Frequently Asked Animation Questions

This week we've done our utmost to answer some of the most frequently asked questions in an effort to demystify animation.

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Animation is like a lion on the Serengeti: alluring, fascinating but also pretty intimidating. There's plenty of interest in this profession and the industries associated with it for good reason: it's one of the coolest jobs going.

So because we love you lot so much, this week we've done our utmost to answer some of the most frequently asked questions in an effort to demystify animation. Let's crack on.

Where can you work in animation?

We get it, TV and film is the obvious draw for many of you who are curious about the profession, but it’s by no means the only path to becoming a successful animation professional. Video game design and development is a big sector and ever-growing and corporate animation will always be relevant and lucrative. There are also exciting opportunities for animators in architecture, medical, advertising and education.

As animation and the tools we use to create it become easier to use, more powerful and more widespread, the number of areas that we can work are expanding, there’s never been a more exciting time to be an animator!

What do I need to get started?

The bare minimum is a mid-range computer (or something a bit beefier if you have your heart set on 3D animation) and some animation software.

If you’re a complete degenerate I suppose you could try animating with a mouse, or worse: a trackpad, but for the more artistic aspects of the animation process like character creation, storyboarding, background design etc. this is going to be torture.

If you’re serious then a tablet and stylus is the only way to go. We’re big Wacom fanboys and girls in this studio, their Intuos range is a great place to start.

There are some great free/cheap animation tools out there which can get you started on your way - give Synfig Studio or Adobe Animate CC a go for 2D, and Blender for 3D.

How is animation as a career?

It can be tough, isolating, competitive and repetitive, but that’s exactly why you need to have a passion and a love for what you do.

Animation is also immensely rewarding and inspiring. It gives you a chance to be creative and remain on the forefront of technological development; the people are amazing and with the entertainment industry, it’s always interesting.

Do you need a degree to be an animator?

An animation degree in itself isn’t a golden ticket into the animation industry, but what you learn during the course of a degree can be instrumental in getting you hired at the big studios you dream of or standing out as a freelancer.

For example, the networks you create as well as the feedback you get from your mentors and your peers are hard to mimic outside of formal education. You get the chance to build up a great portfolio and it instantly proves to potential clients/employers that you have a baseline of knowledge and skill.

That being said, there are plenty of very successful folks in the industry who don’t have an animation degree. Stephen Silver, designer for big shows like Kim Possible and Danny Phantom is self taught, he actually started out as a caricature artist in shopping malls!

If you want to make it as an animator without any degree or course backing you up, you just need to make sure you have a professional, mind-blowing portfolio to show off. Well, lucky for you...

How do you make a great animation portfolio?

Your portfolio is you. It represents who you are as an artist so it needs to contain your very best work and demonstrate your varied skills in a short amount of time. No pressure. Here’s our quick set of tips for creating an amazing animation demo reel:

  • 30-45 seconds. Chances are, the person looking through your portfolio has a long list to get through and has watched hours of portfolio footage in their time, keep it snappy and be ruthless with what makes the cut.
  • Simple to navigate. Stick to Vimeo.
  • Multiple short clips. These will keep the viewer’s attention with their momentum and variety, giving you the opportunity to show off the different styles and mediums you’re great at.

Inside, we wanna see content that contains:

  • Drama/ acting, characters expressing emotion or a change of emotion.
  • Movement, something dynamic and technical - just please no bouncing balls or people picking up boxes, they’ve been done to death and they reek of inexperience.
  • Character animation. A chance to show off your skill, imagination and creativity as a designer, perhaps a series of clips showing the design process.
  • Perspective. Something realistic, showing off your eye for detail and your ability to do more than just character work.

Don't skimp on the music. Make it something positive or inspirational with no lyrics and a precise, predictable beat which you can map your edits to easily and effectively. You'll get hired in no time.

Do you need to know how to draw to be a good animator?

Not necessarily but it certainly helps, especially if you’re working for a smaller studio where lots of jobs in the animation pipeline are your responsibility. Design, character creation, storyboarding and other artistic elements of putting an animation together will be impossible for you if you can barely cobble together a stick person.

3D animators or stop-motion professionals can get away with limited drawing skill, however, in such a competitive industry, those who can draw will likely be snapped up before those who can’t. Fortunately, there are loads of roles in an animation studio that don’t involve drawing, so it’s not the be-all end-all.

What kinds of jobs are there in a typical animation studio?

In a large studio? Loads. As I said earlier, in smaller studios, distinct jobs in the animation pipeline will be covered by less people who are performing multiple roles. Some of these roles include:

  • Producer - The boss of the studio who has to contend with the budget, scheduling, sourcing of materials/software/hardware and making sure that the project keeps developing creatively and efficiently.
  • Animation Director or Creative Director - This is Dan for us! The co-ordinator of all the creatives essentially. They ensure that the project meets the scheduling and budgetary requirements demanded by the production team and still comes out with the levels of quality, style, continuity and technical aspects necessary.
  • Scriptwriter - Writers and editors will work closely with directors, clients and vocal talent during production from before even the storyboarding phase to nail down the dialogue.
  • Character Designer/ Developer - This is a job for the truly creative people out there: devising the characters that you’ll see in an animation, sometimes all the way through concept creation to assisting in the modelling process.
  • Storyboard Artists and Assistants - Responsible for sketching out, shot by shot, exactly how they want the animation to look.
  • Modeller/ Model Maker - Responsible for creating characters, props and environments in a three-dimensional space, be it digital, clay or similar
  • Rigger - They give the model its ‘skeleton’ with all the joints and handles so that they can be easily manipulated by the animators
  • Animator - Pretty obvious really, they create animation and visual effects
  • Texture Artists and Digital Painters - They use an arsenal of hair, scales, wrinkles, freckles, moisture and other textures to ‘texture map’ or wrap these textures around the meshes and models to give them depth, complexity and realism.
  • Lighters or Lighting Technical Directors - They make sure that the lighting, mood and colour balance is consistent throughout a shot or a scene.
  • Inbetweener - the people who literally provide the poses in between the key poses of an animation sequence to aid the illusion of movement, a great entry point to animation.
  • Compositor - The brave souls who bring everything together at the end of a project. Their job often involves making sure levels are consistent, adding motion blur, matching colours, finishing shadows, rotoscoping and keying where necessary.
  • Voice Over Artist - Usually freelancers, every studio has their faves though
  • Sound Designer - Responsible for everything audio, they’ll sometimes source music or compose themselves depending on scale and budget of production
  • Studio Manager - Someone to keep house, the bills, insurance, supplies, procurement, that sort of thing
  • Runner - Usually unskilled and not an animation-specific role but still a vital way for some to get into the industry

Where do you find inspiration for your animation?

Taking a walk or musing in front of a mood board is great when you have creative block, but for real inspiration: the internet is a wonderful place. Our favourite spots are:

There you have it, the animation FAQ. Still got some burning animation questions for us? No sweat, just give us a bell or email us for a chat.