Do You Have What it Takes for a Career in Animation?

Career in Animation

Unlike you and me, Buzz Lightyear wasn’t born in a day. In fact, the charismatic space cadet from Toy Story cherished by children everywhere was intricately designed on a computer screen by an army of animators. That adored astronaut is actually just a series of still images manipulated to create the illusion of movement.

And it’s not just children’s movies either. Animators play integral, behind-the-scenes roles in action-packed blockbusters like Transformers, high-octane video games like Halo, trendy television commercials and much more. How would you like to be a part of such exciting projects on a daily basis?

In such a specialized and competitive field, it’s important to be sure you’ve got the chops to succeed before investing your time and energy into pursuing a career in animation. To help get you up to speed with the industry, we compiled some need-to-know animation information for you.

What does an animator do, anyway?

Animators, also known as multimedia artists, create special effects, animation or other visual images using computers or other electronic tools for products or creations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

As you know, animators help create television shows, movies and video games. But besides the obvious, there are many lesser-known instances where animation is used. “I grew up thinking that animators all worked for a movie studio or cartoon show studios, and it is simply not the case,” says Jordyn Bowers, 3D Animator for InventHelp.

“Animators are everywhere.”

“Animators are everywhere,” Bowers explains. “Animators do commercials, motion graphics, special effects, advertisements on the internet, medical explanations, recreating crime scenes for forensics … there are too many to list!”

One of Bowers’ roles is to create videos of 3D renderings and computer-generated animation to illustrate the main function of an invention idea. These Virtual Invention Presentations give viewers a better understanding of how an invention would work.

Some other unique examples of animation jobs include designing animated graphics for websites, producing simulations for military practices and creating virtual tours of building architecture or model homes. Put simply, animators do a lot more than just create cartoons.

What are some characteristics of a successful animator?

If you’re considering pursuing a career in animation, the next step is to determine if you have the innate qualities that lend themselves well to the profession. Knowing this information ahead of time will help you avoid wasting time and effort if it’s not the right fit for you.

“Animation is no easy task,” Bowers says. “It is tedious and a longer process than generally perceived.” She emphasizes that animation is a mixture of art and science. In order to thrive, you must have an artistic eye but also enjoy breaking things down to see how they work. “Animation is often the combination of understanding mechanics and making them artful,” she adds.

For example, a non-animator might not notice the stranger in line ahead of them at a coffee shop. But a true animator sees details and might analyze that individual—from their posture and facial expressions to the way they walk and talk.

Another key to success is having the patience and creativity to plan your projects well. “The layout is the piece of work where I find myself thinking creatively the most,” Bowers says, adding that the pacing of an animation can determine whether it will feel pleasing or cringe-worthy. “This all depends on the amount of planning involved beforehand,” she explains. “I enjoy placing the puzzle pieces together in the order that will best represent the product.”

Additionally, animators should possess an observant eye, as well as the willingness to continually improve the way they observe form and space. “The traditional methods of animation in the education process are extremely important,” Bowers says. “Animators have to have a great understanding of a form in 3D space, whether it be transferring that manually or digitally.”

What are the technical skills needed in animation?

Perhaps you’ve discovered you possess the natural characteristics needed to succeed in an animation career. But you’re not quite in the clear yet. Those qualities are useless if they aren’t accompanied by the requisite technical skills for animation.

In order to give life to their creative ideas, animators must utilize both the artistic right and analytical left side of their brains. You’ll need to possess the perfect combination of practical skills and software savvy to flourish in this field.

Skill in animation itself is a must. “3D animation skills are very key to animation at the moment,” Bowers says. “Becoming skilled in programs such as 3DS Max and Maya are important to furthering yourself in the field.”

We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 8,000 animator job postings from the past year.* The data revealed the top 10 skills employers are seeking in candidates.

Here’s what we found:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Indesign
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • UX wireframes
  • Prototyping
  • User interface (UI) design
  • JavaScript
  • MAYA
  • 3D modeling

Don’t be intimidated by the list above. Many of these skills are covered in the curriculum of an animation program.

So … are you up for the challenge?

Bringing dynamic images to life is an exciting job, but a career in animation isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Many animators work long hours, including nights and weekends, to adhere to strict deadlines. But if you’re passionate about animation and determined to succeed, the high-pressure, fast-paced environment shouldn’t faze you one bit.

If you’re ready to take the next step, visit our animation and motion graphics degree page to learn how we can help prepare you for success in the field.

If you’re still not sure this is the right path for you, check out our article “6 Signs You Should Be Working in Animation.”

* (analysis of 7,959 animator job postings, February 01, 2016–January 31, 2017).

6 Signs You Should Be Working in Animation

working in animation

Deciding what career field to pursue can be both challenging and exciting. A lot of time, effort and money go into acquiring the skills and training needed to launch a new career. Before making the commitment, it’s helpful to know you’re pursuing a profession that suits your personality and natural characteristics.

