Nearly everyone has seen some animated sequences in their life, whether it was in a science
class filmstrip or a Saturday morning cartoon. Animators create sequences of motionbased
art that tell a story or communicate a message. Some animators are graphic artists who
draw “cells,” which are individual pictures that are strung together to create the illusion of
motion. The majority of animators are computer or “technical” animators, whose jobs require
less graphic design expertise and more familiarity with animation programs such as the
Macromedia Director and other, less commercial ones than those of graphic artists.
Nearly all animators work as part of a team
and have a specific area of specialization. The
low pay can be a difficult obstacle to overcome.
Another more formidable obstacle is the constant pressure to produce work to others’ specifications
and then rely on their approval. For creative people, this can be constraining. An
animator works on certain characters, scenes, or sequences; but others have the job of assembling
these pieces into a coherent whole. Scripting and planning are critical to success for the
“large picture” animator. Most animation jobs are in commercials (of which more than 20
percent have animated sequences) and cartoons.
Many animators spend their own money (between $5,000 and $125,000) to produce
short animated movies that showcase their talents and then enter these in animation
competitions with the hope of gaining exposure and financial rewards. These festivals
have grown in reputation and importance over the past 10 years, and it is considered a significant
feather in one’s cap to have received an award at one of them. Some animators
begin their own production companies and recruit funds to develop their own animated
products, usually for either foreign markets, sample shorts, or animation festivals.
As in most fine arts fields, no formal education or training is required; if you are talented
and are able to get your work viewed, you stand a reasonable chance of finding a job. But
it is extremely difficult to achieve the level of professionalism expected in this industry without
study. A bachelor’s or graduate degree in graphic design with an emphasis on computer
skills is extremely helpful in getting interviews or portfolio reviews. Certain universities offer
specific semester courses in computer animation on Oxberry Animation cameras (the kind
that filmed Fantasia) or using Silicon Graphics computer workstations with 2- and 3-D software.
Most important for an aspiring animator is that your work be of exceptional quality,
and to that end, many aspiring animators intern or work for little pay to learn the craft from
established animators, game designers, and programmers. As with most creative fine arts
fields, the number of people wanting to become animators exceeds the demand; therefore,
open positions are competitive. The rate of success in the field is low, but those who do
achieve it are extremely satisfied.
Producing animated sequences is like producing any complicated art-and-technology
product, so many people who leave the profession move into the realm of software development
and design. Some continue on to work on mainstream movies, cartoons, commercials,
illustrations, or any area that emphasizes their strongest animation skill.