10 Steps to Becoming an Exceptional Animator
I am an artist animator director, a creative manager passionate about content publishing to facilitate knowledge-share throughout my over 25 year journey with animation.
When watching animated movies, it is common to wonder: “How does one get to work for these movies? It looks like a dream job, working all day creating lovely things.” Well, they are right. The job of animation is a dream job that largely depends on the magic the animator brings to the screen, eventually making his/her dream come true to be in a dream job.
I am sure it is on most people’s minds: “How does one become a great animator!?” Well I mean a real animator without using an app that has been created with the help of artists and animators for R & D. These tips are if you need to do animation from ground up .
1. Master the Art of Drawing
Whether born with a natural talent to draw or not, practice helps fine-tune your drawing skills fit for an animator. Practice drawing anatomy, plants, animals, learn dimensions, composition, perspective, etc.
Like you can see in my drawings here, I was that nerd dreaming a dream of an animation career back in the 1980s. It was an exciting time studying about human forms, muscular structures in our body, was like taking my science class to the next level. Only this time I enjoyed it, because I finally knew my purpose in doing it.
2. Be a Spectator to the Wonderful World Around You
When I say observe, I mean observe casually and not stare to annoy people so much so as to land a nice sharp slap.
So let yourself experience the day-dreaming routine where many a fantasy image is born by thinking of nothing with just the noise of the breeze.
Hang out outdoors and observe people, living things, inanimate objects, gestures of people in public places like restaurants or in the park, children playing, dogs running, and people’s expressions. Try to imagine what they are thinking or talking purely for artistic reasons.
Watch their movements and take an outdoor sketch tour just to practice your quick sketching skills.
The zoo is the simplest and most cost-effective way to find your animal references. You can take your time, study their movements, sketch from time to time, and have a fabulous time while doing your research.
There is no better reference than our natural surroundings: produce markets, malls, sports events, etc.
3. Look at Other Great Animators’ Works and Accomplishments
There have been some fine animators in the traditional and computer animation category, from the early 1900s to today. Refer and follow their reviews closely to study from their best practices. Again, generate your own style.
There’s always more pride in churning out original works than producing derivatives or copies of others’ works or using automated apps to make your animated videos and call it your own creation. Even if this is done with no fore-thought, it’s perhaps due to lack of exposure to a work ethic, and it can be viewed as fake even though it can get a pat on your back just because of an award endorsing it as meritocracy. It’s not how much earnings we make of a certain art that we make through hook or through crook or by paying for ads to generate non-organic traffic with a hope to earn us loads of revenue or “fake” following, using any short-cut method and not needing to ever own up to the bought fame with paid votes. Just because Picasso’s quote says “A good artist copies and a great artist steals” I don’t want to think I came out of such a philosophy and experience a fake fame. One can cherish the joy of being a speck in the dust with dignity than have a prestigious passport to success. Due to careless and unethical practices noted, it can forever tarnish all the integrity you may have built-up for yourself.
Today in the Internet age, one cannot erase the records of any wrong-doing. So even if you repent, the copies of one’s bad ethical practices can never be erased once registered online.
Animation Events and Organizations to Check Out
- Ottawa International Animation Festival
North America’s Largest Animation Event!
- Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market
Major International Event for Over 13,000 Industry Professionals
- FMX: Stuttgart, Germany
Conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Interactive Media
- ACM SIGGRAPH
The Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques
4. Have a Demo Reel or Showcase of Your Work Ready
Whatever your specialization, even an animator-generalist needs something to show others. When you present your biography, animation is one field where, just like a swimmer, your skills cannot be judged by your certificates or degrees. You have to show what you can do.
In the case of the field of animation, it is mandatory to have a montage or compilation that you can show your audience or whoever might be interested in hiring you or working with you.
You can get an idea of how I showcase my works in animation from time-to-time based on my specialization, which sometimes is based on a majority requirement from a sub-sector of the market. It must be a way-of-life to makeover your reel at least every 6–12 months to keep to the trends.
5. Network and Mingle With the Community
As far as networking is concerned, showing up and participating at technical conferences related to animation is a very good idea. Mingle with the community, pass on your demo on flash disks or business cards with your portfolio URL there, or even load up your reels on your Smart Phone.
You never know when somebody wants to look at your work. It may perhaps happen with an elevator speech. You must be ready for any situation. You could be another success story. What if Steven Spielberg happens to sit beside you at your coffee table at one of the conferences? Yes, it is possible for that kind of thing to happen in any of these conferences that I have named for your convenience. It happened to me several times when I was at SIGGRAPH. A celebrity animator may just be at a book sale event, and they could get into a conversation with you.
I have met people who were TDs (Technical Directors) for movies like Titanic and Speed, and I even met the inventor of the famous module in 3D Studio Max called “Character Studio”, and the inventor of raster graphics for example back in the 90s at one such event, much to my excitement then. And it was a pleasure for me to pass on my demo reel to them when I received the privilege to be requested of one.
