Article: How to Become a 3D Animator
How to Become a 3D Animator
Animation and Imagination:
Becoming a 3D Animator may be both easier and harder than you think. Because you see, a 3D Animator needs more than even the right qualifications and training, though those can be crucially important prerequisites to success. No, an animator needs that most vital of all qualifications – an active and brilliant imagination. If you've been an artist all your life, if you've been sketching since you were old enough to hold a pencil – well then, the chances are that 3D animation is the job for you.
You MUST have the soul of an artist, because this is certainly a job that requires passion and inspiration, and the ability to dream and imagine whole new worlds and realities. And then you need the skills necessary to bring those worlds and realities to life. Lastly, you need a willingness to work at your skills ALL the time, so that you build an incredible portfolio without even trying too hard to do so.
Here are some tips to help you on your way...
1) Start Learning Before You Even Go to School:
One crucial tip to becoming an exceptional 3D animator is to master a few 3D programs BEFORE you go to animation school, so that when you actually go to an animation school all you have to do there is perfect your skills, especially those extra skills that you cannot possibly learn on your own. Most of the 3D programs on the market these days are very intuitive, and there is lots of help available on animation forums on the Internet, not to mention complete and and highly detailed tutorials and even teaching videos – it's all available to you, and it's all for free, so make use of it. I might also mention that a good portfolio will improve your chances of getting into one of the top schools on the planet (yes, go for the best) and thus enhance your chances of assuming a dominating position in the industry.
So which 3D animation software should you start 'playing around with' before you actually go to animation school? Well, that's easy – I highly recommend Autodesk Maya. It's interface is so intuitive that you'll be crafting fairly complex scenes and models within a day or two of starting to work with it – I'm NOT kidding, the interface is really that intuitive. And with mastery of Maya to provide a strong basis for your skills, you can then go on to more complex (or less intuitive) programs like 3D Studio Max.
Why do you need such a range of 3D computer animation programs at your fingertips? Well, each program has it's own capabilities, and to truly be able to create ANYTHING, you need to master quite a few of them. Poser, for example, is a program that makes sculpting human bodies and other organic shapes quite effortless.
2) Choose the right school:
This can be crucially important. Let's start by pointing out that 3D animation has a lot in common with (and needs the same skill-set as) directing a large-scale movie epic. Make sure you go to a school that will give you that skill set, not merely to one that will teach you how to use various softwares. I can't over-emphasize how important it is to go to one of the best schools in the country, like Ringling or Sheridan, because these schools have a name and reputation that is respected, and this can be of immense use to you when you try for a job in the industry.
If you have an incredible portfolio, and have been to a top school, your interviewer can rest assured that you are a master of the field and can confidently assume you'll be an asset to the company. Going to the right school can be the difference between success and failure as a 3D animator in this highly competitive industry.
3) Your Demo reel:
A good school will help you put your Demo reel together. This is another thing that can be crucially important, so make sure you ask whether the school will do this BEFORE you join up. Firstly, transferring your demonstration from digital to video will be extremely costly and difficult to do after you leave school, so it's best if the school does it for you. Secondly, with highly skilled instructors around it'll be that much easier to work on the perfect Demo reel – make sure you take advice, instruction and suggestions from every instructor at your school that you can, and keep updating the reel until every instructor that you respect believes it to be reasonably perfect and up to industry standards.
4) Salaries in the Industry
There are several industries that use 3D animators so your wages will depend on which one you choose. And of course there is a great difference between your earnings at the entry level and your earnings if you manage to climb the corporate ladder. That said, even an entry-level 3D animator in the industry earns anything from forty to sixty grand a year. And if you play a crucial role in a 'hit' – some project that becomes an astounding success – well then you can confidently expect a six figure salary.
5) What sorts of jobs are available to a highly qualified 3D animator?
Everyone knows about the 3D computer animation jobs available in the movie and games industries – but did you know that there are wheels within the wheels? For example, if you aren't that great a 3D animator, but are brilliant at creating background scenes – well, there's certainly a place for you as a background artist. Be flexible and assess your strengths and weaknesses, and you'll have a better chance of landing a job in the industry that is just right for you.
Besides movies and games, advertising is another industry that is coming to rely heavily – if occasionally – on the skills of 3D animators. The best thing that you can do is to have a comprehensive set of skills with 3D animation software, skills that you can adapt to almost any situation – it maximizes your chances of getting a reasonable job. On the other hand, if you target a particular industry, make sure you have the 'extra' skills associated with that industry. For example, if you're trying to break into advertising with your animation skills, a secondary degree in advertising will put you on top of the competition.
6) Finding a job:
I'm going to give you a crucial tip. When you qualify as a 3D animator and start searching for a job, of course you'll go through classifieds, and of course you'll email various animations studios (or companies in your chosen line of animation). Virtually any animation company has a compelling website, and virtually every one of them has a contact address on that website that you can email. So go ahead and do it – but, and this is a crucial tip – send the emails on a working day, and phone the company an hour or two after you send the email.
When you phone the company, get the person on the line to put you in touch with the personnel department, and make sure someone in authority reads your email. Or you'll never get an answer. Believe me, I've worked for half a dozen animation companies, and for some reason all those 'hopeful' resumes and emails get junked by some low-level employee who wouldn't recognize genius if it stood up and introduced itself. So give yourself a fighting chance.
Or better still, email your resume, fax it, AND send it in by post. And visit each and every animation studio that's within range of where you live in PERSON, portfolio in hand. The world belongs to the bold, and if your portfolio is good enough, there's a very good chance someone in the industry will recognize your potential – your job is to make sure you (and your portfolio) get within visual range.