How to get into Animation

We get it, here at Fudge we make the glamorous life of an animator seem pretty appealing. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, the road to becoming a professional animator is a long and quite often tricky one. Animation is one of those things that everyone is familiar with, we’re surrounded with it in the modern world, yet working out how to get into the industry is a bit of a question mark for most. We’re back this week to shed a little light on the kinds of things you can be doing now in order to make your path to professional animator as smooth as butter!

Getting Started

First, you’re going to need the tools. I mean, technically you could animate with a flipbook and a pencil but put those away for now! We’re going to need something a little heavier duty. Here are our top picks for software:

  • Synfig Studio. We like Synfig for a few reasons: It’s totally free, it can be used for almost every part of the production process (excluding storyboarding and editing) and it has a huge wiki full of helpful information for beginners. They even have their own training course series of videos to help you learn the ropes. Don’t want to spend any money and just jump straight in? Give this one a go.Synfig_Studio_screenshot
  • Adobe Animate CC is the revamped Adobe Flash, 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!
  • Blender is our favourite for aspiring 3D animators. This is another freebie which boasts a slew of great features as 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 com guides to Blender’s own in-house tutorial series. You’ll be rigging before you know it!Blender_Screenshot

Just a quick note before we move on to what you’ll be wanting to do with your new software. By all means, try animating with a mouse, but once you have a go with a tablet and stylus, you won’t go back – believe us. As you might have read in our Gifts for Animators post last year, we have a bit of a thing for Wacom Tablets – give their Intuos range a try.

Guides

As we’ve mentioned a few times already, free tutorials are everywhere and an absolute must for fledgeling animators who are wading bravely yet naively into software they’re unfamiliar with. For the three tools above (and most beginner-friendly software worth its salt) there are plentiful wikis and tutorials for animation newbies bursting with information and tips. 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:

  • Lynda is a real treasure trove of professional animation insight. There are thousands upon thousands of videos here for every tool and piece of software we’d care to mention. It is a paid option however, 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 on the fact 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.

Books

Sick of looking at screens? Maybe you’re contemplating the wrong line of work… But really, if you’re looking for some printed help, consider picking up these books:

  • The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams simply put, is an animation bible. 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.animators toolkit
  • Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair is the other massive influence for many of us in the studio. We find Blair’s section on facial animation especially useful because this is often a hard nut to crack! 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.

Putting it into practice

So you’ve sunk a hefty chunk of your life into online tutorials and you can wield your stylus like an extension of your body, great! You must have your foot in the door by now right? Well skill is only the half of it I’m afraid – you’re probably going to want to do some sort of animation course. Be it degree-level or otherwise, It’s massively important to create something and have it judged by someone. The learning process of having the flaws in your work exposed and given a chance to be improved upon is vital to your own personal improvement and one that’s hard to emulate with YouTube comments alone… The prospect of going to university or college especially to study animation is a big step and not one that will guarantee you a job in an animation studio but it does prove that you have a certain baseline of knowledge and it allows you to build a demo reel of your animation.

That last point is perhaps the most important in this post:

  • You need to always be creating and adding to your portfolio – showing potential employers your ability is the proof in the pudding! (the pudding is you, make yourself tasty!). Having a solid, varied demo reel is your strongest asset.
  • Use your demo reel to apply for internships at animation studios to give yourself some real practical studio experience. You might not get paid for it but this is an unfortunate necessity of the industry and remember that almost any professional experience is more attractive to a prospective employer than a uni project.
  • Keep your eye out for freelance work and get it while you can, this could be low paying and unreliable when you’re starting out but as always: you have to keep adding to your portfolio and freelancing can be a great way to do so.

Well there’s our little timeline of the main things you should be aiming for if you have dreams of being an animator! This is by no means a formula for success, we said it would be hard already, right? Just don’t expect to waltz into Pixar. Put yourself deeply into your work, find what you enjoy and what you excel at and build on your demo reel always. I leave you with the wise words of Jake the Dog from Adventure Time which seem pertinent at this moment: “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.”