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Job Description: Animator

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Animation is the art of making images that appear to come to life on screen. It features in all kinds of media, from feature films to commercials, pop videos, computer games and websites.  

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Job Description, Salaries and Benefits

Animators produce images that appear to come to life on screen. Their work is found in feature films, commercials, pop videos, computer games, websites and other media. They may work with drawings, specialist software or models and puppets, capturing separate images of each stage of a movement. When the images are viewed at speed the character appears to move.

Animators usually work normal office hours, although they may work additional hours to meet deadlines. Many animators work freelance, and part-time and temporary contracts are common. Animators usually work in well-lit offices or studios. Working on stop frame animation may involve standing for long periods under hot studio lights. Other types of animation demand long hours sitting at a drawing board or computer.

Salaries may range from around £19,440 to upwards of £26,120 a year. Freelance animators may not always be in full-time employment so their income may vary.

An animator should:

  • be creative and artistic
  • have drawing skills (and sculpting skills for stop frame animation using clay)
  • have excellent IT skills
  • be patient and able to concentrate for long periods
  • be interested in art and design.

Around 3,000 people work in animation in the UK and about 300 companies employ animators. The main centres for this work are London, Bristol, Manchester and Dundee. Although there are some permanent jobs, many animators work on a freelance basis. Competition for jobs is keen and they are not always advertised, so networking is an important way of finding work.

Most animators have a degree or an HNC/HND. Animation courses are offered at universities and colleges throughout the UK. Admissions tutors usually expect to see a strong portfolio of work and, if possible, examples of animation projects. A show-reel of previous work is essential to show to potential clients and employers.

Animators normally train on the job, working with more experienced colleagues to learn and develop new techniques and skills. It is essential for animators to keep up to date with new developments in the industry, and there are many relevant short courses.

As many animators are self-employed, career progression depends on their skills, versatility and ability to promote themselves. With experience, animators may become lead animators or animation directors. They may also move into specialist areas such as animation special effects. There may be opportunities to work overseas or to teach animation.

What is the work like?

Animators use a range of techniques to make images appear to move, and most specialise in one of the following:

  • 2D drawn animation
  • 2D computer animation
  • stop frame or stop motion animation
  • 3D computer generated (CG) animation.

2D drawn animation consists of a series of images which the animator draws on special paper. Each image represents one stage of a movement, for example, of a character walking or smiling. Traditionally the images are traced onto film and coloured. Scenery is then added by layering sheets of film. Increasingly, however, the images are scanned into a computer and coloured using specialist software. When viewed at speed and in sequence the images appear to move.

In 2D computer animation, the animator works with a specialist software package which is used to create and animate characters, and add scenery and a soundtrack.

Stop frame or stop motion animation uses models, puppets or other 3D objects. The model is photographed, then moved a fraction by the animator and photographed again. When the photographs (or frames) are played at normal speed, the images appear to move.

3D CG animation uses specialist software to create animations. This technique is often used in feature films and computer games.

The work can be extremely painstaking and time consuming, but animators are expected to meet deadlines and production schedules.

Although some animators create their own characters and stories, others follow a brief from a director, animation director or key animator. Often they work with established characters and layouts.

The starting salary for a newly-qualified animator may be from around £19,440 a year.

Hours & Environment

Animators usually work normal office hours for 35 to 40 hours a week, although they may work additional hours to meet deadlines. Many animators work freelance, and part-time and temporary contracts are common.

Animators usually work in well-lit offices or studios. Working on stop frame animation may involve standing for long periods under hot studio lights. Other types of animation demand long hours sitting at a drawing board or computer. Freelance animators are likely to spend some time travelling to meet clients and promote their work.

Salary & Benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Newly-qualified animators may earn around £19,440 a year.
  • Experienced animators may earn up to £23,680.
  • Highly skilled animators may earn upwards of £26,120 a year.

Freelance animators may not always be in full-time employment so their income may vary. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) website has more information on freelance salaries.

Skills & Personal Qualities

An animator should:

  • be creative and artistic
  • have drawing skills (and sculpting skills for stop frame animation using clay)
  • have excellent IT skills
  • be patient and able to concentrate for long periods
  • pay attention to detail
  • be observant and understand how people move and express emotions
  • have good communication and negotiation skills
  • have good organisational skills
  • be original and inventive
  • work well as part of a team and be able to take direction from senior animators, directors and clients
  • be able to follow a brief and work on their own initiative
  • take criticism well
  • work well under pressure and to strict deadlines.

Interests

It is important to:

  • be interested in art and design
  • be interested in film and television
  • enjoy using computer technology

Getting In

Around 3,000 people work in animation in the UK. About 300 companies are involved in animation, including small production companies, larger studios, CG post-production facility houses, computer games developers and interactive media designers. The main centres are London, Bristol, Manchester and Dundee. Although there are some permanent jobs in animation, many animators work on a freelance or contract basis. The computer games industry is a particular growth area in the sector. Competition is keen.

Many vacancies and opportunities are not advertised by conventional methods. Networking is an important way of making contacts and finding work. Some vacancies may be advertised in The Guardian and in specialist magazines such as Creative Review and Design Week.

Entry for young people

Most animators have a degree or an HNC/HND.

Many universities and colleges throughout the UK offer courses in animation and other relevant art and design courses. Skillset, in consultation with the industry and education providers, has endorsed the following courses:

  • HND in Art & Design (Computer Animation) and Degree in Animation at the Glamorgan Centre for Art & Design
  • Degree in Animation Production at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth
  • Degree in Computer Visualisation and Animation at Bournemouth University
  • Degree in Animation at the University of Wales, Newport
  • Degree in Animation at University College for the Creative Arts at Farnham
  • Degree in Computer Animation at the University of Teesside.

Other courses are currently being evaluated. Applicants should contact Skillset for more information.

Entry requirements vary and candidates are advised to check with individual institutions. However, in general, in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, many people do a foundation course in art and design before starting a degree course. Typical qualifications required are five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), and sometimes an A level/H grade.

In Scotland, many degree courses last four years, with an introductory year rather than an art foundation year.

For degree courses, applicants usually need a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

For HND courses, typical entry requirements are one A level/two H grades in art and design subjects, or a BTEC national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject, or equivalent.

Admissions tutors usually expect to see a strong portfolio of work and, if possible, examples of animation projects.

There are also postgraduate degrees and diplomas for candidates with a good first degree in a relevant subject.

Prospective employers and clients generally expect to see a show-reel of previous work as well as still shots, and a portfolio of life drawings and movement studies.

Entry for adults

Universities and colleges may accept mature entrants if they can demonstrate a genuine interest in the subject and a strong portfolio of work. The normal requirements may not be enforced for mature applicants. Adults may prepare for a degree by taking an Access course.

Older entrants may succeed if they have a strong and relevant portfolio of work.

Training

Animators normally receive training on the job, working with more experienced colleagues to learn and develop new techniques and skills.

It is essential for animators to keep up to date with new developments in the industry, particularly with regard to software relevant to their field of animation. The Skillset website has a directory of short courses available in the UK. Freelance animators usually fund their own training.

Getting On

As many animators are self-employed, career progression depends on their skills, versatility and ability to promote themselves.

New animators may start as 'inbetweeners' (producing the drawings that are used in between key poses) or junior animators. With experience, they may progress to assistant animator, animator, lead animator and animation director. There may also be opportunities to work in specialist roles such as animation special effects.

There may be opportunities to work overseas or, with an appropriate teaching qualification, to teach animation.

Further Information

Further reading

  • Working in media & photography - Connexions

Magazines

  • Creative Review
  • Design Week
  • The Guardian

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