A Career in Animation – What You Need To Know

A company that brings children the most joy is undoubtedly Disney. Disney is a place of magic for kids on a global scale.

The classic animated movies such as The Lion King or The Little Mermaid have brought both tears and smiles to children everywhere. Those beloved characters were created by talented animators. 

As an animator, Disney is probably one of the dream companies to work for.

But how does it all really work?

The world of animation is incredibly broad, but to narrow it down, there are 5 broad types of animation: 3D computer animation, traditional animation, 2D vector-based animation, stop motion, motion graphics. 

This article breaks down each type of animation, its differences, the responsibilities of animators, and the future job opportunities of an animator.

3D Animation (CGI and Computer Animation)

This style is currently the most popular type of animation for feature films, and it’s become the most common form of animation in TV and short films as well.

Professionals use 3D animation to create digital characters for live-action films and animation for video games. 3D animation is a technically intensive process.

It often involves a large team of separate specialists to model the character, rig it with bones and controls, animate it, and then texture and light it for the final output. 

Characters in 3D animation are all digitally modeled in the program and fitted with a ‘skeleton’ that allows animators to move the models. The technicians animate them by posing the models on certain keyframes. 

The way it works is, the animator uses a digital puppet or “character rig” to position the character, and then uses a system of motion paths to give movement to the character between those poses.

Then, the computer proceeds to build on the frames of the animation in between the keyframes. Lastly, the animator then refines these frames until they are satisfied with the animation.

Traditional Animation (2D, Cel, Hand Drawn)

This style of animation is the classic type of animation that people are probably most familiar with.

Not too long ago, animators drew characters frame by frame, and then those drawings were transferred onto clear acetate sheets “cels” for painting, coining the term cel animation.

Even though this sounds very cool, it was incredibly time-consuming, so during the 1990s, almost all animation studios stopped using cels and started scanning drawings into the computer for digital coloring.

Today, animators can draw directly into the computer using a tablet or Wacom Cintiq monitors. 

2D Animation (Vector-based)

When talking about 2D animation today, it doesn’t only mean hand-drawn cartoons. There are many ways to create 2D animation, and perhaps one of the most popular ones is using 2D digital puppets.

These are 2D characters that are built with a system of bones and controls that can be manipulated in a way similar to a 3D character rig. 

Stop Motion Animation (Claymation, Cut-Outs)

Stop motion is wildly different from the previous two types of animation. Firstly, they involve manipulating real-world objects.

The magic of stop motion happens because the objects are moved slightly, and photographed one frame at a time.

When shown in sequence, the photographed images create the illusion of movement.

Stop motion has a lot of variety within that style. There are six major types of stop motion; claymation, puppets, action figures/lego, cut-out, silhouette, and pixelation. 

Motion Graphics (Typography, Animated Logos)

The final type of animation style is motion graphics. They can either be 2D or 3D and can be found everywhere such as in commercials, sporting events, the news, and other TV productions.

This style deals with making dynamic and interesting presentations of moving text logos and basic illustrations. 

Depending on what programming you are using, the animation process for motion graphics can differ; however, it typically involves animating images, texts, or video clips using keyframing that are edited to make a smooth motion between frames.

Responsibilities of an Animator

An animator doesn’t simply have to illustrate the story, they have a lot of different responsibilities. Animators often work in groups, treat their work as projects, and oversee everything.

Depending on what style of animation you are working with, the process will differ, but you will be heavily involved in every aspect of the creative process.

2D Animation: 

  • Working frame by frame (drawing/digital drawing)
  • Script, character designs, preparation, etc.
  • Storyboard – rough cut of the whole animation
  • Animatic – baseline character designs, movements, demeanor 
  • Rough animation
  • In-betweens – backgrounds, set design, props, etc.
  • Cleanup – going through each and every animation to correct any mistake and perfect every frame
  • Color – once everything else is complete, it is time to color in everything (characters, backgrounds, etc.)

3D Animators: 

  • Working frame by frame (drawing/digital drawing)
  • Script, character designs, preparation, etc.
  • Storyboard – rough cut of the whole animation
  • Animatic – baseline character designs, movements, demeanor 
  • 3D rigging and animation 
  • Lighting and cameras – making sure the character is well-lit and that there aren’t any unnatural shadows present.
  • Rendering – the computer software that clarifies and pulls your animation together allowing it to move smoothly. 
  • Compositing and special effects – the final part of the work where it all comes together via sophisticated computer software.

Job Opportunities

Alright, not everyone gets to work for Disney or a great big media company. In order to get a job in animation, you need a university degree.

As the world of animation is highly technical, you need a degree to show that you understand and are qualified for taking on such a demanding workload. 

Things employers look for when hiring an animator is someone who has experience as a background artist.

Background artists do the grunt work behind the scenes. They sketch rough animations, work on the in-betweens and do cleanup animation.

Once you get an apprenticeship or an internship, you can specialize in being a colorist, editor, scriptwriter, voice actor, or director. 

This gives you a lot of experience and allows you to try out every aspect of filmmaking and creative directing.

As you grow in your skills, you could begin freelancing and create skits or short stories that can get sponsored.

The truth is, a lot of animators start their own shows by making a pilot episode and trying to get funding for their projects.

Eventually, you can work your way up to a creative managerial position, art director, designer, or get hired by a large company as a full-time animator. 

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My diverse background started with my computer science degree, and later progressed to building laptops and accessories. And now, for the last 8 years, I have been a social media marketing specialist and business growth consultant. In my spare time I dabble in crypto and various types of automation.
Jonathon Spire

Jonathon Spire

Tech Blogger at Jonathon Spire

My diverse background started with my computer science degree, and later progressed to building laptops and accessories. And now, for the last 7 years, I have been a social media marketing specialist and business growth consultant.

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Jonathon Spire

I blog about a range of tech topics.

For the last 7 years I have been a social media marketing specialist and business growth consultant, so I write about those the most.

Full transparency: I do review a lot of services and I try to do it as objectively as possible; I give honest feedback and only promote services I believe truly work (for which I may or may not receive a commission) – if you are a service owner and you think I have made a mistake then please let me know in the comments section.

– Jon