Animator Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Animators draw by hand and use computers to create the large series of pictures that form the animated images or special effects seen in movies, television programs, and computer games. Some draw storyboards for television commercials, movies, and animated features.

Training and Educational Qualifications: Postsecondary training is recommended for all artist specialties. Many colleges and universities offer programs leading to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine arts. Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary studio training and award students with certificates in specialty areas or associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. In many instances, formal educational programs in art also provide training in computer techniques, which are used widely in the visual arts.

Job Outlook: Multi media artists and animators should have better job opportunities than other artists, but they will still experience competition. Demand for these workers will increase as consumers continue to expect more realistic video games, movie and television special effects, and 3D animated movies. Additional job openings will arise from an increasing demand for Web site development and for computer graphics adaptation from the growing number of mobile technologies.

Salary: The median annual earnings of salaried multi media artists and animators are $51,350. The middle 50 percent earn between $38,980 and $70,050. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $30,390, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $92,720. Median annual earnings are $57,310 in motion picture and video industries and $48,860 in advertising and related services.

Significant Facts:

•    About 63 percent of artists and related workers are self employed.

•    Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work; the number of qualified workers exceeds the number of available openings because the arts attract many talented people with creative ability.

•    Artists usually develop their skills through

a bachelor’s degree program or other post secondary training in art or design.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I had an internship with the Redmoon Theater build shop in Chicago, which is the third largest theater in the Chicago area, primarily known for found object puppetry. It was an unpaid internship that involved everything from sweeping floors to helping to design props. Being on build crew for the length of two productions, another part of my job was to help micromanage fellow interns newer than I. It was a rewarding experience all around.

Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?

I have had several friends who have successfully interned at larger studios (Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network), and they all find it amazingly helpful as an “in” to put on their resumes as well as helpful practical studio experience. An important thing to note is that internships in California tend to be more of a “production assistant” type internship rather than an artistic one, due to union issues.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

For animation, the choices mostly limit themselves (within the U.S.) to California, New York, and Atlanta, perhaps in that order of opportunity. Having started out in Chicago, I am familiar with many other studios spread throughout other larger cities (Chicago, of course, but Boston as well), but I’m certain most would agree that the first three I listed are the main areas.

What is your typical day like?

As a small team of about seven (animators) responsible for a show, my day usually starts out animating, picking up the scene I left off the previous night. Perhaps I am more fortunate than animators in some other studios, because I am pretty much animating all day long with a few minor (30 minutes a week total) meetings with respective supervisors.

What are your job responsibilities?

Everyone on our smaller team is responsible for scene set up, lip sync and animation (both keys and tweens). There is some design work maybe one day out of the week, which is usually assigned based on our strengths or availability.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is honestly best exemplified when I realize that I am doing what I truly love to do all day long. I work with a small team and can point out which parts of a televised episode constitute my work. Making a sustainable wage while creating something out of nothing is a powerful feeling, one that I feel wouldn’t be as great working anywhere else.

What do you dislike about your job?

My biggest job woes are probably trends that face the industry as a whole. I take solace knowing that those whom I idolize in my field are probably downtrodden over the same issues I deal with daily.

Have you had any turning point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

I suppose my biggest epiphany that paid off came when I realized that you had to already be in the area a prospective studio is hiring to actually work there. Certain career guides will give you a lofty view that if a studio likes you enough, they’ll fly you in for an interview and a test and whatnot, but the reality of the industry is that is not at all the case. Simply being in the right place at the right time has done the most for my career.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I think the awe of watching animated films as a child more or less set me on a permanent track at an early age.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I started in the industry by looking for internship postings while in Chicago. Ultimately, going with unpaid work on the weekend helped to proverbially get my “foot in the door” and at least let me spend my time doing semi professional artistic work. As far as my most recent job, blind luck happened to help, as a former college contact knew to mention me when it came time to hire at her studio. Showing that I wasn’t remaining stagnant after graduating probably worked heavily in my favor.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I had a fairly promising academic background prior to my college days; but I enjoy being in the arts so much that if I weren’t specifically working as an animator, I’d probably search for some sort of equivalent design position somewhere else.

