What does a modeller/model maker do?
Modellers or model makers build the digital or physical versions of everything that is seen on screen in an animation. They translate concept art, character designs and environment designs into models ready to be animated.
They work in-house at an animation studio. In bigger animation studios, there might be modellers or model makers dedicated specifically to character modelling or prop modelling. In smaller studios these are more general roles.
In stop-motion animation the role is known as ‘model maker’. In 3D computer-generated animation, it’s usually known as ‘modeller’.
Model makers create physical models of the characters and other objects out of modelling clay or other materials. They create lots of identical versions of the characters to be moulded in different ways for different scenes. To do this, they break down the design for a character into simple, easy to construct shapes. The job can involve a variety of skills including sculpting, mould making, casting foam, latex or silicone, fettling (trimming or cleaning the rough edges), metal working, welding, painting, finishing and costume making.
Model makers need to establish colour themes and consider and test materials for construction. They also need to think about the scale of the model in comparison to sets and props. A head model maker will often be in charge of these decisions, as well as hiring crew and liaising with outside suppliers. They consider technical, timing and budget restrictions. Large studios might also have a model-making team leader who supervises a team of model makers.
3D CG animation
Modellers create digital versions of the characters and props, which can then be ‘rigged’ to be animated. They start by creating a wire framework. They then sculpt around this to develop how the model looks from all angles.
Modellers provide initial feedback to designers on whether a design is going to be possible to model to then be rigged and animate or not. Therefore, good communication with designers, riggers, animators and the director is very important. Modellers need to keep their work ‘on model’ (in the art style of a project) and meet the creative and technical requirements of the project. Riggers can then develop the joints and rig (points of articulation) of characters, using the model frame created by the modeller. These two steps enable models to be able to be animated. Often in smaller to mid-sized studios, the modeller is responsible for texturing and colouring the model themselves.
What’s a modeller/model maker good at?
- Art: be able to draw and create models, have a good understanding of form, colour, texture, and light, know how these elements work together
- Anatomical knowledge: have strong anatomical and scientific knowledge of how figures and objects appear
- Communication: have excellent communication skills, work with other members of the animation production pipeline to find solutions to problems, understand and achieve the director’s vision
- Understanding animation pipelines: have a thorough knowledge of all aspects of the animation production process, know the capabilities of animators and animation software
- Watching animations: have a passion for the medium and a love of the industry