Animation as an art form has been around for almost one hundred years. From the earliest days of hand drawn cels, individual pictures strung together, to the complex rendering of 3-D virtual worlds, animation packs peoples’ lives. Do you wonder how the computer-animated movies are made or want to become a computer animator? Computer Animation is a fast growing field. There are many different areas to of animation, computer animation is what this paper is about, history of animation and how it came to be and how to get there and what computer animators do for their job is what is in this paper.
Animation was first developed in 1906 by Stuart Blackton, a young English-born adventurer. His first short film, “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces”, was a sensation with audiences. Blackton’s illusion was created by a very simple method, comical faces were drawn on a blackboard, then erased. The camera was stopped after each face was photographed. The ‘stop-motion’ provided a startling effect as the facial expressions changed before the audience’s eyes.
A major breakthrough for animation came in 1915, when J. R. Bray was granted patents for his use of glassine paper. Bray created a two-dimensional look with his animation by drawing on a clear plastic sheet and then placing it over a pre-drawn background. Max Fleischer’s rotoscope consisted of a drawing board, fitted with a piece of frosted glass, and a motion picture projector mounted underneath which magnified a single frame of motion picture film onto the glass. When the figure on one frame had been traced onto translucent paper, a crank advanced the film to the next frame.
People who choose a career path as a professional animator work in a challenging, fast-paced, and rewarding field. The resurgence in popularity of animation has re-opened countless opportunities for highly creative individuals, with computer skills. The latest need for computer animators is created by the expansion of the World Wide Web. Businesses of all types are hiring web developers to design web pages to promote their products and services to prospective customers who are accessing the Internet. Web developers and animators, use animated gifs, an image that appears to be alive, to display their talents in the hope of crossing the bridge to a full time position in animation. The better the gif the brighter the future! This is a highly competitive career choice and individuals most often find themselves starting out at the bottom.
Some of the required qualifications for this career are: computer experience working with PDI’s script, is a picture language used by computers, based computer animation tools. This entails experience working on SGI workstations, powerful graphic ability on a computer, using high-end software systems such as “Softimage”, “Wavefront”, “Alias”, “Prisms” or “TDI Explore.” Computer graphics, UNIX and the programming language “C” is a must. A bachelor’s degree in art or a wide variety of art and design classes, A team player attitude, able to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines, superior quality of production work as evidenced by a personal demo reel. “Specifically, when looking for an animator, we search for someone with a strong background in computer programming knowledge as well as strong artistic talent; lighting, motion and design as evidenced by a professional quality reel or portfolio.” (Warner Brothers, 1998)
Employers use many ways to recruit for this occupation; these include the Internet, newspaper ads, and referrals from private schools and employees. Employers usually promote existing employees to higher level positions such as Technical Manager, or Production Director, hiring new employees to fill the starting animator positions. Employers also go to the computer animation film festival to look for new talented employees. Rick Hudson, a graduate of The Art Institute of Seattle who has worked as lead animator and animation director on several projects, says that the most important thing aspiring animators can do is, “Draw all the time. There is no shortcut to raw drawing ability . . . you will get hired for this, NOT for your knowledge of Softimage or Alias/Wavefront. The fundamentals of ‘movement, timing, and drawing’ are what drive the animation process, whether it’s rendered on a high-end workstation or hand-drawn on a cel one at a time.” As Rick says, “The three P’s of success in animation: practice, practice, practice.”
An astounding fact about the job is one out of every four people in this career is a woman. This could be because women are said to have a higher degree of sensitivity to colors, allowing them to distinguish the slightest change in hue. In the past few years, salaries have skyrocketed. Entry level positions often pay from $45K to $75K. After a few years experience, animators can make $100K and up. (Princeton, 1998) Hot locations for animators are the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin, Texas. (Animation Magazine, 1998)
Add some technical knowledge to your creative genius and you’ll have the potential to earn big bucks as a computer animator. “It’s fun,” says Melissa Saul, 30, an animator/technical director at Will Vinton Studios in Portland, Oregon. “I get to play all day, mixing art with science.” Vinton Studios created the famous California Raisins TV ads.
Saul spends most of her time on the computer. To animate an object, she uses complex computer programs that allow her to build a 3-D object, then builds the skeleton inside it. Next she animates the bones of the skeleton and, finally, creates colors and textures to cover it. When Saul’s not bringing M candies to life or making Clorox bleach bottles talk, she’s in meetings.
Landing the first job may be hard. Starters, often work on smaller projects, such as a direct to home video or on the 3-D modeling for one part of a character, like an eyelid. With more experience, they’ll determine character concepts and be involved in the larger modeling and artistic decisions. Illustration skills are prized and will move animators up the ladder more quickly than skills/knowledge.
Matt Omernick, a 1999 graduate from Ringling’s College of Art and Design in Florida and a former student of Stevens Point Area Senior High School, received his first break before he graduated in 1999. Matt and his girlfriend, Dana, were interviewed by the rock group, Bon Jovi, to design the groups home page on the World Wide Web. Matt and Dana accepted the offer. He said “I was one of the lucky ones that got my first job before completing school and got paid to do it.” Matt claims one of biggest keys to his success in landing this job was keeping a portfolio with all his work
On the downside, computer animators work 15 hours days for weeks at a time to finish projects on deadline. And business fluctuates. Approximately 25% of animators hold full-time, in the house positions; the rest work on a freelance basis.
If animators are looking for jobs, look for companies that compliment their interests. Most positions are in television commercials or interactive rides for theme parks. Some firms specialize in computer games. Another possibility is music videos. If you want to see your name in lights try a film studio.
Another important factor is their demo reel, something they made that shows what they can do. Animators can use your student work; just make it look as professional as possible. If they don’t have many projects under their belt, They should be prepared to show as many drawings as they can pull together. The company will want them to demonstrate your artistic ability.
Most animation positions are in TV commercials and computer games. Some jobs are available creating animated simulation rides or virtual environments for amusement parks. And animators can join a studio or a special effects house that create computer-generated sequences in feature films.
Computer animators all need artistic talent and some experience with computer animation programs and programming languages. If animators have what it takes, patience, courage, creativity, and determination, then select this career path. The possibilities are endless and they may be able to forge their name into history. There are openings for this job everywhere just look for them on the Internet, magazines, television, and newspapers.