Deciding what career field to pursue can be both challenging and exciting. A lot of time, effort and money go into acquiring the skills and training that’s needed to launch a new career. Before making a big commitment, it’s helpful to know that you’re pursuing a profession that suits your personality and natural characteristics.
Animation is certainly an appealing field to anyone who has spent hours doodling sketches of their favorite cartoon characters. But there’s a difference between being a fan of animation and actually being suited for the job. The industry is both creative and technical, so it requires a unique blend of abilities. There is no one-size-fits-all description of a perfect animator, but there are definitely some common characteristics that many animators share.
We enlisted a few animation pros to help us identify some inherent qualities that may suggest you’re cut out for a career as an animator.
You should consider working in animation if…
1. You’re naturally curious
Lots of people spend their days fighting boredom and blindly conceding to the people, circumstances and scenery in their lives. But that’s not you. When you are at your best, you can find a way to be interested in almost anything. The list of your hobbies—or the list of hobbies you wish you had time for—is a long one, and when you learn about something new, a spark of excitement lights up in your mind.
“The best animators are curious,” says William Gadea, creative director and founder of IdeaRocket LLC. Whether it presents itself in your job through the actual content you’re inspired to create, or in a less-direct way, curiosity will serve you well in a career as an animator. Gadea adds that if you are bored by what you are doing, it’s going to show. Curiosity keeps boredom at bay and provides ample opportunities for finding inspiration.
2. You have a purposeful, artistic eye
Maybe you were the kid who doodled elaborate pictures and stories on the side of your math homework. Or you were always drawn to artistic disciplines and hobbies. Good design catches your eye, and that penchant for knowing what’s aesthetically pleasing goes a long way in animation.
“An animator should be an artistic person,” says Anastasia Vasilieva, animator and designer for Animatron. Vasilieva says animators need sophisticated design ability paired with close attention to detail and a love for narrative.
Storytelling ability should not be overlooked—a good-looking design being brought to life with animation is great, but it’s even better when it is done with purpose.
3. You are analytical
Do you have a fondness for science? Do you love logic and order in your world? When you are making a decision or solving a problem, do you use rationale to come to your conclusions? Are you curious about how things work? Analytical thinking is so often associated with the sciences, but it’s an important part of animation as well.
“An animator should have an analytical mind,” Vasilieva says. “Animation includes software knowledge to create various animation artwork with desktop and online tools. And it also requires curiosity and constant observations to understand how things work and move to express this knowledge in animation.”
Since the art of animation is drenched in the digital world, technology is a huge part of the job. Understanding the building blocks of technology—and science—generally comes in handy.
“Even if animated objects move in an exaggerated way, they still follow the laws of physics,” Vasilieva says.
4. Deep concentration comes easily for you
Maybe you can lose yourself for hours in a drawing or a book. Or maybe you find yourself following a fascinating topic on Twitter without missing a thing. No matter what it is, if something catches your interest, you can lock in and give it your full attention.
In animation, this is a vital skill. The overall process of creating a series of images that move seamlessly takes a lot longer than most could even fathom. Gadea says the ability to concentrate for a long period of time is key in animation. If you struggle staying focused even on projects you enjoy, this will likely be a barrier.
“As animation requires much effort, lack of diligence and attention would be the main obstacles to succeeding,” Vasilieva says. While you may be intimidated by the idea of that much careful, technical work, most animators find it rewarding to see what they spent hours drawing come to life.
5. You have a good sense of humor
Do you love to joke around with the people in your life? Do you appreciate comedy and the subtle motions and gestures that push jokes over the top? If you do, bring that sense of humor along in your animation career.
Animation is often associated with humor in a very direct way according to Vasilieva. When you think of it, you probably picture cartoons. “Emotional empathy with a good sense of humor would really help a person to create engaging and appealing animations,” she says. Animators have an excellent sense of body language, expression and gestures—and often the funniest people know how to exaggerate these visual cues for added effect.
“The sense of humor is another way of expressing creativity,” says Tigran Manukyan, CCO of RenderForest. Even beyond the animation itself, Manukyan says it’s much easier to work with people who have a good sense of humor and some spontaneity. For situations where you will work with a team of people, your sense of humor can add to the group chemistry.
6. You are passionate about what you make
You never could tolerate putting your name on a sloppy piece of art or a half-hearted project. When you think of design or animation, you feel excitement to get going, an itch in your fingers to bring an idea to life. No matter what other traits you have or don’t have, passion for the job is what truly makes or breaks an animator.
“The most important trait by far is passion,” Gadea says. “If you’re obsessed with making good animation, you will get better, because you will always come back to the computer, model or piece of paper.” Passion will make you keep trying and practicing. Passion will keep you at your work, making it as stunning as possible.
“If you don’t have the passion it’s going to be hard to get the practice needed to make yourself highly employable,” Gadea says. Though you might have to hustle against many different animators in the beginning of your career, time will likely eliminate those who are not passionate about the craft. But if you love animating, there are ways to stand out right away.
Gadea advises students to make their own films and put them up in a portfolio. “By becoming better acquainted with the entire animation pipeline, you will perform your narrower task set better. When I see personal films on a site, it tells me that animator has a passion for their art.”
What moves you?
If you find that the characteristics described above resonate with you, you may be destined for work in animation. But even if some of these don’t quite fit you, it doesn’t mean your dreams of an animation career are ruined.
“In terms of talent, it's a mistake to think that you have to have it all,” Gadea says. “I can’t draw, and I’m not a great designer either, but I’ve got pretty good timing, and I’m a good storyteller, so I’ve been able to contribute to teams that way.”
Animation might be the perfect career to let you leverage some of your natural qualities in a creative career you can enjoy. But animation is not a job made of purely soft skills. Technical ability is a must, which means possessing these traits is only the start. If you’d like to learn more about what you’ll need for a career in animation, check out our article, “Do You Have What It Takes for a Career in Animation?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in August 2015. It has since been updated to include information that is relevant to 2017.