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So You Want To / Be an Animator

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So, you want to have a job in the virtual part of film? There are many types of animation. 3D, Traditional, Stop Motion, Flash, Pixel, and more. Once you get past the very different ways they're made, the steps taken to make them are fairly similar. Let me explain.

1# Make the Backgrounds First

When modelling or drawing a scene, you may be tempted to do a character first. That's one of the most common places to start, but another good place to start is the room they're in, because that gives you a size reference for everything else there in other words, it's easier to make characters and objects in an environment than it is to make the environment around the character.

2# Don't go to the Next Stage Until the First One is Finished.

This one applies especially to 3D animation. 3D animation is split into several parts: modelling (making objects), rigging (letting them be animated), animating (making them move), texturing (applying colors and patterns), and rendering (filming). These in turn are split into multiple smaller stages, but what's important is that you don't, say, try rigging a model and then going back to continue modelling it. This tends to turn what you're creating into something like a patchwork of "completed" and "uncompleted". It saves time and effort not to leave a stage until it is finished.

3# Don't be Constrained by Realism

If you can model or draw realistic characters, by all means go for it, but reality is not a scale on which success is measured. In fact, "realistic" is just a style of drawing, like cartoonish, chibi, anime, stick figure, photo-realistic, etc.; just because something isn't realistic don't mean it isn't good. Also, caring too much about "looking real" can lead to Uncanny Valley due to a few things out of place, which leads us to #4.

4# Remember That Little Things Can have a Big Difference.

Little dislike-able things stick out like a sore thumb unless the entire scene is the same style. You can't ignore these things. There's blooper reels, but there's no reels for "looks normal". People write about Uncanny Valley, but no one mentions "realistic but not photo-realistic".

5# Use Reference Images.

Human memories are amazing things, but they're also ridiculously flawed. If you want to follow rule #4, you're going to need a frame of reference for anything you do, even if it's not overly realistic.
That said, there's only so much reference images can do. They show an object, but from only one angle. Unless you have dozens of images, you're going to need a mental frame of reference too.

6# Consider Your Target Audience.

There is a big difference between PBS Kids and [adult swim]. One has to think about what is appropriate for certain ages.


Watch other people's work
  • Remember, others have put up a lot of work and have done this for a long time. Watch some animations online, look at what they did to accomplish their work.

You won't be popular immediately

  • You won't get noticed as soon as you put up your work. You have to wait for others to see it. Don't go around trying to push it down people's throats. They'll just think you're desperate for attention.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

  • It's better to ask for help over one single problem, than have it accumulate into a fiasco because you tried to fix it yourself.

If it's too much, stop

  • Know your limits. If you can't figure out something, just put the mouse down, step back, and do something you enjoy. It won't go anywhere, so just take a break, and it'll be there when you come back.

Take breaks

  • You have other needs besides your work. Monty Oum made Dead Fantasy while balancing a job, a girlfriend, and two weekly sessions at the gym. Make sure you're rested and ready for your project, otherwise you'll just burn yourself out.

Don't give up.

  • The most important bit of advice. Animation is no simple feat, but don't be afraid of the difficulty it presents. Rome wasn't built in a day, after all. Just keep persevering, stay focused, and you'll be able to watch your work with a smile on your face, and proudly say "this is what I can do".