Animator Careers

How to become an animator

What does an animator do?

Animators work on animations and on the visualisation of drawn or modeled characters and scenery in film, television, advertising, computer games and multimedia. Animation requires creative skills to bring characters to life by conveying personality, movement and feeling to their animations. They also have to reflect nuances in the script, timing of voice- overs, special effects and soundtrack.

There are four main techniques of animation. In principle, the animator’s role is the same for all techniques, with the differences being in the tools used and some of the skills required:

  • 2-D hand-drawn or traditional animation: involves the production of hand-drawn or painted ‘cels’, filmed frame by frame to create the effect of movement
  • 2-D computer-generated: this is where movement of hand-drawn or painted 'cels' within a 2-dimensional artistic space is generated using computer software 
  • 3-D computer-generated: the same process as 2-D computer generated animation, except 3-D animation involves more depth, texture and detail. There is a more lifelike and realistic feel thanks to advanced software used
  • stop-frame or stop-motion: slight adjustments are made to 3-D models to create a moving sequence – a common example is the use of clay models for characterisation, known as ‘claymation’.

CGI (computer generated images) is the fastest growing type of animation in both 2-D and 3-D. Characters and backgrounds can be rendered to any specification using animation software, and hand-drawn and modeled work can also be scanned into a computer and manipulated for the desired effect.

The animation process involves several stages. On larger productions these stages may be distinct job roles, and each role may even have its own assistant; on smaller productions several roles may be covered by the same person, or may not be required at all:

Animation director – is responsible for the production process from start to finish. They liaise with clients in the planning, design and implementation of the brief. They oversee the animation team and coordinate the teams' workload to ensure that the job is completed on time and on budget.

Storyboard artist – visualises scripts by sketching out sequences to create a continuous blueprint from which concepts, characters and timings are developed. Several revisions may be done before a final storyboard is agreed for production. Some productions also use storyboard assistants to clean up rough drawings, or complete partly-drawn panels.

Layout artist – plans the technical set-up of each scene to take into account camera angles, positioning and backgrounds with reference to storyboards. They may work with background painters rendering background detail to produce the required colour depth, contrast, texture, light and shadow.

Key or lead animator, animator and assistant, and in- betweener - develop the movement, gestures and expressions of characters to match instructions laid out at the storyboard stage. This includes refining (cleaning up) initial ideas and drawings and colouring final versions ready for filming.

Compositor – combines all the visual layers or elements (cels, backgrounds, effects) within each frame ready for filming.

The Skillset Careers website (see Further information below) has more detailed information about each specific job role within the animation industry in both the film and computer games sectors.


What's the working environment like for an animator?

Animators normally work on particular projects like films, TV series or specials, shorts, commercials, games or websites. Projects vary in length from weeks to many years. It is common for animators to be employed on a freelance contract basis by animation production companies. Overtime and unsocial hours are common to meet filming schedules. The work is mainly office or studio based, often working with computers.

There are regular meetings with clients to monitor progress on a project, so some travel may be required.


What does it take to become an animator?

As an animator, you should:

  • be able to produce quick, accurate and consistent drawings
  • have an appreciation of animal and human anatomy, movement, texture and lighting
  • be able to think creatively to overcome technical problems.
  • have patience and be able to concentrate for long periods without losing attention to detail
  • be able to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines
  • have good communication, presentation and negotiating skills
  • have excellent interpretative skills to develop client briefs
  • have knowledge of animation methods and 3-D modelling software
  • have good organisational ability
  • be able to work well as part of a team.

Depending on the size of the company and level of responsibility, you may need project management, marketing and budgetary skills.

Skills in drawing, modelling and using computer software packages are a must for this job. When it comes to gaining entry into this line of work, an animation or art-related HND, foundation degree, degree or postgraduate degree will strengthen your application into the industry. 

There may be the possibility to start off as a studio runner and work your way up to becoming an assistant animator. This will place among the professionals and individuals you need to learn more.

A portfolio is a must in this area of work. This can either be featured either as a DVD or an online site.

Animator career opportunities

Most opportunities are with animation production companies, working in computer games development, television, music video and film production. Contracts are often short-term and ad-hoc. There is scope for freelance work.

Whilst the demand for traditionally drawn 2-D work has fallen, the demand for people with computer animation skills has grown although there is still no substitute for good graphic skills. The wider the range of skills an animator can offer, the more employment options are available.

There is the possibility of working overseas in Europe and the United States.


Further information

If you would like to know more about becoming an animator that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Prospect House
80-110 New Oxford Street

Skillset Careers
Tel: 08080 300 900 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 0808 100 8094 for Scotland

British Film Institute
21 Stephen Street







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