For The Ingenious: Launching a career in 3D Animation

For The Ingenious: Launching A Career In 3D Animation
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Priyadharshini GS

Last updated August 26, 2015


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Are you an artistic, creative-type, looking for a fulfilling career –and still make take home a solid pay package? A career in 3D animation may be just the thing for you!

Read on to find out more about the field of 3D animation, and how to build an exciting career as animator.

From short films to video games, television series and movies, 3D animators use computers and CGI to make their art come alive. Professionals with specializations in 3D animation are required to handle the complexities of this career. Whether dealing with live action actors and models or backgrounds, there is a lot that goes into creating a 5 minute animation.

If you have watched any of the Pixar shorts, you will notice that the credits take nearly as long to view as the actual short –that’s because of the number of people who have to work together to make the animation look come to life!

3D Animation: Hugely Popular Field


Since the wild popularity of Toy Story, 3D animation has been a field that has been in a lot of demand. Along with allowing artistic people to do what they love, the career lets artists focus on the aspects that they do best.

If you are better at designing backgrounds, you can specialize in it. If you like working with models and turning them into an animated product, this is actually one of the highest demand specializations in the field. The two main points to consider in this career are:
  1. Artists are required to understand a lot about computers. Most 3D animators spend more than 40 hours a week in front of a computer working out the shading, texture, shadows, facial expressions, body movements, and a whole host of other aspects most people take for granted when watching a movie.
  2. It is a very competitive field.
A degree in an animation-specialization is absolutely essential, as well as the need for staying updated with the latest technology. The tools and strategies are constantly changing. Also, most companies use Macs for 3D animation. That means if you are going to take up 3D Animation as a profession, you have to be ready to shell out a lot of money for your education.

However, once you know what you are doing and have a portfolio prepared, you stand a much better chance of getting a job.

Is Professional Training Important?


The majority of people going into 3D animation are generally on the lookout for a job that gives them a sense of professional fulfilment, whether artistic or technical. Because of the investment and school work required to earn a degree, most 3D artists and animators already know where they want to specialize before they graduate.

This gives them a distinct advantage as they can build and customize their profiles to demonstrate their skills in their chosen field. There are even a number of schools that specialize in producing 3D animators, but the schools are considerably more expensive than traditional schools.

Keep in mind that each of these careers is still a relatively broad range for the field, and they can all be broken down into even smaller niches.

Also, if you find that you don’t like your chosen field, if you keep up with what you have learnt and with current trends, it is easy to switch to a different area. Students must work on all of these aspects in school, so they all have working knowledge of the field when they first start working professionally.

If you are already a working professional, going back to school is still an option, but a professional certification may be a better bet. A certification course imparts training in the same set of skills, but is significantly less resource-intensive, in terms of the time and money expended. Certification training courses are generally in sync with industry requirements, so the training would be more job-oriented and of greater utility.

What Are Some Of The Roles 3D Animation Professionals Would Work In?


Previsualisation Artists

This is one of the more technical positions, but people in this role work with props to visualize what shots will look like. They are responsible for collecting and assembling 3D sets and props for a scene based on the script. Whenever there is a change to the plan, previsualisation artists are responsible for ensuring that these elements are changed to meet the new specifications. For live movies, a previsualisation artist uses 3D models to support the action sequences.

This is among a handful of new positions and has served as an alternative (or replacement) of hand-drawn animations.

Special Effects Animator

Also called visual effects artists, this position is responsible for creating the finished computer image over live action movies. Special effects have come a long way since the first Peter Pan was filmed, and computer special effects are considerably better than they were in the mid-1990s, when they began to become popular in movies and television.

This position has a wide range of work, from creating entire monsters for the actors and actresses to fight to gun fire and minor details that should look realistic. The best special effects artists produce work that is so ultra-realistic that the audience cannot judge whether or not special effects were employed.

Modeler

Modelers are among the most sought after professionals because what they do affects everything else. They take the conceptual drawings and model them into geometric shapes. These 3D shapes are what animators use for creating the motions. Modelers work with props that the characters will use, settings, and the characters themselves. Character modelers are broken down into smaller categories, such as rigging, because the models of characters must also be able to move.

Because of the need for modelers, their pay was broken out from other areas, and their average salary currently stands at $68,645 a year, according to information from glassdoor.com

Character Animator

This is the position that most artists ultimately see themselves working in, but in reality, few end up in this role, owing to its complexity and frustration that comes with the territory. It is the character animator’s responsibility to analyze the script and determine how characters should react.

This means that they have to control every aspect of the face (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, skin tone, and a host of other elements that can subtly or not so subtly show how a person feels) and body. Moving and manipulating all of the aspects of a character can be very difficult. There are entire teams dedicated to the animation of a single character, regardless of the length of the film or game, but the longer the piece of entertainment, the larger the team required to animate that character.

Motion capture can be particularly useful in interpreting movement and facial expressions. Games tend to be the ones who most heavily rely on motion capture because passive theater goers are far less caught up in characters moving and looking “real” than gamers who want to closely identify with the character they are playing.

Character animators must therefore be excellent communicators, be able to work in a team on tight deadlines, and possess an intuitive ability to interpret and understand both physical and emotional reactions.

Technical Director

The technical director manages the two departments (artists and technicians) to ensure that things flow smoothly. Nearly all directors come from a very technical background, giving them the experience they need to understand problems encountered and help solve those issues.

Often times they take a very hands-on approach, and it is common to have them actually helping with the design, models and rigging, and other aspects. They oversee storyboarding sessions and review concept art, research new tools, and monitor project budgets.

With the rapid expansion of the animation, CGI, and video-gaming industries, projects have become larger and more complex, and the demand for technical directors has shot up big time. To qualify for this position, you have to be a seasoned professional, although it is too new a position to have established standards and qualifications.

What Is The Compensation And Career Outlook Like, For 3D Animation Professionals?


While the career paths are many, most statistics do not differentiate between the different occupations. The May 2012 information released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics lumped all of these positions into a single group and reported that the median earnings was just over $61,000 a year, or $29.50 an hour. This covered the salary range for 68,900 multimedia artists and animators, and further stated that 57% of those artists and animators were self-employed.

The entertainment industry has always enjoyed steady growth, and 3D animation is part of that perpetual growth. The projected growth is steady at 6% and has been roughly the same for several years. The projected growth between 2012 and 2022 of 6% is actually lower and more sluggish than what other occupations average. However, since those numbers were released, animated movies, like Frozen, and games, like Dragon Age Inquisition, have whetted the public’s appetite for animated features and special effects.

Based on data from the last few years, it is likely that the different career paths will have rapid periods of growth followed by slower periods. Also, the best-paying employers at the time of the 2012 report were large film industries.

The best way to make a decision is to determine what you do best, and find one or two comparable positions. Then you need to build up your portfolio. Most companies would want to see candidates’ work before making their final decision. If you maintain your portfolio over time, you will be able to show how you have kept up with the latest technological trends as well. 

About the Author

Priyadharshini writes on Project Management, IT, Six Sigma, & e-Learning. With a penchant for writing and a passion for professional education & development, she is adept at penning educative articles. She was previously associated with Oxford University Press and Pearson Education, India.


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