I'm beating a familiar drum with this one, so I'll keep it short.
Bring something personal to your work to make it great.
To be a great animator, story artist, layout person or any kind of artist, it takes more than just the ability to draw well or the technical ability to do the job well. To be truly great at our jobs, we have to be able to crawl inside our worlds and characters and understand them from the inside. We have to be able to know how they would act in any situation, what drives them, what their deepest desires and biggest fears are. These are all what makes a great actor able to give a great performance, and we are no different. It’s easy with our rushed schedules and overwhelming amount of workload to lose sight of the only really important part of our jobs - creating great characters and telling compelling stories.
Only someone who has ever had a cat lay on them would be able to feel this action in their mind and capture the expressions that really show how this feels. There's a real gravity and sincerity to the way it's handled, and anyone that watches the cartoon "Feed the Kitty" will react to this with a smile of recognition if they've ever had a cat curl up on them. You can't fake that kind of sincerity and there's no short cut to finding great ideas like this. You have to live life and experience it and then know how and when to apply those experiences to your work to give your worlds a sense that they are real places with actual living, breathing characters in them.
Every person has a unique viewpoint that has been created by their life experiences. As much as you may admire another artist’s work, you can never have the same life experiences that caused them to be the artist they are. Bring your singular viewpoint to your work and make an original statement. Don’t repeat what’s already been done.
Why do I sound this constant drumbeat? I guess because I see this as the greatest challenge facing animation today. We are in a period where more animation is produced for film, television, video games and other media than ever before. And I think much of it is disposable and completely unmemorable, which is a shame.
If you're like me you grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons on television. The best of those feature nothing more than great personalities in conflict with each other (a sly, clever rabbit and a manic, explosive duck try to convince a naive hunter to shot the other one instead of themselves) and that's all you need to generate great entertainment. Sure, the Warner Bros. cartoons occasionally had references to other movies and pop culture nods but those were the bits that went over our heads as kids. So when I see TV shows that do nothing more than reference other movies or shows or pop culture, it's never really funny or inventive, and it invariably feels like a missed opportunity. Great characters will always be the most entertaining and inventive part of our business and will always be the cornerstone of any movie or TV show that gets the best reviews, biggest audiences and is remembered fondly for years to come.
So don't spend all of your time watching movies and sitting in the dark drawing cartoons. To do great work you have to have other interests and experiences to draw from. These don't have to be monumental, earth-shattering experiences, if you just take the time to be aware of the world around you and be present as your life happens. Just the simple everyday experience of having a cat curl up on you can lead to an original, compelling moment of animation that will bring a smile and a laugh to your audience and can live on forever.