Careers in Animation

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					Careers in Animation                                            

A career in animation requires strong artistic skills and a solid familiarity with the latest
in computer animation technologies. It also requires the ability to turn creative thoughts
into compelling images, using them to effectively communicate an idea. Is this industry
right for you? Could you become an animator?

                                                  There are a number of different career paths for
                                                  animators. We often think of animators as the
                                                  talented artists who create the cartoons we love,
                                                  either for film or movies. Animators continue to
                                                  work in these areas, but increasingly, many are
                                                  employed creating animated graphics for a variety
                                                  of projects, including websites, online
                                                  advertisements and video games.

Animators can find full-time employment with movie or television production companies, with
advertisers, web design firms, video game companies or with animation firms. Free lance work is
another option for animators, particularly those specializing in web animation. Most entry-level
positions will require an animator to have a bachelors degree in a related field such as fine arts or
media. There are a number of animation schools that offer course work specifically in computer
animation and associated technologies. In addition, a strong portfolio of work, which a training
program can help you to develop, is an essential part of landing a job in computer animation and
becoming an animator.

Movie & Television Production: The full spectrum of animation in these areas is quite large. Jobs
may include character animation in the form of a cartoon, logo, special effect and more. In case you
haven't noticed, 3D really has taken off in the realm of computer animation and animation in

Movies such as Lord of the Rings, Finding Nemo, the latest Star Wars prequels are all relying
extensively on 3D computer animation. What would have looked fake and rigid a mere 6-7 years ago
now looks photo realistic and seamless for 3D rendering and animation. A program like Maya can
spit out amazingly detailed and convincing characters like Gollum (seen below), Ring Wraiths, and
an insane amount of fighting, screaming Orcs. Exciting techniques involving motion capture can
really add to the realism of characters. It really is an exciting time to be in the industry. Texture
mapping, lighting effects, collision detection and special effects also need to be covered.

TV also offers a fair amount of opportunity in computer animation. Commercials are littered with
animated logos, cats that sing, and bottles that dance. : ) Local News always has an animator of
some kind doing the logo fly in or that kind of thing. There are also TV movies, and obviously shows
that rely on a computer artist to do some digital special effects. Some may start their animation
career this way.

Video Game Animation: The Video Game Industry is just exploding right now, with no slowdown in
sight. Nearly all games will need a team of animators to bring the games to life. Motion capture
often is being used here as well as in movies to nail down convincing character animation. But there
is still a lot of work involved obviously. This is where you could come in. : ) But this of course is one
narrow example. Texture mapping, lighting effects, and other special effects are just as important to
the success of a video games attempt to draw you in and immerse you. It might sound like many of
the same elements in a feature film. That's because technology is closing in the gap, and the paying
consumer demands more.

The Internet: More and more, you are seeing animated advertisements dance across your screen
as you're on the Internet. You go to a movie site or a band site, and you have a very good chance of
seeing a flash animation. Much like other media industries, the Internet is expanding at a mind
boggling rate. And with it comes new websites and advertisements that need a way to stand out.
Static images don't always cut it, so why not get the attention of the viewer with animated
characters or text?

                                              An Outlook on the Computer Animation Industry

                                              In 2002 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that
                                              salaried animators and multi-media artists (grouped
                                              together) earned an average of $43,980. In the video and
                                              motion picture industry the median salary was higher, at
                                              $58,840. As with every career, the salaries animators
                                              earned varied greatly with their employer and their

Computer animation, like many creative fields, is fiercely competitive. As the web, the entertainment
industry, and other multimedia outlets continue to grow, there continue to be opportunities for
talented artists to work as animators. But you really need to get the proper training at a strong
computer animation school to be on that cutting edge that these employers seek. Not only do
you get hands on training with the best equipment, but you also rub shoulders with those who know
the industry well. This is just as important as the training itself.

If you are artistic, have an eye for detail, can meet tight deadlines, then maybe an
animation career is what you have been waiting for. Do YOU have what it takes to
become an animator?

*Artists and Related Workers (2004) Bureau of Labor Statistics []

Animation Studio

Any animation studio, whatever the difference in the techniques they use, work in basically the same
way, and have to work through the same processes to produce animated films.

      It all starts with the generation of an idea and its development. A member of the studio will
       sponsor an idea for a film or a product, and will take it through a selection procedure. If it is
       adopted, (and that's a big if) this idea will start to be fleshed out giving a storyline and some
       scenes. These are further developed by producing storyboards, similar to strip comics, which
       start to capture the "look" and feel of the movie and many of the characters and scenes. This
       process finishes by making "reels", video mocks of the cartoon, to see if it stands by itself. If
       it doesn't flow or work, it's back to the drawing board.

      The art department then starts to work on characters, making 3D computer models and
       adding animation. They produce backgrounds, sets which have to be dressed, and then
       scenes can be cut - characters animated - the Pixar studio likens this to using puppets, ready
       made and then movement is added. Maya is a common and popular tool in the animation

      Voices are recorded, often with several different cuts and then a selection of the best fits will
       be made. Music and other sound effects are worked on.

      The scenes are polished - shading, lighting and illumination added to give a deep and realistic
       feel to the animation, and finally they are "rendered" - all the layers of technical information
       are put together to form the frames. Any remaining technical issues are resolved at this
       stage, and the final film is ready for release.

