Animation Schools So You Want To Be an Animator – Building Your Career
It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these. We’ve covered a handful of positions on this series. Designers, producers, developers. But there are still plenty of other roles that we haven’t touched on yet. And this happens to be one that I have got six years of experience working with. Today we’re gonna talk about what it takes to be a professional animator. Also our guest artist today is animator Michael Azzi. So say hello! ♪ ♪ So what does an animator do? We are essentially puppeteers.
We take inanimate objects be they clay figures, digital character models or drawings on paper… And we create the illusion of life and motion. We’re also actors in a way. You may never see us performing on camera… but every animated character you see… is an extension of the animators, voice actors and the motion capture performers behind them. We are all about crafting movement and performance. Transforming that inanimate object you’re looking at on screen… into a living thinking character you adore. Okay, so how does one become an animator? Where do you start? My first piece of advice to you is to acquire a specific book… go pick up “the Animator’s survival kit” by Richard Williams. Just about every animator I’ve ever met knows this book, and probably owns it. It’s one of the best books available on the fundamentals of animation. It mostly describes things in terms of traditional hand drawn techniques but the principles it covers apply to every form. Speaking of which you should decide what kind of animation you want to do. What style interests you? Computer animation? Traditional? Stop-motion? Pixel animation? What medium do you want to work in? Film? Games? Visual effects? Do some research.
Learn how these different formats of animation work. The same fundamental principles apply to all of them but each medium has it’s own specific workflows and challenges. Knowing what kind of animation you want to do is gonna help you equip yourself with the necessary skill-set. Now you don’t have to go to school for animation to become a great animator. But there are a lot of good schools out there. The top north-American four-year colleges I usually hear about are: “Cal Arts” in California. “Ringling” in Florida. “SCAD” in Georgia. And “Sheridan” up in Ontario. All of them are great schools but they can be pretty expensive.
If that’s not the route you want to take, but animation is something you know you wanna do.. and especially if you want to be a 3D animator… then I highly recommend: “AnimationMentor”. It’s an online only trade-school that you can enroll in from anywhere. Their course is excellent, it’s taught by exceptional animators who are all currently working in the industry. It’s less expensive then most four-year programs And their graduate employment rate is pretty darn impressive. And there are other online courses like it, and I recommend looking into those too but: “AnimationMentor” is the one that I can personally vouch for from experience. But ultimately when it comes to choosing a school…
I always recommend looking at the animation work of its students. Because the quality of the average student’s reel will say a lot about the quality of the program. Better still, find out each school’s graduate job placement rate. That will give you a good idea of how ready a school’s graduates are for working professionally. Which is important because animation is a pretty competitive field. There are a lot of people out there trying to do this for a living. And you will often be competing with people who have WAY more experience then you do. So the quality and the creativity of your work needs to stand out, if you want to get those job offers. As with most artist professions, the strength of your portfolio is what’s gonna get you hired. Look up the reels of accomplished animators working in your desired field. It will not only give you an idea of what a good demo reel should contain… but also show you a quality target to aim for. They may seem out of your league right now, but that’s okay. Setting a high bar for yourself, will serve you well.
Alright so that was a lot of talk about schools and jobs and such. But lets get back to the craft itself. What makes a good animator? How do you get better? A good animator is always studying movement. We are analytical, always on the lookout for interesting walks, and interesting facial expressions. And always trying to figure out how we can replicate them… exaggerate them. So observe people. Learn to analyze the intricacies of their body language. Watch video footage of an interesting movement, frame-by-frame… to study the body mechanics involved in producing that movement. In fact, recording yourself performing the action can be really helpful too. As acting it out yourself will help you to better understand the physicality of that movement. A good animator also studies acting. I mean how are you gonna make a character give an interesting acting performance… if you don’t know anything about acting yourself? Now you don’t have to be a good actor, but it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you have a chance take an acting class. And make a habit of studying actor performances in films, so you can learn from the best.
Watch movies and plays, build a ever expanding library in your head of interesting performances. Noting how they made you feel and why. A good animator also studies other peoples’ animation… but it’s very important to remember that studying real life should always take priority. Ultimately, reality is the source that all animators draw from. We exaggerate it and we stylize it. An animation is one animators interpretation of reality. So if you’re only analyzing other animators interpretation and not the source that inspired them. The only thing you’ll know how to replicate is someone else’s interpretation. And your work is going to become derivative. That said, it can be very useful to learn interpretation tricks from the greats who came before you. To dissect how they stylized reality, so you can find ways to better do so yourself. A good animator is aware of what their animation needs to achieve in the greater context of the project and how to adapt their work accordingly. A good film animator understands the purpose of the shot they’re working on as it relates to the film.
A good game animator knows when it’s more important for a character movement to look good or when it’s more important that it feel good during play. A good animator avoids cliches. They always look for the most interesting choice. Rather than the most obvious, predictable one. A good animator doesn’t necessarily have to be able to draw. I mean, unless you want to be a traditional 2D animator, in which case… yeah, you kind of need to be able to draw. Still, even for a computer animator, drawing can be a useful complementary skill to develop. A good animator is also a team player. Animation is usually a collaborative craft. If you’re working in games or movies, you’re likely to be part of a large team, and it’s important that you be someone people enjoy working with. Someone who can cooperate, take direction, offer supportive criticism, and just play nice in general. If people like working with you, finding work will be a lot easier. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a good animator always pushes themselves to keep getting better.
You will never hit a point where there is no growing left to do. Even the best animators in the world are still learning and improving their craft every year with every project. In fact, that’s why they’re the best. As one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with told me, “You will never reach the top climbing this mountain, because there is no top. You’ll see a ledge above you that looks like the top from where you are, but once you finally get yourself up there… that’s when you’ll see the next cliff face waiting ahead. So just take a moment to celebrate how far you’ve come, and then start climbing again.” I hope that’s cleared up what an animator does, and given you a place to get started. If you’re interested in hearing me talk more about animation, I’ve been making a semi-regular series… over on extra play analyzing the animation from numerous games, giving small animation 101 lessons, occasionally answering some of your animation questions.
In fact, I’m releasing a new set of episodes on Monster Hunter’s creature animation just this week, so I’ll put a link at the end. ♪ Thank you for watching, thank you again to Michael Azzi for the guest art this week, ♪ and to my fellow animators, happy climbing. ♪ ♪ .
As found on Youtube