s effective. Read at your pace instead, stop and think about the subject; write down your notes.


[-[12:34] Books are a great way of starting a conversation with myself! They keep my mind hungry and force me to look into different courses. They’re a great starting point but not the end point.




[-[11:40] The biggest thing is to talk to people about what you’re learning. That makes the information stick: As soon as you communicate it to other people, you have to rethink it and put it into your own words. A lot of people, learn through teaching. To teach, you have to:

  • understand it;
  • internalize it;
  • translate that information to other people.


[-[09:38] SUMMARY:


  • Learn “just in time” instead of “just in case”.
  • Go through the 4-step process of learning.



Ferris, Tim. The 4-Hour Chef.

Van Doren, Charles. How to Read a Book.


I’d love to get your feedback. This is such an open-ended subject. Thanks for listening!




[-04:09] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. We go to job interviews and either shoot ourselves in the foot by quoting too low and leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table — or by asking for too much.


I’ve put together a website: www.VFXRates.com. You can put in your information — your level of experience, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you should be worth. I want to hand you the tools to grow: to negotiate better. The information is FREE!


Check me out on Facebook Live at: https://www.facebook.com/allanFTmckay

Leave some comments on this Episode at allanmckay.com/79.


Rock on!




“To know how to apply the knowledge is really important! The more you understand WHY someone is doing something, the more you are able to think of its use.”


“Going through your own journey of creating something is a really critical part to making it stick! That’s the difference between understand it and knowing it.”


“The 4-Step Approach to Learning:

STEP 1: Watch the tutorial through. Understand what it’s trying to do.

STEP 2: Go through it again and take handwritten notes.

STEP 3: Once you go through the whole lesson, go recreate the lesson using your own notes.

STEP 4: Go create your own thing!”

“Have a hunger for knowledge! If you don’t know something, go learn it. It may become your next passion.”



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