Whether a movie is made in a Pixar studio or a Disney studio, the process is the same. Animation is
big business, and the technical process is extremely sophisticated. The demand and stress are high
for all involved, but the end result can be something quite exceptional.

Animation History Timeline

Animation history really starts with the production of Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie in France in 1908. The
animation timeline then starts to progress with several films being produced during the next twenty years;

Gertie the Dinosaur, produced by Winsor McCay and distributed to commercial movie theaters in 1914 being a
land mark during this period.

In the 1920s and 1930s Warners, MGM and Disney studios developed cartoon techniques, producing more and
more sophisticated cartoons using traditional animation techniques of producing complex backgrounds and then
imposing moving figures on them with celluloid, a transparent film.

                                             Disney was especially innovative, adding sound in 1928 and
                                             producing the first full length animated film in 1937 - Snow
                                             White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Computer animation started to change animation techniques and animation history during the 1970s and
1980s. In 1982, the Star Trek Film "the Wrath of Khan used computer animation techniques to generate the
Genesis Effect scene.

The 1990s saw the beginning of the impact of computer animation, with different techniques being developed
from Toy Story, the first computer animated feature, Babe, a combination of live and computer animated
effects and the formation of Dream Works. This animation timeline continues in the new millennium with Shrek
and Shrek2, The Lord of the Rings, and many more to follow.

The Animation Storyboard

The animation storyboard is the first sight of what a cartoon or piece of animation is going to look
like. The animation storyboard looks like a series of strip comics, with individual drawings of
storylines, scenes, characters and their emotions and other major parts of the movie. The drawings
will reflect the early ideas of what characters will look like, what the backgrounds and scenery will be
some idea of dialogue, emotions ,and a general feel of the animation process.

                                         Storyboards are very important, as they form the basis of the
                                         work that is carried out on the movie, describing most of the
                                         major features as well as the plot and its development.

Animation storyboards are also the coordinating vehicle of the film, taking the place of the script,
and allowing different teams of people to work on different aspects and scenes in the movie. A
studio like Pixar will have thousands of storyboard frames like the one shown here.

The finished movie may not always conform to all aspects of the storyboard, but they will document
many of the early developments in the movie. They are often the first step of the animation process,
as they show the first views - albeit static - of the animation process.

Animation Software

Animation software has gone through a major evolutionary cycle during the last ten years. Different
packages have concentrated on different aspects of animation, or have looked at a particular set of
applications that can benefit from their software, and so there is considerable market differentiation
between different animation software.

Perhaps the package that most people will have come across is Macromedia Flash. The software is
aimed at animation on the web, and has become the most popular package, mostly because it has a
quick download time and is very robust. 3D Studio Max has become very popular for the video
games market, although it is beginning to make headway in film production.

Alias/Wavefront produces Maya, a very powerful and complex 3D graphics program. This is primarily
aimed at the experienced computer animator, and produces professional modeling, texturing,
animation, rendering and paint effects. Because it is so complex, Maya takes a great deal of time to
become proficient in its use, but the level of professional results makes this investment worthwhile.
All of the high end films use Maya in one way or another. This is the workhorse application in the
animation industry.

There are many other animation tools on the market, but if you are considering a career in
animation, it is worthwhile remembering that animation software is simply a tool to use, you need to
know the basics of animation and design, and you will generally need good drawing skills - expertise
in animation software is no substitute for these skills.

Making of the Visual "Wow" Moments in Movies

The use of special effects in movies is revolutionizing not only the visuals that you see, but also the
kind of movies that can be produced. Who could have considered filming Lord of the Rings before it
was possible to give a life-like rendition of Gollum, or of the fall of Isengard?

Most if not all of these special effects are produced by computer, combining the ability to capture
pictures digitally, thus allowing relatively easy manipulation of the element of each frame; and the
advent of very powerful graphics packages which make the creation of animation that much easier
and more effective.

If you are one of the people who have been captivated by these new special effects, you may be
considering the possibility of working in this area, and want to attend special effects school. You
would learn about the new filming techniques, and about the "rendering" process that allows the
image additions and manipulations which give the photo realistic effects that you see on screen. You
will need real creative talent - computerized special effects are a form of graphic design, and they do
not substitute for the artistic input from the designer.

A school offering a special effects program is a great way of learning the tools of this career, and
will give you a qualification that will allow you to enter this interesting new career area.

Motion Capture Technology

Motion capture technology is a good example of how digital techniques are being applied to the
movie (and related) industries to allow more convincing visualizations of imaginary or composite
images. For motion capture you use human actors who are dressed in a leotard with integral
reflective or magnetic markers. The actor performs the actions that are required, and the digital
cameras - or array of cameras - capture the motion of the reflective markers.

Computer Processing with Human Intervention

                           You subject the data to a computer process that converts this motion into
                           a composite figure. You then modify this composite figure by normal
                           computer animation software.

                           The end product gives the effect of an animated character acting directly
                           with human actors. Gollum, in the Lord of the Rings, was shot in this
                           fashion, giving an absolutely life-like image of a composite character.
                           That guy on the left here? That would be Gollum, or at least the
                           movements of Gollum.

Motion capturing techniques are very effective, but the computer processing needs much human
intervention, and if there is any error in the data, you can find it more effective to re-shoot the
whole scene rather than correct the data. However, motion capture technology is so much more
effective and realistic than traditional techniques, and ultimately less time consuming, that its future
looks assured in movies and in video games.