10 Steps to become an exceptional Animator

This hub on “10 Steps to become a Great Animator” is a one stop-solution, filled with rich tips that if followed religiously is sure to make you a winner.

It is often a question to many when they watch animated movies, whether a Disney Classic or today’s Toystory or Avatar, “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 which largely depends on the magic which 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 peoples mind “How does one become a great animator!?” Well then, read on….

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 see my drawings below, when I was like that nerd I have illustrated here, dreaming a dream animation career. It was an exciting time studying about human forms, muscular structures in our body amd was like taking my science class to the next level. Only this time I enjoyed it because I knew my purpose of doing it finally than how I felt in elementary school like it was forced-upon us. Anyway it was all for the good. No regrets absolutely!

2. Be a spectator to the wonderful world around you :

An animator loves to dream.

Mind you people! When I say observe, I mean observe casually and not stare to annoy people so much so as to land a nice sharp slap on your cheeks. That would be annoying though it maybe a good scene to learn from by another aspiring animator who maybe watching your movements. ;o) (just kidding! but guess you get my point.)

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.

Hangout out-doors, observe people, livings things, inanimate objects, gestures of people in public places like the restaurants, observe people exercising in the park, children playing, dogs running, observe peoples expressions, try to imagine what they are thinking or talking purely for artistic reasons.

Watch their movements and take an out-door sketch-tour just to practice your quick sketching skills.

The zoo is the most simplest and cost effective way to find your animal references. So at leisure you could 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, the vegetable market, the malls, supermarket, a sports day event etc.

3. Refer and 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 evolve your own style.

There’s always pride in churning out original works than produce derivatives or copies of others works. Such acts even if done innocently because of lack of proper exposure to work ethics can be viewed criminal. It is not a “can” fact. It will be viewed criminal. Due to careless and unethical practices noted can ruin all the integrity you have built up for yourself forever. Today in the Internet age, one cannot erase the records of any wrong doing. So even if you repent, the copies of ones bad ethical practices can never be erased once registered online.

4. Have a Demoreel or Showcase of your work ready :

Whatever your specialisation or even an animator generalist needs something to show for. When you present your biography, animation is one field where just like a swimmer, your skills cannot be judged by your certificates. 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 on a disc so you could show your audience who are 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 make-over your reel at least 6-12 months to keep to the trends.

Kids Animation Demoreel

Motion Graphics/Broadcast Design Showreel

5. Networking :

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 DVDs or business cards with your portfolio-URL there…or even load up your reels on your iPhone. You never know when somebody wants to look at your work. You must be ready for any situation. You could be another success story. What if it is Steven Spielberg who 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 which 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 joint and they could get into a conversation with you. This way I have met people who were TDs (Technical Directors) for movies like Titanic, Speed, the inventor of the famous module in 3D Studio Max called “Character Studio”. I remember my excitement then. It was a pleasure for me to pass on my Demo reel to him when he asked for it.

6. Master the techniques of Animation :

Master the technology behind the modern art of Computer Animation. Get to know by self-study or a course at a reputed training center to become an expert in all the software popular in the industry. There are millions of tutorials and forums on the subject on the Internet for absolutely free. So it is highly unlikely that you will get lost because wherever you turn you get learning resources very easy to come by.

7. Turn up in the right place at the right time :

Whenever I visited LA I was sure I could get many free treats. After 8 p.m. everyday Hollywood is filled with free lectures, evening-sessions, workshops on demo-reviews, storyboard pitch nights etc. etc. Whenever I was in NYC too I had the same experience….I could attend so many events for absolutely free…like the Tribecca Festivals where there are many animation shows where the animation community show up. There are meetup groups in animation covering almost every region in the world today. Lookup for 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 at NYC a couple of times lucky to have been able to attend an event called “BYOA – Bring your own animation” where the Siggraph NYC professional chapter there organised for animation students, animators and veterans to come together in a pub…where all our demo reels got reviewed by even top players in the animation industry.

8. Do not focus on making money right at the beginning :

It takes a new animator 1-2 years to get the hang of the art. After which, the first five years are still a steep learning curve. 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 so as to make him understand as to how he must teach animators to act in order to improve their animation skills. So as to captivate their audience while watching their animated movies.

This book here which I have suggested by Ed Hooks is a valuable resource you can own to learn this are from an animator’s perspective as he is a veteran at teaching at large studios like Walt Disney Feature Animation, 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% a master in animation because there is always something for an animator to learn. So nobody is greater than the other because creativity cannot be measured as a standard. Of course great outputs are the result of great opportunities for some.

Of course great outputs are the result of great opportunities for some. Some who maybe excellent animators may never have had the opportunity to work in top-norch 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.

A good thing for any animator to get their skills out there is to take part in as much festivals as possible.

So learn, showcase your work and 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 that can take to leading a fulfilling life as an animator.

One more think I want to tell you before I let you go on your journey towards animation-dom. I slept over this hub-idea last night and woke up in the morning with this pre-planned picture layout in a golden platter just ready for me to use. How cool is that!? The point to this is to say that this is what animation does to we “animators”, it keeps ideas bubbling even when we sleep and offers us the creative solution in the morning. I really don’t know how it works in theory but it is true.


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