Unlike you and me, Buzz Lightyear wasn’t born in a day. In fact, the charismatic space cadet from Toy Story cherished by children everywhere was intricately designed on a computer screen by an army of animators. That adored astronaut is actually just a series of still images manipulated to create the illusion of movement.
And it’s not just children’s movies either. Animators play integral, behind-the-scenes roles in action-packed blockbusters like Transformers, high-octane video games like Halo, trendy television commercials and much more. How would you like to be a part of such exciting projects on a daily basis?
In such a specialized and competitive field, it’s important to be sure you’ve got the chops to succeed before investing your time and energy into pursuing a career in animation. To help get you up to speed with the industry, we compiled some need-to-know animation information for you.
What does an animator do, anyway?
Animators, also known as multimedia artists, create special effects, animation or other visual images using computers or other electronic tools for products or creations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
As you know, animators help create television shows, movies and video games. But besides the obvious, there are many lesser-known instances where animation is used. “I grew up thinking that animators all worked for a movie studio or cartoon show studios, and it is simply not the case,” says Jordyn Bowers, 3D Animator for InventHelp.
"Animators are everywhere."
“Animators are everywhere,” Bowers explains. “Animators do commercials, motion graphics, special effects, advertisements on the internet, medical explanations, recreating crime scenes for forensics … there are too many to list!”
One of Bowers’ roles is to create videos of 3D renderings and computer-generated animation to illustrate the main function of an invention idea. These Virtual Invention Presentations give viewers a better understanding of how an invention would work.
Some other unique examples of animation jobs include designing animated graphics for websites, producing simulations for military practices and creating virtual tours of building architecture or model homes. Put simply, animators do a lot more than just create cartoons.
What are some characteristics of a successful animator?
If you’re considering pursuing a career in animation, the next step is to determine if you have the innate qualities that lend themselves well to the profession. Knowing this information ahead of time will help you avoid wasting time and effort if it’s not the right fit for you.
“Animation is no easy task,” Bowers says. “It is tedious and a longer process than generally perceived.” She emphasizes that animation is a mixture of art and science. In order to thrive, you must have an artistic eye but also enjoy breaking things down to see how they work. “Animation is often the combination of understanding mechanics and making them artful,” she adds.
For example, a non-animator might not notice the stranger in line ahead of them at a coffee shop. But a true animator sees details and might analyze that individual—from their posture and facial expressions to the way they walk and talk.
Another key to success is having the patience and creativity to plan your projects well. “The layout is the piece of work where I find myself thinking creatively the most,” Bowers says, adding that the pacing of an animation can determine whether it will feel pleasing or cringe-worthy. “This all depends on the amount of planning involved beforehand,” she explains. “I enjoy placing the puzzle pieces together in the order that will best represent the product.”
Additionally, animators should possess an observant eye, as well as the willingness to continually improve the way they observe form and space. “The traditional methods of animation in the education process are extremely important,” Bowers says. “Animators have to have a great understanding of a form in 3D space, whether it be transferring that manually or digitally.”
What are the technical skills needed in animation?
Perhaps you’ve discovered you possess the natural characteristics needed to succeed in an animation career. But you’re not quite in the clear yet. Those qualities are useless if they aren’t accompanied by the requisite technical skills for animation.
In order to give life to their creative ideas, animators must utilize both the artistic right and analytical left side of their brains. You’ll need to possess the perfect combination of practical skills and software savvy to flourish in this field.
Skill in animation itself is a must. “3D animation skills are very key to animation at the moment,” Bowers says. “Becoming skilled in programs such as 3DS Max and Maya are important to furthering yourself in the field.”
We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 8,000 animator job postings from the past year.* The data revealed the top 10 skills employers are seeking in candidates.
Here’s what we found:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Indesign
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Acrobat
- UX wireframes
- User interface (UI) design
- 3D modeling
Don’t be intimidated by the list above. Many of these skills are covered in the curriculum of an animation program.
So … are you up for the challenge?
Bringing dynamic images to life is an exciting job, but a career in animation isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Many animators work long hours, including nights and weekends, to adhere to strict deadlines. But if you’re passionate about animation and determined to succeed, the high-pressure, fast-paced environment shouldn’t faze you one bit.
If you’re ready to take the next step, visit our animation and motion graphics degree page to learn how we can help prepare you for success in the field.
If you’re still not sure this is the right path for you, check out our article "6 Signs You Should Be Working in Animation."
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 7,959 animator job postings, February 01, 2016–January 31, 2017).
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in September 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.