There are many types of animation, including 2D, stop-motion, 3D hand-drawn and computer-generated, but all roles call for high levels of creativity and passion
An animator produces multiple images called frames, which when sequenced together create an illusion of movement - this is known as animation. The images can be made up of digital or hand-drawn pictures, models or puppets.
Animators tend to work in 2D, 3D model-making, stop-frame or computer-generated animation.
Computer-generated animation features strongly in motion pictures (to create special effects or an animated film in its own right), as well as in aspects of television, the internet and the computer games industry.
The basic skill of animation still relies heavily on artistic ability, but there is an increasing need for animators to be familiar with technical computer packages.
Producing animation involves several stages including generating ideas, building models and rigging lighting.
Computer animation uses software known as CGI (computer-generated imagery).
Tasks typically involve:
- liaising with clients and developing animation from their concepts
- creating storyboards that depict the script and narrative
- drawing in 2D to create sketches, artwork or illustrations
- designing models, backgrounds, sets, characters, objects and the animation environment
- using a range of materials, including modelling clay, plaster, oil paints, watercolours and acrylics
- developing the timing and pace of the movements of a character or object during the sequence of images and ensuring they follow the soundtrack and audio requirements
- using technical software packages, such as Flash, 3ds Max, Maya, LightWave, Softimage and Cinema 4D
- building up accurate, detailed, frame-by-frame visuals
- recording dialogue and working with editors to composite the various layers of animation (backgrounds, special effects, characters and graphics) in order to produce the finished piece
- working to production deadlines and meeting clients' commercial requirements
- working as part of a broader production team, which might include liaising with printers, copywriters, photographers, designers, account executives, website designers or marketing specialists
- dealing with diverse business cultures, delivering presentations and finding funding.
You will need to be proactive at selling your ideas and work to prospective customers and clients. This applies whether you're self-employed, working freelance or employed within a company.
- Entry salaries are in the region of £12,000 to £15,000. Salaries in computer game animation start higher at £18,000, rising quickly with experience.
- Experienced animators can earn around £23,000 to £26,000.
- Salaries for animators with at least ten years' experience are around £36,000+.
For information on animation freelance rates, see the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). Starting salaries are low, but it's important to build up experience and contacts to secure future work.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are regular office hours (approximately 40 hours per week), but as deadlines approach you may need to work overtime, including at the weekend. Flexitime is quite common.
What to expect
- Animation is an office or studio-based profession. Some experienced freelancers have studio equipment set up at home.
- It's a global industry and many projects are for international clients. Most production companies have a list of animators they use, so maintaining regular contact will prevent you from slipping off their list.
- The animation industry is global, but there are regional UK centres based in London, Bristol, Manchester, Dundee and Edinburgh.
- Overseas and UK travel may be necessary to showcase your work at festivals or to negotiate commissions with clients.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following degree or foundation degree subjects are particularly relevant:
- art and design
- computer-aided engineering
- design for moving image
- electrical engineering
- film and video
- graphic design or illustration
- model making or sculpture
- spatial design
- 3D design.
Entry without a higher education qualification is unusual, but not impossible. Exceptions may be made for very talented candidates. Many animators consider having an artistic background just as important as having skills in IT.
Although not essential, a relevant postgraduate qualification in animation may enhance your employability. Search for postgraduate courses.
You'll need to show:
- artistic talent and technical skills
- a good eye for detail
- communication and storytelling skills
- ability to work with others and to take direction
- networking skills and commitment to projects through previous work experience
- an engagement with the industry from submitting work to festivals and competitions
- the flexibility to switch between several projects at once.
In character animation, specialist talents may be required - such as in comedy, dialogue, action or singing and music.
Animation is a competitive industry. To find work you must have a showreel. This is your portfolio to show to production companies or animation commissioners in advertising agencies, music companies or television companies.
It's acceptable practice to send showreels out speculatively, although it's better to target particular projects. Take time to ensure your showreel is short and punchy, as companies are likely to be drawn in during the first five seconds and will probably have made a decision after one minute of film.
You may consider applying for a residency in order to raise your profile, make new contacts and build a portfolio. Residencies provide the opportunity to work as an artist-in-residence and have access to facilities and a working environment that are conducive to creative work. You can either pursue your own work or work with industry professionals on specific projects.
Residencies can last from two weeks to several months.
Look for opportunities at universities, regional film offices and at the British Council. The British Council arts department may promote your films at festivals overseas.
When establishing contacts you may find it useful to visit:
It's also worthwhile contacting your local media development agency to find out about workshops, support and networking opportunities. ScreenSkills acts as an umbrella information and advice service for the audiovisual industry.
Generally, animation companies work in several areas of animation (television, advertising, feature film, etc.) but computer games studios tend to specialise in the one area.
The UK also leads the world in the production of pre-school storytelling and design, and this area continues to attract investors, ensuring the availability of work.
Other areas of work include:
- feature films
- children's programmes
- music promos
- titles and idents
- adult comedy and drama.
Many animators work as independent filmmakers, producing their own short films and trying to win commissions from animation commissioners at broadcasting companies such as Channel 4, the BBC (in particular BBC2), or from the internet.
Getting a short film broadcast could lead to a commission for a short series, a longer film or interest from music company advertising agencies (for music videos) or commercial and business ventures.
Look for job vacancies at:
Other useful directories and sources of agents include:
Most animators learn on the job but attending classes and courses can be helpful, either to refresh or hone your skills in drawing, modelling or software.
A list of media and multimedia courses can be found at the British Film Institute (BFI).
Larger companies may offer a more formal training package. This might include taking a Masters qualification in animation or working towards a professional qualification in a more specialist area.
There are numerous short courses and master classes, lasting from a few days to several weeks, covering specific areas of animation. For details, visit ScreenSkills - Training courses.
Local audiovisual sector skills councils can be very useful when it comes to researching short courses or opportunities to develop further specialist areas. Contact ScreenSkills to see which organisation covers your area of the UK.
Most animators begin as studio runners and then progress to junior animation roles.
In 2D animation, you may begin work as an 'inbetweener', then progress to key framer.
3D animation has a more hierarchical structure. Starting as a junior animator, you'll progress to senior animator after a few years' experience and finally reach design manager or art director level.
Senior roles involve more paperwork, managing staff and generating new ideas. Career progression is usually through freelance work, which develops the animator's reputation, and this is likely to ensure a regular supply of work as well as more senior responsibilities.
The UK is particularly renowned for stop-motion or stop-frame animation and children's animation and has a thriving computer games industry. However, animation is global and you may have to move abroad if you wish to specialise in a particular type.
The USA is home to some of the largest animation, CGI special effects and games studios. A lot of 2D animation is also done in East Asia. Animators are increasingly looking for work overseas, as well as in the UK, in order to maximise their client base.
In terms of development, versatility is the key and if you can work with puppets, models and drawn and computer-generated animation, you may find more options open to you.
Another progression route for animators is to go into teaching or lecturing.