Home > Career Opportunities > The Animator
We asked some of our Senior Animator to share their insights and answer some questions on their role and the best ways to get into this exciting career.
What is an Animator?
In terms of what we do at TTRO an animator is someone who normally takes pre-made assets (artwork) into After Effects where the assets are then made to move, scale, rotate or transform or change according to a script and voice-over. Sometimes the animator is also the person who does the assets as well. The end result is an animated video, which is used in the e-learning content to bring context to the topic, or enhance a concept. We refer to these as “explainer videos”.
What does an Animator at TTRO do?
So let’s assume I am starting a new project today. The first call I will have will be with the Head of Design who will give me a rough idea of the brief: client, type of animation, what it is for, etc. Then there is handover with the Learning Experience Designer and the other stakeholders to go through the scripted storyboard and to gauge an understanding of the core concept that is being conveyed.
I will then take this storyboard with me from the meeting and go through it myself. This is a fun part because I get ideas here as I read and start putting together some rough ideas down on paper. It helps cement the core ideas and the flow of the scene.
Once I am comfortable with the idea and concept, I start putting together the asset list (graphics and illustrations) based on the storyboard. There are then two options on how to proceed. If I am given assets, then I can start setting things up for Adobe After Effects, if not, then the assets need to be designed. I produce a character style based on the customer’s branding guidelines or develop them in that signed off style that is suitable to the look and feel of the learning content. The next step is to decide what gets animated and how: is it a fully-rigged character who will be performing complex movements or is it just someone in the background who needs to blink? This is the fun part because its creative and I can play with how content is presented and moves on the screen. For example, I decide if it’s just a speech bubble that pops up with an icon inside or if to depict the characters performing the task.
After all the assets have been created I then import them into Adobe After Effects and get the ball rolling. It is another opportunity to play further with how content is conveyed visually, but now with the added notion of time. To a fairly large extent the timing of animation is a fundamental thing to work with: timing things to animate to voice-over is very effective and a lot of what we do is timed to voice-over.
Finally, once I am happy with the work I render and send for initial review. Changes are sent back and I implement them. Then we send on to the client review and make any amendments that are required.
Why become an Animator?
As far as goals and ambitions go I was always very interested in being able to draw well. When I got into comics as a teenager, I started getting curious about how things worked in an animated context and was fascinated with early anime like Akira and Golgo 13. So my goal was to find a job where I was drawing all the time. The ambition hasn’t ever really changed: convey something visually better than you did yesterday. I think one of the things that needs to be important to an animator is not necessarily whether the work looks good but whether the animation works: does whatever you have created help to or fully convey the message effectively?
Aptitude is obviously key: you kind of have to walk in here with at least a small amount of innate ability. But obviously it takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication and time spent in the saddle to get good. Still natural aptitudes like strong spatial thinking, good sense of design and layout, great sense of timing and great drawing fundamentals (even today this is something I consider as a basic requirement, your understanding of character creation improves drastically).
Is being an Animator right for you?
Technical skills would include thorough knowledge of the software mostly Adobe products (Illustrator, After Effects and Photoshop), basic drawing skills and basic graphic design skills.
Soft/EQ criteria would include things like attention to detail, an ability and need to learn (part of survival is remaining relevant, part of remaining relevant is acquiring new skills and always observing new trends). Being able to take feedback is critical: not only does it mean you get better at your job when you deal with it properly, but it also means you grow as a person as well as an asset to the company. Moreover, it is how you implement client changes and doing things like that quickly, accurately, and efficiently are key to keeping things profitable. Being a team player is essential but so is being able to work independently and come up with your own solutions: such things can be useful and sharing such knowledge is always good. Which brings me to collaboration: you need to be able to work as a part of something much bigger than yourself.
What are Hiring Managers looking For?
Skillsets: relevant software experience and qualifications, great visual literacy (communicate pictorially) and basic design skills.
Attitude: ability to work well with others, see feedback as training, be part of a team but also independent, resourceful, meticulous, good sense of humour (things get crazy), and approachability.
Culture Fit: Love design and how it can be used as a powerful tool in learning. Senior software engineers need to be able to work with confidence in isolation. At the same time such a person would see risks ahead of time and communicate impacts of such problems in time.
How do I become an Animator?
Obtain the specific certifications
Develop your skillsets
Get some related experience
Gain technical knowledge of the software
Understand design principles
What do you need in your portfolio?
Your showreel should be strong, punchy and to the point. Nothing over two minutes of your absolute best work. You want to showcase work that is relevant to your employer, so for us it would be any work you may have done pertaining to health and safety, office scenes, work environments, etc. Also show a nice variety of styles. You need to be able to work across projects, and keep things fresh so they don’t all look the same.
ONLY your best work. Hiring managers have a million reels to get through and the last thing that will impress is a long, drawn-out thing with loads of slow pans and things padding out mediocre filler. You won’t get hired like that.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a certificate or master’s degree?
A qualification, definitely. I did my honours in fine art which made it hard for me because I hadn’t ever touched software or computers and had to learn that on the job. Still, it was on the strength of a solid drawing portfolio that I started getting the work I did. So a relevant qualification is a must. There are many courses these days that have a focus purely on animation.
How can you get an animation job with no experience?
I interned at as many places as I could until someone offered me a three-month contract that then became a permanent employment contract and that was that. I think your best bet is to actually contact the places and do a week or two shadowing someone and asking questions and letting them talk. This can be an invaluable lesson and often quite exciting. Then show them your reel and ask for pointers or a critique.
Is animation a good career?
It is what you make of it. What I want from animation I am always getting from it: improvement, lessons and seeing the amazing end result after starting with nothing but a doodle. So, yes, for me it’s an amazing career.
What makes someone a great Animator?
Someone who is persistent, patient, and detail oriented. But mostly you have to want to be here. It’s not all dream-catching and make believe and sometimes when the novelty wears off so does the work ethic. You need to genuinely want to be part of this and put your talents into a cause – in my case, education.
What’s are the best tools to learn for animation?
Besides, the actual software – YouTube and Instagram are wonderful platforms where artists regularly showcase what they are working on and often enough give insight into how a thing was created. YouTube has many amazing channels that are really generous with free content and tutorials and I know many an animator who has learnt valuable skills that way. I’m always looking for new hacks and tricks and these are the places I go to. Also listen to the guys who have been doing this longer than you. If it is project related, then the issue is relevant to you and the learning will stick more because now you really are paying attention.
Is it hard to become a Software Engineer?
I battled. Still do. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot though – the results are so rewarding.
What is the best part about your role?
I love watching something I have drawn or illustrated come to life. The birthing happens twice. So I watch as the image emerges; going from a thumbnail on the back of a receipt or in a notebook or something then become a finished vector image in Illustrator. The second birth is the minute I have made my character blink in After Effects; it’s like suddenly this thing I drew is watching me. I have been doing this for a long time now and that little squiggle of excitement has never gone away.
Another thing that always makes me smile is when I see how a thing times for the first time. I lay out the animation in basic keyframes normally timed to a syllable in the VO and seeing that first head tilt and hand gesture work for the first time is deeply satisfying.
I have always loved drawing and I have never stopped doing it in some way or another. It is my language. Animation is the conversation. Animation is where my ideas that exist only on paper or in an Illustrator file actually manifest as something that someone watches and learns from. That is still huge for me.