French artist Émile Cohl produced the first film using animation, by using pictures of a stick figure moving around. Since then, animation software and techniques have moved forward at a lightning pace.
Animation has moved into so many areas of the culture. News, TV, films and video games all rely heavily on animation and animators are at its heart.
What is an animator?
Animators create multiple images (or frames) which create the illusion that the photos are moving. Animators will also cover areas such as hand-drawn pictures, digital photos, puppets or models to create the piece.
The key six areas of animation are:
- 2D animation
- 3D animation
- Motion graphics
- Stop motion or frame
- Visual effects (VFX)
Computer-generated and model-making animation is also popular now. Computer-generated animation is widely used in films, special effects, TV, video games and the internet industries.
Registration with professional industry organisations can be hugely beneficial.
Whether you want to be a 2D artist or work with motion graphics, the skills rely heavily on your artistic ability. However, with technological advancements, there is a need for animators to now be familiar with computer software.
An animator has a wide range of responsibilities and must work across various products and software. The main responsibilities for an animator are:
- Collate and report on data.
- Create storyboards.
- Design models.
- Drawing in 2D.
- Liaise with clients.
- Liaise with graphic designers and environmental artists.
- Liaise with heads of departments.
- Liaise with script supervisors.
- Use different software such as Cinema4D, Softimage and UnrealEngine.
- Work to production deadlines.
- Work to production deadlines.
Animators may have other areas of the production process they are involved in too. Recording dialogue with actors and working with editors is part of the role to create the various layers of the piece is a common responsibility. If you move into a senior role, you may be tasked with training new animators and managing their team.
The salary for an animator will depend on two key points. Where you work and who you work for. Those who work in London tend to command a higher salary than those outside of it. Working for large-scale animation houses or publishers will mean you can command a far greater salary than working freelance or for a less-established company.
The starting salary of an animator is generally around £24,0000. This animator salary can also include potential bonuses, but this will depend on where you are working. Typically, after a few years experience, an animator and VFX artist salary can reach as much as £35,0000.
What you decide to do next will impact your earning potential. For instance, a lead animator can earn as much as £52,0000. If you decide to move into areas such as game development or design, your earning potential can increase, though you may need to hold specialised qualifications in these areas.
A degree is not essential for this role, but is highly recommended. An undergraduate degree would be best, however, employers have been known to accept those with a foundation degree or a higher national diploma (HND).
The best subjects to study for an animator at university are:
- 2D animation degrees
- 3D design degrees
- Animation degrees
- Art and design degrees
- Computer-aided design degrees
- Graphic design degrees
- Illustration degrees
- Information technology degrees
- Multimedia degrees
- Spatial design degrees
Postgraduate qualifications are not essential, but can potentially grant you a higher entry point into the industry. Salaries can also potentially rise if you have a postgraduate degree.
Training and development
Training and development will be handled by your own company, although you will be expected to find some courses too. Some companies may require you to complete a continuing professional development (CPD), although, as this is not a regulated industry, it is not an industry requirement.
Animation is a competitive industry, and most employers ask to see a showreel of your previous work.
Registration with professional industry organisations can be hugely beneficial. They can provide CPD-assistance, lectures and networking events for those who need them. Most animators tend to register with organisations such as Cartoon (European Association of Animation Film) or the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA).
Animators need several key skills to be successful in their role. This is a role in which you are learning new skills all the time and sharpening the ones you have.
The most common skills needed for an animator are:
- Artistic talent.
- Excellent eye for detail.
- Excellent written and oral communication skills.
- Good storytelling skills.
- Networking skills.
- Technical skills.
These skills can be further honed through training and development. Animators also should be great at networking, be passionate about their projects and be able to juggle more than one task at once.
Animation is a competitive industry, and most employers ask to see a showreel of your previous work. Whether you’ve worked with advertising, production companies or on TV and film work during university, you should include all your best pieces. If you want to apply for a junior animator role, then sending out showreels to potential employers is good practice. Showreels should be short and exciting; the first few seconds are vital.
Work experience can be easy enough to find at pre and post university levels. You likely won’t be entrusted with any big pieces initially, but you will be able to shadow other animators as they go about their day-to-day tasks.
Animators create multiple images (or frames) which create the illusion that the photos are moving.
Most employers rely more on your portfolio than any prior work experience. Work experience is helpful; however, employers tend to put more stock in ability over experience.
Most animators start off by working as a studio runner and then swiftly move into a junior animator role. In 2D animation, animators may start as an ‘inbetweener’ before moving on to a key framer. In 3D animation, you tend to begin as a junior animator, then a senior animator before working as an art director, environmental artist or design manager.
As you move into more senior roles, you will be responsible for staff management, budget controls and generating animation ideas. A lot of animators progress through freelance work where they can build their reputation and contacts as well as gain experience in a variety of specialisms. You can also choose to change your specialism and work in a different area of animation, or to go down the teaching or lecturing route after obtaining experience.