How to become an Animator
Animation is a highly skilled craft and form of art.
To learn how to become an animator calls for personal study, scholastic, and on the job training to be a professional animator.
First comes skills. You need to know art. How to draw, even with computer animation that is a new and profitable way of animation, the ability to use one’s drawing skills is paramount. The best computer animation is done by artists who have strong drawing skills. Computers can never replace hand drawn animation as it is too specialized.
Next you need to evaluate your animation skills and decide if you need to go to school. Some courses can teach what you know in condensed classes or in years like a four year college. There are a few venues in the US and abroad. In Japan for example there are several options. In the US you go to a combination of learning venues like college, short courses, one on one study, and on the job training. On the job training is highly valuable as it has you showing the staff that you have the skills, discipline and know how to make it in the industry. It short cuts the process and puts the animator in contact with the pros and administrators.
In the colleges or schools you will meet some pros and up and coming animators. These relationships are valuable as if you make friends they’ll be part of your growing education and career. College and schools are fine but if they don’t teach the ins and outs of the business side you’ll have to learn that on the fly which can take years.
The studying doesn’t stop with college or the job. Animation is an ongoing creative process. Once you’ve go the hang of it and are working in some form of the industry you need to keep your position and rise up the ranks if possible. Some people are cut out for various parts of animation. Some are what are referred to clean up artists or in-betweeners. They act as artists with a special skill the lead animators count on to make the artwork look polished and complete. Often these people strive to be lead animators and if done right they advance to that stage.
As we can see, becoming an animator takes years of study and relationships with people in the field. That study is something of great intensity as this form of art is very grueling and intensive. Animators spend unreasonable hours hovering over their desks. Twelve or more hour days are quite common and in some countries 18 hour days with breaks for eating. It’s dangerous and is a point of concern of the work place related watchdogs out there. Add to that the amount of time it takes over the years to study anatomy, perspective, animals, plants, machines, architecture and more and the animator’s plate is quite full of a repertoire of skills and tools no other artists except perhaps comics artists can understand or would want to.
Now you have to understand that the animation industry is very close knit. It takes knowing someone to break in. Sure the companies will look at your portfolio or reels but excellence doesn’t secure a position or job. Lots of controversy here. Some pro animators are just no good and won’t want to hire someone who might displace them on the job. Others will jump at the chance to get a top talent on the team and that might get you in the door but securing a job for long term is another matter.
The animation market isn’t the same as it used to be. Animators are hired seasonally now and then asked to return after a lengthy hiatus or even longer. So being an animator is one thing, keeping a living going is another. Lots of years of training might just go to waste if one doesn’t have one’s own outlet for one’s talents. That’s where the web comes in.
Many animators have gone to producing their products for the web or for clients. There’s lots of work out there but might not be as much as the big studios pay. That being said at least it’s an alternative.
Finally, being an animator calls for a lot. It’s lucrative for the big studios but not always for the animator. Do your research, do your studying and you’ll find where you belong.