Last Updated 04 Jan 2023

A Career In Animation: The Purest Form of Expression

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“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.” (Disney). In Animation truly anything is possible. The only limit is the ability to imagine. Walt Disney, one of the most symbolic and influential figures in graphic arts, lacked skills in drawing. Because of his imagination and passion, it led him to produce some of the greatest classic animated movies in history.

Animation can be described as the creation of 2D or 3D images that tell a story or convey a message. For animators, it all starts with a blank screen or paper that soon transforms into something only ever imagined in dreams. Each frame is a carefully drawn, thought out work of art, that has the ability to bring an entire audience from tears of heartache to tears of laughter. This powerful form of expression, that can be universally communicated, can truly allow the audience to connect and feel a huge range of emotions. It can also be a source of inspiration in one's life. The Animation process is tedious, and it takes a group of creative, passionate, hardworking individuals to complete.

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There are many options for an education in becoming an Animator. To have a career in Animation, it is not a necessity that you have earned a degree to gain credibility. Employers sometimes like to focus on the actual work you have created over time in the form of a Portfolio or demo reel. Having a Portfolio that includes a demo reel is essential to be hired in the Animation industry. A demo reel is a video that showcases different animated scenes a client has created. It visually displays to employers the talents and capabilities of an applicant that can likely outweigh credentials. Still, obtaining a four-year degree adds some reassurance in your proficiency.

A Bachelor's degree is one of the most common forms of education for professional animators. Some Animators without a formal education will typically have to work in assistant positions while observing staff before advancing to higher up Animation positions. Senior level positions may entail a couple years of professional experience in the industry. “Just a few options include a Bachelor of Art (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS) and/or a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) in Animation, Animation & Digital Arts, Media Arts & Animation, Computer Animation, Computer Graphics, Media Arts & Science, Fine Art, and even Computer Science” (Burton). There are also higher degree opportunities such as a Master of Fine Arts in Animation and Visual Effects that can help animators develop mastery in storytelling through 2D and 3D designs.

The working environment varies from studio experience, classroom lectures, and computer laboratory sessions. Students will commonly take courses in drawing, 3D programming, 2D Animation production, computer graphics, stop motion, video effects, and graphic design to earn these different types of degree. Although, since technology has developed so much over the years, Animation degree programs like to focus more on Computer Animation. Nonetheless, fundamental skills in drawing and overall artistic ability is still fundamental.

In inclusion to a four-year degree, employers like animators that demonstrate professional experience. “Entry-level positions may require only a degree and experience through an internship or other support position” (Burton). Internships provide animators with opportunities to build their portfolio and knowledge that can’t be learned in a college class. Animation studios like Disney and Pixar have internship programs that vary in length depending on the program (Lische). Volunteering for organizations is also another way to gain experience while providing services for small businesses, communities, and schools. All this experience can provide opportunities for networking with other professionals, build skills and add more content to a portfolio.

Since Animation is such a broad career field, there’s different specialties and responsibilities depending on your job. There are mainly four different techniques when creating an Animation; Traditional, Stop Motion, Computer Animation and Mechanical which are then further divided into categories based on different mediums and methods used (Neel). Still, some qualities and skills are necessary for Animators to acquire whatever the field. Having basic artistic skills, background in computer programs, software knowledge, creativity, communication and time management, and attention to detail are key to being a successful Animator. Especially since technology and programs continue to advance, animators must keep up with the latest developments in the industry. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people working under the general classification of Multimedia Artists and Animators earned a median annual salary of $63,970. This average varies depending on location, which studio an Animator is employed at and the level of experience. For example, since California is home to some of the biggest Animation studios and is filled with opportunities, their salary is considerably higher at $88,150 per year.

One of the most unique forms of Animation is Stop Motion. Stop motion editors use a wide range of different materials to create an entire scene. Clay, puppets, Silhouettes, and inanimate objects are a few of the supplies these animators use. Photographs are taken of the characters or objects as they are moved slightly between frames. When the sequence of images is pieced together, it creates the illusion of movement. Stop motion editors have the ability to maneuver lighting to fit the environment and calculate angles to bring a man-made setting to life.

