Can You Teach Yourself Animation?

There are plenty of animation courses out there that demand a good whack of your time and your dosh in exchange for skills in animation. This week I’m not going to talk about those; I’m aiming this post at those of you that might not be able to blow a few grand on a 3 month animation course halfway across the country.

This one’s for those of you that want to mess around with animation without much start up cash and be able to see if it’s for you before getting properly stuck in. The answer to the question posed in my title today is: of course you can teach yourself animation, let’s find out how.

Tools – Hardware

First thing’s first: you’re gonna need to find yourself something to animate with. Hardware-wise, you’re looking at a mid-range computer. You’ll need slightly more heft for rendering in 3D, so keep that in mind if your dreams are in three dimensions! We’ll go through system requirements for animation in a future post on Fudge too, keep your eyes peeled.

You can attempt to animate with a mouse (or even a trackpad *shudder*) but for the more artistic aspects of the animation process like character creation, storyboarding, background design etc. that’s going to be a massive pain. Take it from us, get yourself a tablet to animate with. We’re in love with Wacom Tablets here at the studio – their Intuos range is a great place to start.

Tools – Software

So now that you have your computer sorted and you’re clutching your stylus with an anticipation bordering on fervour, let’s take a look at some of the most noob-friendly software packages for animators.

Is Synfig totally free? Yup. Can it be used for almost every part of the production process (excluding storyboarding and editing)? Yup. Does it boast a huge wiki full of helpful information for beginners? You bet it does. You can see why we’re fond of Synfig here at Fudge.

They even have their own training course series of videos to help beginner animators get to grips with the program’s impressive roster of features. Don’t want to spend any money and just jump straight in? Give this one a go.

 

Adobe Flash was the very first program I used for animation. I remember being shouted at by my IT teacher in school for mucking about on it making stick men fight each other when I was supposed to be learning about databases… Well it’s been given a new name and bundled into a cheap subscription as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud platform.

Like Synfig, there are hours and hours of tutorial videos both official and by the likes of YouTubers and other amateurs. For those of you with a little bit of a budget at your disposal, the Adobe Creative Cloud is a cracking deal, you can even get started with animation using the tools in Photoshop! Make sure you take advantage of that student discount if you can, too.

Here’s our favourite for aspiring 3D animators. This is another freebie which boasts all the great features you would expect from an all-in-one 3D tool. There’s modelling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking to name a few of the important ones. Again, plenty of excellent support here from extensive Lynda.com guides to Blender’s own in-house tutorial series. You’ll be rigging before you know it!

Guides

You might have noticed that the internet is brimming with information. Seriously, you can’t move for it on here. This is great because animation guides, tutorials and forums full of helpful peers are all over the place.

For the three tools above (and any beginner-friendly software worth its salt) there are wikis and tutorials for animation newbies dedicated solely to getting started with their software. These can be a little intimidating though, it’s much easier when someone is showing you step-by-step the intricacies of a process. For this reason, we always prefer to watch a video tutorial:

Owned by the guys at LinkedIn, here’s a real treasure trove of animation insight that is aimed at getting up to professional capability. There are thousands upon thousands of videos here for every tool and piece of software we’d care to mention. Be aware that it is a paid option, so you won’t be able to watch any of their guides without subscribing. If you want a proper in-depth, well-taught tutorial with distinct chapters and course notes, look no further.

That being said… YouTube is a lifesaver, even for the experts. Having a problem with something specific? You can bet that someone else has had the exact same issue and made a video about it.

Don’t get us wrong, a lot of the material on YouTube is from (talented) amateurs offering tips and tricks, but there are some serious full-length courses on YouTube. To go from wet behind the ears to seasoned pro, there are courses out there that will teach you the techniques you need to make that journey without spending a penny.

Another freebie, Khan Academy is an awesome resource that has recently been stepping up its animation-based offering by partnering with Pixar for a series on computer animation called Pixar in a Box.The production on this course is slicker than Danny Zuko and it works great as a primer before getting into more technical, skills-based learning.

Books

You’re not gonna learn how to animate from a book but these are very valuable as a supplement to the options above. You should be aware of some of the history and theory behind animation as a discipline if you want to get serious. They have some really helpful tips too.

  • The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams

This is rarely referenced without the words “animation bible” being uttered by someone shortly after. An amazing foundation for your animation education, Williams teaches you the essence and basics of spacing, timing, walks, runs, weight, anticipation, overlapping action, takes, stagger, dialogue, animal animation and much more.

 

  • Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair

The other massive influence for many of us in the studio. We find Blair’s section on facial animation especially useful, we catch Dave gurning into a mirror to get a character’s expression just right far too often. This book is split into five key areas, character movement, character development, animation, dialogue, and camera sound – giving you a well-rounded knowledge of practical animation from one of the best in the industry.

With these low cost options available to you, there’s really no excuse to give animation a go! To get started right away with very little prep, check out our tips for creating a simple stop motion animation.

If you’ve mastered the basics already and you’re getting serious about animating as a potential career, you may want to consider a degree-level course. It’s painful to contemplate when you’re looking for something free, but it does prove to future clients that you have a baseline of skill and knowledge to go along with your portfolio.

Lastly, if you think you’re ready to animate freelance, have a quick butcher’s at our advice for freelancers before you do. Send a portfolio our way too! We’d love to see your work, send it over to us at hello@fudgeanimation.com or check out our Twitter @fudgeanimation and Facebook.com/fudgeanimation