What professional magazines/newspapers/journals/Web sites do you read?

I frequently find Cartoonbrew.com to be a great source for all things pertinent to animation present and past. John Kricfalusi has an amazing, yet rarely updated, blog that I always find myself returning to. Between the two of them, I feel relatively well informed about the happenings in my industry.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do anything you can to keep yourself from being disenchanted. Your current set of skills isn’t your only selling point, and hopefully it is something you’re working on, even if you’re not in your current field of choice. Art isn’t a race that is full of snares and things you can necessarily do wrong. A lot can be said about being in the right place at the right time.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

Yes, I got lucky and was called by a production house in San Diego out of the blue. I took a year off from school and started what was supposed to be a three month internship in animation. The internship had full time animator responsibilities, so I worked more like a staff member then an intern. After three months, I was hired as a full time temp (temp because I returned to school to graduate). During my time there, I worked on 15 minutes of cinematics for the video game “LA Rush” and two CG commercials for Kellogg’s. Honestly, I would never have had the opportunities given to me had it not been for this internship. It basically enabled me to pick and choose job offers after school because of my experience.

Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?

Small production houses enable you to work completely on a project and work on different aspects of that project. Bigger feature studios have good internships as well and look great on a resume but you will never gain the same sense of knowledge because you generally always wear one hat. Smaller production houses enable you to wear multiple hats, learn from a tightly knit team, and work up the ladder faster. However, any internship in animation is vital experience speaks more then anything else, especially when you are competing with all your classmates who have graduated at the same time as you.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

Los Angeles is the leader, San Francisco is a close second, and I’d say New York is third. Other cities are popping up like Dallas, Chicago, and even Austin, Texas.

What is your typical day like?

I walk into work, pass the skateboard half pipe, get some breakfast then start working diligently on my assigned sequences. Generally this is what I will do all day, taking a break for lunch to eat on our outside patio with some of my co-workers. About once a week, we’ll have reviews with the director, lead, and producer to see the progress of the cut scene animator’s assigned shots and to discuss what could be improved.

What are your job responsibilities?

I am responsible for creating the game cinematics you see in our video game products; those are the parts that advance the story. I work with motion capture data and implement animation on top of it. Also I am responsible for the overall look and feel of the game. I use various cameras and cuts to create a film like experience in the game.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Everything…the people, the way I am treated and taken care of at work, and waking up every day excited to go to work plus, you can’t beat the free lunches either every day.

What do you dislike about your job?

The lack of windows. The last studio that I had, looked into Balboa Park in downtown San Diego, but this studio is a converted warehouse that has no natural light filters. It’s a small gripe but there it is, nevertheless.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

Since I was in first grade, I fell in love with video games. Then by meeting the right people who told me to pursue what I was good at and enjoyed most, I basically stumbled into animation and never looked back.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I am a lucky one. It’s a cutthroat industry and very hard to get into. In my case I never had to look for a job and always was choosing between job offers from various companies. It all started with the company who granted me an internship after seeing my work on my Web site they called me up out of the blue. After my experience in the industry and a return to school, potential employers started calling and emailing, setting up interviews and what not. Needless to say, I feel very fortunate because the hard work and very long hours I put into school paid off incredibly and I never found myself actually looking for a job. In fact, I had one lined up before I graduated.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Working in film or designing Web sites.

What professional Web sites do you read?

The site www.gamasutra.com is the leader in video game industry news, www.awn.com animation world network is a leader in news for animation and www.cgtalk.com is a forum/news source for all things having to do with computer graphics.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Be passionate! You should be spending every waking minute animating. Trust me, it’s a tough industry to get into. You will be competing with the best of the best industry pros who are also looking for jobs. Give yourself some time to have fun in school but go above and beyond the requirements of the class. Work on your own stuff and never stop animating. Also meet and surround yourself with the best students at school. Work with them and ask for critiques. I found that the best people in the classes worked in groups and challenged each other rather than working alone at home. School is the time to get critiques, learn from others, and develop a tough skin. When you get into the industry, they are not going to fluff critiques for you because you are expected to be able to perform by then.