There are certain qualities that lend themselves well to working in animation. The industry is both creative and technical, so it requires a unique blend of abilities. There is no one-size-fits-all description of a perfect animator, but there are definitely some common characteristics that many share.

We enlisted a few animation pros to help us identify some inherent qualities that may suggest you’re destined to be an animator.

You should consider working in animation if…

1. You have a vivid imagination

Maybe you were the kid who doodled elaborate pictures and stories on the side of your math homework. Or perhaps you envisioned castles and fortresses when observing the fort you built out of blankets and cushions. Whatever it looked like, imagination is incredibly important when working in animation.

“[Your imagination] is your playground,” says Aelee Vang, motion designer at Collegis Education.* “It’s where your ideas come from, where stories are weaved and characters are born.” He believes this is what differentiates average animators from great ones. Your imagination helps your personality shine through in your work.

2. You’re extremely patient

Patience is an art we all strive for, but it seems to come naturally for certain people. The ability to tolerate waiting, listening and focusing for long periods of time is valuable when working in animation. The overall process of creating a series of images that moves seamlessly takes a lot longer than most could even fathom.

Vang explains that a full-feature, traditional animation running 90 minutes would equate to about 129,600 frames you would need to draw out individually! “You can imagine the time needed finish something of this scale,” he says.

While you may be intimidated by the idea of that much careful, technical work, most animators find it rewarding to see what they spent hours drawing come to life.

3. You can work both individually or in a team

Does your idea of an ideal Friday night include staying at home with a good book or going out to a crowded concert? If you enjoy a little bit of both, you’re in luck! Most animation projects will require some blend of working in a group and flying solo.

“People think of animators as these desk junkies who draw constantly and never need to come into contact with other humans,” says Alexander Ruggie, former production assistant on The Cleveland Show. He says this is a false assumption.

Ruggie explains that animators are consistently working with others – from the directors and editors to the writers and sound designers. At the same time, you’ll frequently be expected to work in isolation to execute certain tasks. So if you find yourself in the middle of the extrovert-introvert scale, this might be the career for you!

4. You enjoy learning

The world animation is constantly evolving. New techniques and software are being introduced each year, so animators must be willing and able to grow and adapt with the landscape.

“There are now applications for animation beyond standard entertainment,” says Anthony Sims, senior instructor for the Rasmussen College School of Design. “This will only continue to be the case as the future continues to bring new concepts for how we interact with media and the world around us.”

Animation is used in a variety of ways, which means animators are needed in several fields. More and more industries are discovering the power of animation and incorporating it in new, innovative ways. So if you’re always up for a challenge and eager to learn new things, the fast-paced nature of the animation industry won’t faze you one bit.

“We live in an era where even a bus stop can have an animated poster, so who knows what the future will bring,” Sims adds.

5. You have impeccable attention to detail

You’re notorious for noticing the smallest slip-ups in movie scenes and you can easily determine if a video is real or fabricated. Though it may irritate your friends and family, this quality is critical in animation.

“Animation doesn’t have to be realistic; it just has to be believable,” Vang says. The angle of an elbow or the bat of an eyelash can make all of the difference in bringing a lifeless drawing into motion. This meticulousness is monumental for anyone hoping to become an animator.

6. You have an eye for exaggeration

“Motion shouldn’t be boring,” Sims says. “An animator’s enemy is the mundane.”

If you’ve always had a knack for making things bigger and better, working in animation may bode well for you. Sims says animators must make movement interesting and impactful by exaggerating aspects of the animated movement.

“You need to know just the right movements to enhance to make something move in a way that is appealing to the eye,” Sims adds.


‘Loving Vincent’: 6 Facts About The First Oil Painted Animated Feature

After years of blood, sweat, and tears — not to mention lots and lots of paint — the world’s first fully-oil painted feature film, Loving Vincent, was completed last month. It was announced yesterday that the film will screen in competition at Annecy in June.

Through 65,000 painted frames, the film recalls the challenging life of Vincent van Gogh, as well as his mysterious death. Production was in the hands of Poland and U.K.-based Break Thru Films, known for their Oscar-winning animated short Peter and the Wolf (2006).

"Loving Vincent" directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela.
“Loving Vincent” directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela.

Cartoon Brew spoke via Skype with Loving Vincent’s directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to learn more about this unique production.

1. 125 animator-painters worked on the film

That was never the plan though. It took longer than expected to get the funding sorted out, while the film’s release date stayed the same. The filmmakers ultimately had no choice but to hire more people for a shorter amount of time. Luckily the Loving Vincent recruitment teaser went viral with over 200 million views, resulting in around 5,000 applications from painters and animators all over the world.

