Great Tips on Becoming a Professional Animator

It’s hard to watch any movies these days without seeing any computer generated art in them. And the range of art can go from things you might not even notice, such as an apartment background or a cityscape, to the more overt CGI in movies like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, 300: Rise of an Empire, or the more cartoony Rio 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. It takes teams of people working in concert to create these animations, and if you want to join them — you absolutely can!


All it takes is a love of your craft, dedication, and education. After all, you have to start somewhere, and the tools that professional 3D animators use are incredibly complex beasts.Make no mistake, though. Enrolling in a college specifically for animation can be frustrating, difficult and confusing at times. Yet it can also be the most rewarding thing that you can do. When you find that you are able to breathe life into a character you’ve designed on the screen, you’ll enjoy a rush like nothing else in the world. And when you can join that character together with other elements that your classmates have created, and you make a believable world — you’ve just created magic.

If you are truly passionate about the work that you do, nothing can hold you back.

• What Will I Work On When I’m Actually In the Field, Though?

The job of an animator is to create characters and objects in three dimensions, then bring those 3D objects to life with believable fluid motion. It’s really going to be up to you (and your art director) how you design your characters. And where your skill will really shine is how you make those characters look like they have a life of their own.


To be sure, studios like Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks (among many, many others) only recruit the best of the best. If you’re not lucky enough to be snapped up by one of the larger studios, then you can still find work as a 3D animator. They are used in many other fields, including commercials, television, and video games. Additionally, there is much work that is farmed out to smaller CGI movie production houses, which create the aforementioned background graphics and suchlike.

In short, if there are 3D elements on screen, a 3D animator should be able to bring life to them. And every Institute of Animation can provide some guidance on these topics.


• As a Prospective 3D animator, what characteristics should I possess?

As animation is not something that can be learned overnight, animators have to be quite patient. They have to be patient not only with themselves, but with their tools, which can be frustratingly complex.


An animator also needs patience in order to gain experience. It might even take you longer than you expected to discover that you really are getting the hang of it. So just hang in there and design you characters with a free mind. Let your creativity run loose — which is, incidentally, another quality you should have in order to be a 3D animator. But then again, if you didn’t have a measure of that, then you likely wouldn’t have looked into the field in the first place.

Animators also eventually come to see the world differently than other people do. They don’t think about things the same way that Joe Sixpack does. If an animator sees something interesting while in the grocery store, standing in line, they’ll start taking mental notes. Then upon getting back to work, they’ll either add those notes to an existing design, like mounting it on their character’s head. They might make make something new in order to give depth to their observation; give it goofy eyes with glasses, arms and legs. A non-animator might walk straight past the miniaturized bubble-gum machine; they likely wouldn’t even dream of doing anything peculiar with it.

• What Technical Skills Will I Need to Know?

No matter which field you’re working in, you’re going to need some specific technical skills to fully master it. Animation is no different. There are many free, inexpensive, and open-source tools that are available to learn animation before you get into the big leagues. We’ve discussed many of those previously here on the Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studios blog. In fact, since the fundamentals of animation are the same no matter what tools you’re using, it’s strongly suggested that you learn to use some of those tools before you start using what the Big Boys will have you using: Maya. Maya is the software that the high-end studios use; and although it is much more complex than many other packages out there, it does not hurt in the least to have a solid grounding in other 3D programs first.


Once you get your hands on a 3D package you like, then practice with it. Then practice some more. Then practice some more. Then when you think you’re done practicing, practice some more. Because that’s really the only way you’ll get good at 3D modeling and animating. There are many helpful websites, communities and videos out there to assist you, so if you’re motivated enough, there’s really no reason that you can’t teach yourself the skills you need to know in order to get into a top-notch Animation College, many of our Austin Visuals Animators attended Savannah College of Art and Design ( SCAD ) or Full-Sail University.

Then the sky’s the limit!

— The Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio Team