CAREER LADDER:

Data entry temp for The Writers Guild of America; Character Escort, Universal Studios Hollywood (Theme Park); Character Designer, Anteye.com; Production Coordinator of Special Events, Universal Studios Hollywood; Supervisor of Design and Brand Placement, Universal Studios Hollywood; Creative Manager of Entertainment, Universal Studios Hollywood

Do you know which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

Probably Walt Disney Theme Parks/Universal Studios Theme Parks (CA/FL).

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

Cities in California and Florida are good, plus other theme parks around the country.

What is your typical day like?

I am usually working on designs for the next big entertainment event for the Theme Park that can be anything from a parade (designing floats) to the overall park decor look (Holiday/Halloween) to prop window displays (promoting Universal Films) to designing photo spots or environments for our costumes characters (Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob, Shrek). We then take those designs and execute them in the park.

What are your job responsibilities?

I am responsible for tracking a budget per project, conceptualizing designs and then implementing them. Art directing scenic houses and vendors. Art directing signage and graphics.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Working in a kids’ environment I get to go to a theme park every day!

What do you dislike about your job?

The corporate bottom line reality end of things.

Have you had any turning point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

Somewhere along my journey, I realized I didn’t have the passion to do animation, and I think that unlikely path led me to something I really enjoy and is a huge creative outlet for me.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I really didn’t. I always loved theme parks but never knew jobs like this existed. They are not exactly listed in the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper.. .

How did you get into this industry?

I was pursuing working for an animation company while doing some of my temp jobs when I happened to fall into special events at Universal. I gained much production experience and started getting requests to do creative assignments for our clients as well. By making my artistic talents visible, I was able to get the leads to my current job. Who knew a job like this existed? In a way, a lot of my job responsibilities have been created as I go.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Creating a niche for myself and really defining what I bring to the company in the way of creativity.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I would probably be an activities director at a retirement community! Who knows, it may be my second career!

To what professional associations do you belong?

I am an Executive Leader for our in house affinity group called Out@NBCU.

What professional magazines/newspapers/journals/Web sites do you read?

I read Variety and a whole slew of Web sites. I love Youtube.com you can type in anything and see some sort of clip regarding the subject.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Don’t be scared to take a longer path to get where you want to be. You may find some unexpected surprises along the way.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

Yes, I interned at Industrial Light & Magic where I helped in many departments. I was constantly learning a post production pipeline as it was in motion (not in theory or planning). Most of all, I met people, lots of people, and learned other opportunities in the industry to which I could apply my goals.

Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?

Industrial Light & Magic, Disney, Pixar, Tippett Studios, Digital Domain, WETA Digital.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

As much as I hate to admit it, being in LA opens up the most opportunities direct access to the studios, directors, etc. A lot of post work, however, is also located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being in or close to California helps get things started, but it’s not necessarily mandatory.

What is your typical day like?

Everyday I work with the director of the film I’m working on and help him/her lay out sequences shot by shot.

What are your job responsibilities?

I work with directors, usually during pre-production, to help them plan their film prior to its being made. I think about story telling techniques, camera angles and character performance, budgetary issues and continuity problems and much, much more. Once execution of these decisions starts, it’s my job to see them through, overseeing layout of the film (how the film is structured shot by shot, sequence by sequence).

What is your favorite part of your job?

Working, learning, and collaborating with some of the greatest directors of our time.

What do you dislike about your job?

