What does an animator do?
Animators create still images that are played in a rapid sequence to create the illusion of movement. They are artists, actors and storytellers. They know how characters show emotion and a have a good, technical understanding of the way things move. They make a believable world through the blend of realism and artistry.
Animators take a visual brief from a storyboard and a verbal brief from a director. From the brief, they create the drawings, models or computer images in a way that gives the illusion of movement. This ability to translate the brief into movement is at the heart of all animation.
Within that, there are different kinds of animators:
2D or traditional animators
Examples of productions: Ethel & Ernest, Horrid Henry, The Tiger who Came to Tea
2D animators draw each frame by hand. Nowadays, animators tend to draw into animation software with a graphics pen and tablet. 2D animators don’t necessarily produce the finished ‘line’ seen on screen. They concentrate more on the overall action and character performance in a scene. They will usually produce a few clean, on model drawings as needed, for the assistant animator to follow. These are known as tie-downs.
2D assistant animators, also known as in-betweeners, clean-up artists
Assistant animators take the animator’s drawings, make each frame precisely on model and apply the final ‘line’ that will be seen on screen. This is known as clean up. They will often have to fill in frames that the animator did not need to produce. To do this they follow the animators ‘charting’ - visual instructions left for the assistant animator as to where missing drawings should come in the timeline. This is known as in-betweening. They might also lip sync, which means drawing the mouth in a way that lines up with the speech.
2D rigging animators, also known as puppet animators
Examples of productions: Charlie and Lola, Peppa Pig
2D puppet animators work with rigged models that are reminiscent of shadow puppets, with lots of separate moving parts that are interlinked. The kit of parts is often produced by the art department. The animator then uses the available assets to animate the character as detailed on the storyboard.
3D or CG Animators
Examples of productions: Digby Dragon, Go Jetters
3D animators use computers to fill in the frames of their computer-drawn models. The movement of their models is pre-programmed through a moving skeleton, or rig. 3D animators animate the most important frames - key frames. This is known as blocking the shot. Then they either draw the in-between shots by hand or allow the computer to do the rest of the work through the rig in a process known as interpolation. During pre-production, 3D animators test the rig and check it will work for their characters.
Examples of productions: Shaun the Sheep, Postman Pat, Isle of Dogs
Stop-motion animators work with puppets or models made from clay or other materials. They move the models of characters by tiny amounts, one frame at a time, so they can be photographed and recorded, as though moving continuously in a sequence. On a large-scale project, such as a feature film, stop-motion animators can be hired for particular skills. For example, some animators might be especially good at working with action, others with charm, comedy or dialogue; some might excel in animating certain characters, others in non-creature objects. Common materials for stop-motion animation include clay or Plasticine, paper, or action figures like Lego.
Animators often work in large teams, which means they need all to be capable of adhering to the same look and animation style.
They can work for animation studios, film studios or TV production companies. They may also be freelancers.
What’s an animator good at?
- Art: draw and reveal attitude, emotions and mood through a character’s movement, have spatial awareness and a feel for movement over time
- Knowledge of animation: have a good understanding of the principles and mechanics of animation
- Communication: be able to understand and share creative ideas, have productive discussions and take notes on your work
- Organisation: work within the production schedule, create your drawings and animation to meet deadlines
- Watching animations: have a passion for the medium and a love of the industry