The animation industry is a key part of the film industry and is expanding, especially as the need grows for animated content across the internet and the current popularity of animation with audiences.
The film industry is a magnet for some of the most talented and creative people around. It's one of the few established industries where you can be creative and earn a decent wage at the same time. These two appealing factors make it highly competitive and so to succeed in it you need to be at the top of your game.
Animation requires a particular set of skills, combining various disciplines, that require technical, creative and personality know-how. So do you have what it takes to be an animator? And if not, how can you get it? In this blog we'll look at some of the key skills required.
Desire to Learn
The role of the artist is to interpret the world around us and create a representation of it. For the animator, this challenge is both daunting and exciting. It requires imagination to take reality and create something fantastic. With no rules and no limits, the animator has the freedom to make something special and unique that no-one has seen before. Being able to think outside the box and approach a project differently can push it towards greatness.
Every filmmaker is, at heart, a storyteller, and this is particularly true for an animator. The difference between an animator and a filmmaker is that animation has an even greater emphasis on visual storytelling. So as well as the ability to come up with a good story and create a good script for it, you also need to translate that story into a visual language.
As an animator, you need to have a basic understanding of how a story works. There are many great books out there to read in order to gain an understanding of storytelling and screenwriting but my personal favourite is Story by Robert McKee which is a fantastic place to start.
In the early days of animation, when most of it was created by hand, it was hard to do the job if you couldn't draw. These days hand-drawn animation has been largely replaced by computers and drawing skills replaced by computer graphic skills but having basic artistic talent is still necessary and having great talent can help push your work to the very top level. A decent animation course should provide you with the basic skills you need to create a quality animation where you can learn about drawing & composition, colour theory, storyboarding, design principles and turn your raw talent into practical application. Some specialised forms of animation like stop-motion need model-making skills too and there is still demand for hand drawn 2D animation. Niche skills are always in demand but it may be harder to get work with them. The modern animator needs to combine artistic talent with computer skills. This can be self-taught but some form of educational course combined with industry experience is where those skills become focussed and of a professional level.
Doing what you love and getting paid for it is a rare combination in life, but in animation it's possible. But it's no cakewalk. It requires hard work and long and unpredictable hours. If you're looking for a cosy 9-5 job, animation probably isn't for you.
So a key requirement is passion for animation and that passion will get you through a lot of obstacles. Passion for art, passion for creating, passion for pushing yourself as far as you can go. Every challenge can be the desire to achieve your goals and the rewards for achieving them are huge.
Creating an animated world from scratch requires not only the ability to visualise it, but also to figure out the rules of that world. To do that you need to understand some basic laws of physics: the trajectory of a ball when it is thrown, the speed at which an object falls, the impact made by a car hitting a wall. Add into this mix the basics of motion, rhythm and timing - how things move.
Of course when you understand these laws you can break them. That's the beauty of animation. But unless your world has a thought-out logic to it (however illogical it may be), then the viewer will not be able to immerse themselves in it. An understanding of light, shadow, texture and colour theory is also important. This attention to detail can make the difference between good and great animation.
You may be working on your own but more likely you will be working as part of a skilled team, each with their own specialised area of expertise. Such a working dynamic requires a specific attitude - friendly and outgoing but also focussed and serious.
Working on projects to tight deadlines can be stressful - last minute changes are often required, budgets are cut and impossible demands will be demanded. So in this high pressure environment you need to keep your cool, choose your battles wisely and be prepared for plenty of compromises and disappointments.
Self-motivation is crucial, whether working alone or as part of a team, and the desire to go the extra yard will always help you create something special.
In the UK, over half of animators are self-employed or freelance and this number is the same for most countries. So you need to be able to hustle and sell yourself well at meetings, parties or festivals where networking is a vital step in building up your contacts and expanding work opportunities.
Being an animator involves mastering many skills. If you are working on your own or are early in your career, being an animator also means being a director, scriptwriter, cameraman, lighting, production design and more.
With such a heavy emphasis on computer-based animation and with new software and hardware constantly being released, it's important to stay up to date with what's going on or risk being left behind.
Every new project you take on will require you to learn new skills or improve existing ones so look at every project as a learning curve to better yourself and your skills.
Every software programme you learn and master gives you a key to open a new door in the corridor of life - the more keys you have, the more doors will be open for you to explore. Some of the most important software skills to know are animation fundamentals, motion capture, character rigging, motion capture, 3D rendering, game design, visual effects etc.
To do well in animation, you need a combination of talent, technical proficiency and personality traits. Some of these you are born with, some you can teach yourself. Always push yourself, never settle for mediocre and find the element of animation you love the most (and are most talented at), and focus on that.