The hours limit outside projects and late nights are very common. The further into production we are, the later the nights tend to be.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I had always loved to draw and had always loved movies, so those around me assumed I would set my sights to be a Disney Animator. But when I interned at ILM, I learned about the new field of Animatics, combining animation and film to help pre-plan a movie. I fell in love with the idea and spent my last year in school developing a reel that catered to film making and pre-visual layout. I always knew I wanted to make films and I figured animation was the best way for me to do so. It turns out that it was the best way to get myself into the industry of making movies.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I got into this industry via a bet with my roommate in school. We both bet each other that we wouldn’t meet the deadline for the ILM internship. I got mine in the day before it was due and after a long interview process I actually got the job. I met people doing Animatics and Pre-visualization and realized that this is what I wanted to do, so I geared my reel to reflect that and sent Lucasfilm my first copy. It was because of one of those short animation films that I did in college that I was hired.

During my work at Lucasfilm, I met Doug Chiang, the production designer on the Star Wars prequels. Doug and I became good friends and ended up leaving Lucasfilm around the same time. He hired me to work on The Matrix sequels, and I’ve been with him ever since. Doug later founded the current company I am employed with, Ice Blink Studios, currently exclusive to Robert Zemeckis projects.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Ultimately, I’m a director, and that’s my goal in the end. I direct short films and music videos on the side, where I am able to learn from the directors that I work with. I can apply the knowledge and skills that I acquire in these situations to my own films. If I were not doing this, I’d be directing basically what I’m doing now or co-directing, to a degree.

What professional publications do you read?

Magazines: Cinefex, Filmmaker, Variety.

Web sites: Variety.com, HollywoodReporter.com, Aintitcoolnews. com (for fun).

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

If you want to be a filmmaker, then make films. It’s really that simple. You’ll learn more through experience in this industry than by other

means, and it’s better to learn on simple at home (so to speak) productions versus getting your feet wet in the big leagues. Use any tools you can get your hands on, no matter how primitive. Your work will only get better with each project. With the endless avenues of ways to get your film in front of an audience, it’s only a matter of time until the right person is watching at the right time.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I did have an internship, but it was not in a 3 D environment. I was at MTV, working on MTV Downtown (traditional animation), Helter Skelter (a traditional animation that did not air but was being animated by Bill Plympton) and I made some background characters for Celebrity DeathMatch.

Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?

EA Sports, of course. We bring the top students in, and if they really shine while they are here, we have no problem adding them to our team. Movie companies are good to work for as well, but it’s tough to find places in that industry that have job security.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

Instead of talking cities, we will just talk California. There are so many game companies there that if you turn the corner, there will be another one ready for you if you like that kind of stuff. Austin, Texas has been really booming lately with game companies. And New York is slowly coming onto the market.

What is your typical day like?

Since I am a senior artist, I work closely with the development manager and art director on tasks for the day/week. The day could consist of modeling, scheduling, mentoring junior artists, attending meetings and doing any other tasks that affect the team/project. The days are usually pretty busy, but the time goes fast when you stay so involved.

What are your job responsibilities?

I am a part of asset creation, and I help create visual targets with the art director. I also work with the development director to make the schedule and the overall project plan. I am involved in staffing decisions and hiring, and I assist in the career development of junior artists.

What is your favorite part of your job?

To be very cliche, everything. I love what I do and I am always having fun doing it. I guess when the day comes that I am not having fun anymore, it is time to go.

What do you dislike about your job?

Politics, but you will find that everywhere.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

When I first graduated from college, I took some little jobs freelancing and I did not have job security. I knew I was not getting any younger and I needed to settle down with a career and not just a job. I saw a commercial one day for EA Sports and I said to myself, that is what I want to do. Here I am seven years later.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I sent EA Sports the reel I did during college and they loved it. But keep in mind that 3 D work nowadays has come a long way from almost eight years ago, so the requirements that I met at that time were much different from what they would be today.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Probably graphic design or architecture.

To what professional associations do you belong and what professional magazines/newspapers/journals/Web sites do you read?

International Game Developers Association (IGDA), National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAAP), and SIGGRAPH, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

What Web sites do you visit?

www.3 dtotal.com www.highend3 d.com www.cgchannel.com

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Work hard. Learn everything you can learn at school and then some. This industry is growing rapidly and advancing every day. Remember that what you learn today might be obsolete tomorrow. Keep up with technology and never be afraid to learn.

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