Do you enjoy telling a story through moving graphic images? If so, you might be thinking about pursuing a career as an animator.
There’s been a boom in animated feature movies at the theater, short films, television shows, commercials, and social media. Don’t forget the popularity of video games, which also relies on top-quality animation. It seems this realm is continuously growing—and with it, the need for quality animators.
The field of animation is not a new one. Still, much of the technology used in today’s productions is on the cutting edge, making it an exciting career path to consider. For those of you already on this journey, you may have a plan—but it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re still on the correct path.
If you’re just thinking about a career in animation, you might want some pointers on where to start and what it takes to succeed. Let’s look at what animation is, what abilities are required, and the steps you need to take to make this career a reality.
What is an Animator?
An animator is a person who creates animation. Animation is the art of creating the illusion of movement through a series of rapidly-displayed images. Those images can be drawings, photos, or computer images—techniques that have been used and developed by artists rapidly as the art form has evolved.
Animation has been around forever. Crude forms have been around since ancient times. The first animations on film originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, created by filming a series of pictures or clay figures.
The word animation comes from the Latin word animare, which means “to bring life into.” In essence, an animator brings life to inanimate objects or drawings by making them appear to move and interact with one another.
What Does An Animator Do?
Most modern animation is now done on computers. You may not think of computer-generated animation as a series of pictures, but it is. The pictures are drawn on the computer screen at a fast enough rate that they appear to be moving. While computers draw the actual images, a modern animator needs to know how to use computer animation tools.
This will involve a deep knowledge of computer graphics and graphic design software. You should also learn traditional skills such as drawing, storyboarding, and even acting methods. Why acting? An animator must know how to create expressions, movements, and sounds to tell a story the same way a movie with real actors would.
Why Become An Animator?
As an animator, you might work in a variety of different industries. While film and television are the most popular, you can also be involved in creating video games. In fact, animation extends to many other areas such as education, law, healthcare—just about any space that uses stories created by moving images.
The great thing about being an animator is that you combine art, storytelling, computer expertise, and more into one career. And opportunities in this field are growing exponentially.
What Skills Do You Need?
As with any career, some specific skills and talents are required. Most of them can be learned. Keep in mind that not every animator will be great in every area. Having a majority or even some of these abilities is usually good enough to get you started. Just put in hard work to improve or make up for the areas you may be lacking in.
Below are some of the skills you should cultivate as an animator.
Having basic art skills is essential to becoming an animator. Natural artistic talent can be a real plus, but it isn’t a necessity. Most modern image creation is done with computers, a skill that combines the artistic with the technical. Having drawing and painting talent can give you a great advantage, but the important thing is visualizing the images you’ll use to tell a story.
You’ll need to come up with ideas for stories and then tell them through your work.
Basic Writing, Communication, And The Ability To Express Your Ideas
Communication is essential to any career, but it is extra-critical in animation. You’ll need to clearly express your ideas in detail and communicate them to others. Even though your final product may not involve written text, you’ll need to create scripts, storyboards, and other written communications. You then need to translate those ideas into an animated product.
Basic audiovisual knowledge will be necessary for you to create, edit, and produce animated video products.
Computer Knowledge, Technology, and Tools
Even if you’re creating hand-drawn or claymation type animations, at some point, you’ll need to use a computer and applications to get them into production.
Modern animation uses a lot of technology, so knowledge in this area can go a long way. Learning how to use available tools and applications is essential. If you want to read more about some of the tools available, browse our section on animation.
While this is a largely creative and artistic field, you will want to have some ability to use logical thinking to deal with decisions and technical matters.
Creating animated videos and films takes a great deal of patience. It can take weeks just to produce a 30-second video.
Ability to Work as Part of a Team
Almost all animated productions are put together by a team. If you have ever watched a Pixar or Dreamworks animated film, look at the credits and the movie’s end. It takes a ton of people to make a feature film! Even if you work on smaller productions, you’ll likely be working with a group of animators and other technicians.
A Good Eye For Art And Framing
You will need to be able to distinguish what looks good and works on the screen. How does the story fit into the frame of the screen?
A Good Ear For Sound And Scoring
You will also need to learn how to match soundtracks and voices up with the video. The audio and visual must work together to create one artistic piece.
Animated productions don’t just happen overnight; they take a ton of planning. You will need to be an expert at planning and delegation.
Producing animated video takes a variety of technical skills. However, you’ll need to be creative to come up with new ideas to attract viewers.
Ability To Receive Criticism
You will need to be able to listen to and learn from critics. It’s one of the best ways to improve yourself.
Steps to Becoming an Animator
As you can see, there are many skills and talents that you will need to become an animator. While some of them may come naturally to you, most can be learned, so don’t worry if you’re not an expert at everything listed above. Let’s take a look at the basic steps you will need to follow to achieve your animation dreams.
1. Get an Education
Getting an education can be important for any career. While it’s not absolutely necessary, it goes a long way towards getting you started. A bachelor’s degree from a 4-year college can be a great asset, but an associate’s degree from a technical college still might get you where you need to go. Many animators choose to study art, then focus on computer programming, filmmaking, or other areas that help with animation.
Some technical and trade schools have programs specifically for animation. It focuses on the things you need as an animator and is designed to get you on your way to a career quicker than a 4-year college. Usually, they’ll also help you find work to get started when you graduate.
Either path is a great choice. It really depends on you, how much time you want to spend in school, and whether or not you wish to study a broader curriculum. In any case, a quality education will give you a good jumpstart in your career.
2. Set Your Goals
What type of animation do you want to do? What areas do you want to specialize in? Where or what kind of company do you want to work for? These are all things that you will start thinking about as your animation journey begins.
I know it can be hard to make these decisions in the early stages, but don’t worry too much. It’s okay to change your goals as you learn and grow—just make sure that you have something you are working towards to see your progress.
3. Create And Build a Portfolio
As you learn and build skills, start creating your portfolio. This will be a collection of your best work that you can show off to potential employers.
4. Master Your Skills
Continue honing your talents and finding the areas you are best at. Work on improving the ones that you are lacking. Make sure you are proficient in all the metrics we listed above, as well as any others you learn about along the way. Use your education to your advantage; don’t just try to get through it. Learn from it.
5. Look for Work
You can begin looking for work at any time. If you’re comfortable working while going to school, you might want to look for internships, apprenticeships, or any type of entry-level job even before you finish school. You need to get your foot in the door, so any gig that gets you into the business is a significant step.
If you have to start out as an assistant or even just running errands for other animators, use that opportunity to learn the business and observe how the experienced animators do their jobs. Start at the bottom and work your way up!
6. Make Connections
Whether in school or at a job, be sure to connect with those you’re working with. Connections in the industry go a long way in providing you future opportunities. You never know when your friend or colleague will get hired into that film company you always wanted to work for. They may give you a recommendation or help you get a job.
7. Stay on Top of Technology And Trends
Always continue learning. Just because you finished school doesn’t mean you stop learning. Technology and trends are constantly changing, and you need to stay on top of them if you want to be successful.
8. Find Your Dream Job
Use your education, portfolio, work experience, connections, and perfected abilities to find your dream job.
The world of animation is a wide-open field with many opportunities, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. You will need a variety of skills, talents, commitment, and a lot of hard work. Along with some confidence and determination, you can soon be creating animation in the job of your dreams.
Let us know your plans and experience in the animation world. We would love to hear from you.