Where to start in animation?
If you find yourself drawing pictures and you think you’re pretty good, then this is a great place to begin learning to animate. It is possible to forge a career in animation if you can’t hand illustrate very well, but it is certainly more straightforward if you can.
Learning to animate takes time, as you need a range of skills and program knowledge in order to achieve the effects you are trying to create.
Animation can be an expensive thing to pay for, but rest assured this goes towards the years of painstaking practice and learning a good animator must complete in order to help others dream up their ideas and bring them to life. Add to this the cost of the software needed, such as Adobe After Effects and Illustrator, to complete the job.
2D and 3D Animation
2D animation is the classical style, it is where animation started and it is still used to this day. Increasingly the line between 2D and 3D is becoming blurred as animators create 3D assets and treat them stylistically so they appear 2D. So 2D and 3D animation today are more closely linked than ever. Add to this the increasing capabilities of digital technology which can help speed up all aspects of the animation process and you find that animation is an exciting skill indeed.
The basic principles of animation are widely taught when doing a full animation course, they are summed up as follows: Squash & Stretch, Anticipation, Staging, Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose, Follow Through and Overlapping Action, Slow In and Slow Out, Arc, Secondary Action, Timing, Exaggeration, Solid drawing, Appeal… But to really understand these principles, you are best to watch this very helpful video!
Modern software packages use ‘keyframes’ to create animated content. Two or more keyframes are created at points on a timeline and then the software calculates the in-between frames (or ‘tweens’) for you, speeding up the animation process greatly.
Adobe Flash/Animate CC
If you wanted to learn animation on your own, you could start with one of the more straightforward programs like Flash (now Animation CC) and see how you get on applying the basic principles of movement to static objects.
The process of making an animation is as follows: the animator will receive a brief, or a concept or a theme. This then translates into a rough script and style frames. This is then followed by a storyboard and potential animatics (timed stills). Once this is approved the assets can be built and the animation can commence. Then add your final audio and you’re done!
A little tip for conceptualising ideas is to use tracing paper and a light box, using the layers to create the sense of movement. This is why it is useful to hand draw ideas first before moving onto the computer. The technique is known as 'onion skinning'.
Considering a career in Animation?
Animation can be a great career path as it offers endless opportunities to be creative and there’s always an opportunity to keep learning new tricks. It is worth noting the career projection that an animator can work towards. An ‘Animation Director’ is what many animators will aspire to be. These are the people – at large studios like Pixar – who conceptualise the narrative and style of the piece and then handover the actual animating work to an animator to create. Though in order to direct animation, most if not all directors would have started life animating themselves.
Do you need a degree in animation? Not necessarily, many animators have degrees in illustration or graphic design. Some gain MAs later in life which are more geared towards animation. But ultimately it’s your showreel that you need to work on.
The real value for an animation agency or studio looking for an animator, lies with the experience the animator has. Qualifications are great, and if there is a degree in animation to your name then you are doing well. But your showreel will ultimately show what you can do. It is vitally important to show your best and most engaging work. In the early years, you should practise in your free time to help build up your portfolio.
The best animators are often those who have spent the time to gain experience. It is worth noting that qualifications give you the chance to be introduced to programs used in the animation process via the resources at the university studio for instance.
Jobs in Animation
Jobs in animation will primarily lie in design or animation studios, it is highly unusual for a large company to have an in-house animator as it is such a specialist skill. Therefore, you should take any opportunity you have to animate and if you can get that in your current place of work then jump at the chance. That will lead to more experience and then the chance to work directly with an animation/design studio.
Don’t be afraid of learning to design in 3D – as mentioned above, a 3D shape can really speed up the 2D animation process. Use programs like Cinema 4D to bring 2D designs to life.
There is a plethora of courses on offer in the UK and abroad of courses on offer around the UK/Europe/USA, more than ever in fact and that is down to the increasing move towards digitisation. Digital media is now firmly at the heart of culture especially in the developed world and the ability to creatively engage people in that medium means there is a push for more talent within creative media.
Getting started with animation software
There are a wide range of available programs to create animation. A few industry standards are Flash (now renamed to Animate CC) and After Effects. They offer a wide range of broad tools to create most types of animation. These can be coupled with design programs like Illustrator or Photoshop and Cinema 4D, which will help to build the components you will use to make the animation.
There is also a much wider range of specialist software you can use such as: Autodesk Maya/Softimage/3DS Max, Blender, Toon Boom, TV Paint and many more.
In a nutshell, the world of animation creation has never been more accessible to enter. There is a raft of intelligent and creative software that when coupled with a creative mind can produce some incredible animation.
Animation can be costly to those that want to use it. That is down to the amount of time and effort it takes to generate the skills needed to dream up animation sequences people will pay for.
Also, the skill of animation is highly useful to many creative agencies and studios, as it suggests that the animator has the knowledge to use a wide range of creative programs and applications.
Typically illustrators translate their skills well to animation. Though if you are creative, have an eye for detail, are willing to learn software and use the basic principles of animation, you are already on the right track to make a great animator.