An intense three-day audition in Gdańsk, Poland followed. While travel expenses couldn’t be covered, people still got on planes from places like Australia, Canada, and the U.S., just to potentially be a part of the unique production.

Anna Kluza, one of the first animator-painters hired to work on the film.
Anna Kluza, one of the first animator-painters hired to work on the film.

Almost none of the film’s animators had a background in animation, but were rather classically trained oil painters. “There was no way we were ever going to find enough painting animators,” said Welchman. “And also the thing with painting animators is, very often they have personalized styles, and it’s not necessarily the case that they’re classically trained painters…We needed people who were very pure oil painters.”

2. The film was completely built up from original van Gogh paintings

In all stages of pre-production, the directors stayed as close as possible to van Gogh’s view on the world. Kobiela explained that this was possible due to the fact that more than any other painter, Vincent painted what was physically around him and shared his reality with the viewer: “His paintings represent such a big range of subjects; his room, his objects, his shoes, his best friends, his favorite bar. Together, they kind of naturally created the storyboard.”

Painters training to work on "Loving Vincent."
Painters training to work on “Loving Vincent.”

While 94 original van Gogh paintings could be used pretty much as-is, another 40 had to be reimagined for the screen. Many of Van Gogh’s canvases were 1.33:1, but some were long and thin, so they had to be adapted to work for film. Sometimes, like in the case of “Marguerite Gachet at the Piano” (1890), research would be done to add the left and right parts to the original painting. Other times a camera movement within the painting would be used, like with “Café Terrace at Night” (1888), which received a vertical pan in the movie.

In special cases paintings had to be changed from day into night, and sometimes seasons or weather needed to be altered. Welchman emphasized that while the film’s frames stayed close to the original paintings, they are not faithful copies. “They can’t be,” he said. “There’s a difference between a static single image and a dynamic art form told over time. We spent one year reimagining his paintings for the medium of film, trying to be as faithful as possible, but also adapting them so that they could move.”

3. Rotoscope was used for most of the animation

Sixty minutes of live-action reference material was shot over 12 days. “That’s even faster than soap opera,” Welchman joked. “Coming from an animation background, the advantage is that you’re pretty used to a 1:1 ratio. You’re used to planning everything very, very meticulously. You can’t afford not to.”

Actress Saoirse Ronan on the set of "Loving Vincent."
Actress Saoirse Ronan on the set of “Loving Vincent.”

For each shot the original painting served as a sort of mask on top of the live-action material. Finding the right balance between those was quite the challenge. “Van Gogh had a very interesting way of capturing things,” said Kobiela. “It looks like he used a long and wide lens at the same time. Perhaps it was like that because he used to paint in one position, and then walk around and change [his position]. This way he’d capture the essence of the thing with a very bizarre perspective.”

Actors Chris O'Dowd and Douglas Booth on the set of "Loving Vincent."
Actors Chris O’Dowd and Douglas Booth on the set of “Loving Vincent.”
4. Throughout production, the movie was updated with the latest scholarship on van Gogh

Kobiela and Welchman read pretty much all there is to read about the painter. A new discovery in the book Van Gogh’s Ear (2016) “pretty much conclusively” proved that he cut off all of his ear, rather than part of it, Welchman said, and they ended up repainting around 3,000 frames of the film, in line with the latest scholarship.

5. The film’s budget is $5.5 million

That figure is a pretty average sum for a European feature-length animation, but it’s rather amazing when you consider the laborious technique used in this case. Funding was made up from 40% pre-sales, 40% private equity, 15% government funding (Polish Film Institute, U.K. Tax Credit, Media, City of Wroclaw), and 5% from production house Break Thru itself.

Painters training to work on "Loving Vincent."
Painters training to work on “Loving Vincent.”
6. Out of 65,000 painted frames, just 1,000 survived

After finishing the painting of each frame, animators had to remove the full painting with a spatula. Consequently, just a fraction of the hand-painted frames survived. An exhibition of 200 paintings is currently being put together, to go with the release of the film. The other 800 paintings are being sold online.

Loving Vincent will be released in Europe and Asia starting in late 2017. No North American distributor or release date has been announced yet. For more information about the film, visit

How to Change Your Career from Graphic Design to UX Design

If there’s an occupation that is 100% linked with the public’s idea of what design is all about, it’s graphic design. From the familiar golden arches of the McDonald’s brand to the typography and colors of movie posters, graphic designers createsome of the most iconic and ubiquitous designs around us. So why would a graphic designer like you want to change your career to UX design? Well, for one, much can be said about the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment derived from getting “under the hood” of the products you work on rather than working on the exterior. Furthermore, according to PayScale, the average salary for a graphic designer in the United States is $41,000(1), but the same for a UX designer is a whopping $74,000(2).
Continue reading “How to Change Your Career from Graphic Design to UX Design”