Computer Animation can be divided into either 2D or 3D Animation. 2D animators create scenes and characters in a two-dimensional space. The process is similar to creating a flipbook in which you have to redraw characters on each page to represent a different stage of movement. 3D is a newer form of Animation that has risen in popularity since the making of Toy Story. 3D artist work in teams to create visual effects and animated characters with the aid of computer illustrations and software programs. They are required to make realistic 3D scenes while adding lighting effects, color, sound and texture that adds to the visual appearance. 3D and 2D animators start off by working with developers, designers, and directors, to develop a storyboard made of quick sketches to get a good understanding of the concept and story. Throughout the day, the animators receive feedback from clients and creative directors about how to modify designs to strengthen sequences.

Developing an entire animated film is difficult work that requires an entire team of workers to accomplish. This effects animators by having to frequently go into overtime in order to meet the harsh deadlines. Webmaster revealed in his article that since animating costs money to do it on a large scale, occasionally managers try to shorten deadlines so they can lay-off workers sooner and save money. Animators in return end up being paid less because they’ve worked for fewer days. Although the majority of employers pay overtime, excessive days of working through long nights leaves animators frequently fatigued. Animation is a long process that can result in Animators working long hours and in poor conditions just to meet their deadlines.

A group of Animators from the Canadian Labor Union filed a complaint against Nitrogen Studios, the company behind the movie, Sausage Party, for purportedly failing to pay its animators for their sufficient overtime work on the film (Burns). Animators on the project commented anonymously about their experience in working on the project. They described Nitrogen Studios as a hostile workplace, where they were threatened with not getting credit if they decided to leave early. This made them feel intimidated and scared to come forward about the issue in fear they wouldn’t be hired again. This may just be a toxic studio but it shows how easily an Animator can be mistreated and threatened in their working environment.

Japan is known as the leading country in the global Animation industry. Even though many see it as a dream job and aspire to be a part of the production, the working environment has proven to be not so desirable. The Anime market is receiving millions but the companies involved in making Animation don’t get much in return. Overworking and harsh conditions for animators is a huge problem in Japan’s Animation industry. Japanese get paid around a dollar for every frame they complete. When working on extremely detailed and complex shots, wages end up frighteningly low. According to an article by Kotaku East, Janica (Japan Animation Creators Association) calculated that an animator’s average workday lasts 11 hours.

Their average compensation for such marathon shifts? “A paltry 1,100,000 yen (US $9,240) a year.” This is an extremely wide gap compared to the United States average wage of $64,000 with a seven to eight-hour workday. Pay is so low that many animators have to move back in with their parents or receive an allowance to cover their living expenses (General). Brian Ashcraft, an Animator in Japan, revealed that the most difficult part about working in the Animation industry is the large quantity of work to deal with in a short time period. Animators feel pressure from the studio while working under these conditions and it can greatly put their health at risk. When employers are not healthy, it results in a shortage of artists which can then lead to a decline in the industry growth. In order to keep the Animation industry prospering, something needs to change.

Only paying animators for every frame of Animation they complete leads to uneven and low pay. Instead of that being the focus for deciding wages, animators need to have an equal amount of pay every week despite how many frames are completed. Having more stability in their pay can increase employee motivation. Companies with set salaries will attract more employees.

Another step that needs to be taken is changing the mindset that faster is better. Even though workers need to be committed and efficient at their job, pushing them to complete work in unreasonable amounts of time takes a toll on employees. Clients and managers of businesses need to encourage workers to take breaks instead of creating Animations at a breakneck pace. Rushing only lowers the overall outcome of the work.

Lastly, there needs to be a greater value for quality over the quantity of production. This can be enforced by lessening the number of projects and having variant deadlines. Even though less is being produced, an increased number of healthy workers gets a higher quality of work completed.

Being an Animator gives you the opportunity to bring your own creations to life and share your work through numbers of different platforms for the world to see. Animation isn't always a walk in the park with strict deadlines that result in late nights, but watching the end result and how it makes others feel is something that drives Animators to continue

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