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Animation - The Skills Needed

Animators employ various techniques:

Traditional hand-drawn animation - every movement and facial expression is painstakingly drawn, then transferred onto film or increasingly onto digital media. Up to 20,000 drawings may be needed for a 30-minute film.

Model, or stop frame animation - made famous by Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit - requiring equally detailed work to bring the characters to life.

Computer animation or CGI - using highly sophisticated software for both 2D and 3D animations.

Although some people work on their own, there is increasing emphasis on teamwork and multi-tasking. A large team may be involved in the various stages of production - from raising the finance for the original idea, to script development, the creation of animated characters and backgrounds, casting the ‘voices’, recording the soundtrack, checking the design, editing and sound mixing - and the finished product has to look as if it were all ‘drawn by one hand’.

What will you need?
Despite constant technological development, and the resulting changes in the animation industry, it is widely recognised that the most important skills needed by new entrants (as well as practitioners generally) remain fundamental ones. Aside from the less tangible attributes of creative flair, a good visual eye and raw talent, these are:

  • Drawing
  • Storytelling
  • A good sense of timing and composition
  • An understanding of motion, size, ratios and perspective

In addition, as the industry broadly becomes more technology-based, certain aspects of the animation discipline are becoming more technical. Consequently, certain other skills are becoming increasingly relevant within some sub-sectors:

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Computer operating systems, (notably Linux/Unix as well as Windows and Mac OS)
  • Software-specific computer scripting languages (e.g. MEL scripting for Maya)
  • Digital asset management

Combinations of both creative and technical skills are important - ideally within individuals, but certainly within teams, where creative specialists must know how to communicate with technical specialists and vice versa.

More general work-life skills are also expected, of which the key ones are:

  • Teamwork
  • An ability to take direction
  • An ability to work quickly, to deadlines, while retaining a high standard
  • Interpersonal communication - especially with clients who may interface with even the most junior roles
  • Management - of self, others, work, time and projects

A broad awareness of other roles and processes, and of the industry in general, was also reported to be desirable.

Recruiters often comment that applicants lack detailed knowledge about the different jobs available, which means that some are over-subscribed whilst others are difficult to fill.

What is available?

The sector is currently short of scriptwriters, storyboarders, and layout artists. Other jobs that are hard to fill include:

  • Producers / Project Managers
  • Directors
  • Technical Directors
  • Storyboard Artists
  • Cameramen
  • CG Riggers
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