Animation Groups to Check Out
- Animation Meetup Groups — Animation Meetups
Helps groups of people with shared interests plan meetings and form offline clubs in local communities around the world about animation
- NYC ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter
The New York City chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH
6. Master the Techniques of Animation
Master the technology behind the art of computer animation. Get to know something through self-study or a course at a reputed training center to become an expert in all of the software popular in the industry.
There are millions of tutorials and forums on the subject on the Internet for absolutely free, anyway and of course mentorship programs too. I have had the pleasure of mentoring many aspiring animators for the early 2000s. Mentors do keep learning from their mentee’s curious questions too. So it is highly unlikely that you will get lost, because wherever you turn you get learning resources very easy to come by. These are the days where internship programs are plenty.
7. Turn Up in the Right Place at the Right Time
Whenever I visited Los Angeles at one time, I was sure I could get many free treats. After 8 pm, everyday the Hollywood area is filled with free lectures, evening sessions, workshops on demo reviews, storyboard pitch nights, etc. Whenever I was in New York City too, I had the same experience. I could attend so many events for absolutely free-like the Tribeca Festivals, where there are many animation shows where lots of those in the animation community show up.
There are meetup groups in animation covering almost every region in the world today. Look up one in your area and get involved. Such groups contribute to hiring quests, making friends in animation, enjoying animation interests, and even perhaps to recommend you to top studios.
Once I was in NYC and was lucky enough to attend an event called “BYOA — Bring your own animation” where the Siggraph NYC professional chapter there organized for animation students, animators, and veterans to come together in a coffee shop where all our demo reels got reviewed by top players in the animation industry.
8. Do Not Focus on Making Money Right Away
It takes a new animator one to two years to get the hang of the art. After which, the first five years are still a steep learning curve. This is traditionally speaking. But today even this does not apply. Last summer I had a first-time animator who practically had never animated in his life before do a very important part of animation in one of my animated corporate videos. I just had to list to him the software to familiarize with and he had the youtube and google at his finger tips and he amazed me with a perfectly top-of-the-line animation in just a couple of days completely made to perfection just as I had instructed him to do. I just had to give him the steps and the artist in him just executed it with his tech. savviness. Today he’s a regular part of my paid team. So don’t lose heart or get anxious about getting high remunerations during the first few laps of your animation career. It does take a lot of dedication, passion, team spirit, knowledge exchange, and most of all consistency to make it to the higher ranks. Perseverance is key.
Just concentrate on mastering animation and everything required for you to become well-rounded (which includes a good amount of networking and getting to know the right/positive people in the industry), and the money and fame will automatically follow.
9. Learn the Art of Acting
Become an actor to act out your own animation gestures for your animation. Walt Disney brought this tradition into the animation industry. He hired an acting teacher to learn animation. This helped him understand how he should teach animators to act in order to improve their animation skills and captivate their audiences.
This book below by Ed Hooks is a valuable resource for learning acting from an animator’s perspective, as he is a veteran at teaching at large studios like Walt Disney and Pixar and travels to various parts of the world because of the popularity of his workshops.
10. The Learning Curve for Animation Never Stops
Never stop learning and teaching. Nobody is a 100% of a master in animation, because there is always something for an animator to learn. Today in an AI-based lifestyle we animators need to take our vision to the next level to face any disruption and strive towards still remaining that animator-at-heart. Use a tool to make your art greater than get stuck in one tool and feel limited. Today we have the ability to think original and make a difference with so many AI driven opportunities. So nobody is greater than another person, because creativity cannot be measured as a standard.
Of course, great outputs are the result of great opportunities for some. Some who may be excellent animators may never have had the opportunity to work in top-notch studios. That does not mean that they are bad animators. It means that they have not got enough coverage to show off their magical works. But today with social media, there is no such thing as limited opportunities.
Another good thing for any animator to get their skills out there is to take part in as many festivals as possible.
Another great opportunity is while you Learn and showcase your work, you teach. Teaching makes you learn more from the spontaneous questions posed by your students. So your students become your teachers for the special clarifications they bring forward. For if they don’t ask some intelligent questions, you may never know that perspective you had failed to look at all your life just because there was no opportunity to explore it.
These are the sure steps to take, that can lead a fulfilling life as an animator.
You Can Even Grow as an Animator in Your Sleep!
There is one more thing I want to tell you before I let you go on your journey.
I slept over this article idea last night and woke up in the morning with this pre-planned picture layout in a golden platter just ready for me to share with you. How cool is that?! This is what animation does to us as “animators.” It keeps ideas bubbling even when we sleep and offers us the creative solutions in the morning. I really don’t know how it works in theory, but it is true.
Now that you have what it takes, what are you waiting for? Pull out your weapons and go conquer the world of animation!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.