There are four main areas of the animation industry… TV series, animated feature films, visual effects and gaming. Other areas include commercials, documentaries, medical visualization and training, industrial, architectural, home and building interior design, even aerospace and forensics.
TV Series Animation
Most animated series made for TV are geared toward preschool age and older kids but there are more and more shows being targeted toward adults.
Shows like The Simpson’s, Family Guy, Futurama are targeted toward an older adult audience and have aired in prime time slots on network television for years. There are also networks that broadcast animation exclusively such as Teletoon, Cartoon Network, and Treehouse. With these networks broadcasting animated shows 24/7 along with animation shown on local networks there is usually plenty of series animation work in the industry.
Animators make up a large portion of the personnel working on any given project.For example (and this is very general)on a series project there might be 1 Series Director, 1 or 2 Animation Supervisors, 1 – 6 Lead Animators, 1 Producer, 1 or 2 Editors, 1 or 2 Production Managers, 4-6 Layout Artists..(I’ll get more into Production Pipelines later but you get the general idea). But the animation team can be quite large, for example 12-24 animators working on a series project (in a season).
Some of my favorite things about working in Series Animation:
-The varying styles of character animation that are used. I enjoy the ongoing challenge of learning new styles and techniques.
-The rewards come quick. You’re able to see the finished show (with your work in it) fairly soon after the episode has been animated.
-The hours aren’t usually too long, generally 8 hour days unless there’s a time crunch. I have had to work the odd weekend, or stay an hour or two later than usual to meet a deadline – but that’s not too bad when your in a job you don’t hate!
-Episodes are typically wrapped up in 4-8 weeks (not including retakes/revisions). You move on to another episode which keeps things interesting and adds variety to the work.
The challenge in series animation is maintaining a reasonably high level of quality and speed. That is, being able to animate well and do it quickly. It’s common for junior animators to have to really work on their speed when they first start working in TV series animation, but most quickly find their workflow and are up and running in a few weeks.
Animated Feature Films
Most aspiring animators want to work on movies – probably because of the lure of bringing to life the fantastic characters we see in animated films. Working in feature films is a highly demanding part of the industry, there are some things to consider before you decide that you want to be a feature animator.
Pretty much all feature work requires previous studio experience. Although I have heard of graduates getting hired to work on animated films, it’s extremely rare. With experience comes a higher quality of work but also very important – speed. Being able to hit your deadline and maintain a high level of quality comes with experience.
But animating quickly is more important in series animation. Feature animators are generally given more time to complete their animation work load. The quality expectations are set very high and they end up doing lots of fixing and revising – sometimes even re-animating shots, if for example a section of the script has been re-written or dialogue re-recorded.
Both of those have happened to me before – that’s when you have to remind yourself how much you love being an animator and couldn’t see yourself doing anything else!
Salaries are generally higher in feature animation but you work much longer hours – especially near the end of the project when deadlines are closing in, stress levels can run high.
It’s common for there to be a major time crunch near the end of the animation schedule due to heavy changes that may have been made during production and people leaving the project to pursue other work. (I don’t recommend ever leaving a project before the end of your contract).
What I’ve noticed during my time in the industry is that peoples lifestyles play a part in the types of jobs that they work. Feature animation can often cause a strain on personal relationships – for example, if your married with kids – working on features all the time can put a strain on family life because the hours are generally longer.
However, if your working at a large established studio/entertainment company such as Sony, Dreamworks or Disney/Pixar. Those projects would be better managed and planned, with a larger budget and less likely to run into snags during production. All or most of the work is done in-house which means less confusion/miscommunication between companies and clients. All this means a more comfortable work environment for you.
Other smaller studios are likely working with a smaller budget which means deadlines can be a little tighter. Also, they will often sub-contract the work out to other smaller animation service studios which is great for new animators in regards to getting your foot in the door. And great for the local economy in general.
Most of what’s been said about feature animation, (above) rings true when working on vfx – your working on movies or commercials and it’s highly rewarding, but there will be long hours and lots of client revisions/retakes which will often require long hours to complete.
Animator salaries may not be quite as much as big feature animation – it can depend on the size/establishment of the company. Really, in any part of the industry salaries are unique to the individual and depend on your skill level and experience.
With a huge popularity in gaming, animation opportunities are comparable to feature work. In gaming there is theatrical animation and game play animation.
It should be said that gaming companies like to hire only people that have a passion for gaming. I found this out when I first started to look for work right out of school.
Sure I’ve played my share of PlayStation or X Box but I’m not a die hard gamer. They want die hard gamers with strong animation skills. Usually modeling and texturing ability is a plus at smaller game companies as they will have you switching jobs from time to time.
If your able to work in theatrical animation for games, it’s a good foot in the door for feature. Games usually have a theatrical intro and even parts during the game where theatrical animation will play out to further the story. These theatrical parts of the game are produced in a higher, feature-like animation quality.
The game play animation is the actions you see the character perform while actually playing the game. These actions aren’t key framed by an animator, they’re done with a technique called motion capture. Sensors are placed on an actor, or athlete (depending on the game) and the actions of an actual person are captured with special equipment and inputted to animation software.
With this technique, keys are placed on every frame rather then pose planned by a professional animator. An animator is often needed to go into the software and clean up the work to make the actions smoother and fix any pops and sticks in the movements.
This job isn’t regarded as the most rewarding. I hear it’s really tedious, but it could be your way into better things with gaming if that’s what your after.
Animation work in other fields such as medical animation are scattered through out the world. Some studios will take on these projects and some studios specialize in this type of work.
3D Medical animation is often used to train doctors and medical staff or sell medical equipment. It can be used to demonstrate concepts and medical procedures that are very difficult to show any other way. Sounds like pretty dry stuff but it is very skilled work and you’d learn a lot about human anatomy!
Some documentaries require some animation or vfx but it’s more likely that you would stumble upon that work in an FX studio that you were already working at then to deliberately seek it out as a contractor.
Animation for architectural, construction, home design, and industrial may be an option if the economy you reside in is quickly developing and there isn’t much entertainment industry. But it’s likely that you’ll have to really reach out and hustle to sell your services, and you will need to have a demo reel that demonstrates your ability to achieve this kind of work. More suitable for individuals with an interest in architecture and design.
Some companies specialize in things like home/building walk throughs or auto design. Work in aerospace and forensics is usually contracted out to studios that do more industrial work and sometimes even animation schools as co-op work.
With any of these more specialized areas of animation, you would normally have a special interest in the particular field or area. So if you are interested in, for example medicine and animation, and want to do something in both, it does require a bit of digging to find relevant opportunities – doing a simple Google search such as “3D animation medical” or “forensics 3D animation” will return pretty good leads.