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. 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.
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 traveling to meet clients and promote their work.
The starting salary for a newly-qualified animator may be from around £19,440 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.
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.
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:
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 GCSE's/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 GCSE's/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.
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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
An animator should:
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.
British Film Institute (BFI), 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN
Tel: 020 7255 1444
British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC),
77 Wells Street, London W1T 3QJ
Tel: 020 7393 1500
Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Scottish Screen, 249 West George Street, Glasgow G2 4QE
Tel: 0845 300 7300
Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800
The UK Film Council, 10 Little Portland Street, London W1W 7JG
Tel: 020 7861 7861
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.