Everything You Need To Know About Being A Character Animator

Did you know a bachelor’s degree in the animation field paired with a passion for creativity can land you a career as a character animator?
Learn more about how can you get started working with artists, designers, and directors to bring a character to life.

Excuse me, hero, I’m in need of your service.

Did you know a bachelor’s degree in the animation field paired with a passion for creativity can land you a career as a character animator?

Every gamer has become attached to a character at some point in their virtual quest, player-versus-player battle, or digital adventure. Character animation involves the technical skill of developing life-like characters, usually on a tight schedule, that involves working overnights and weekends around a game’s highly-anticipated release date.

Source: Fox & Co.

The role of an animator is to become a performer with a pencil or digital tools, focusing on the animation of characters in two-dimensional or three-dimensional (2D and 3D) format and saving their work in a creative cloud. The demand for animation indicates that working as a character animator can lead to a fulfilling creative career. So how can you get started working with artists, designers, and directors to bring a character to life?

In this post, we will talk about:

What Is A Character Animator?

A character animator is an artist who uses digital animation software to produce realistic characters, unlike an animation artist who focuses on making drawings, storyboards, or other illustrations. An animator creates a character’s gestures, facial expressions, body language, and special effects to replicate the human form in a way that tells that character’s story.

Source: future with tech

Although an animator can be an artist, not all artists are animators. Animators are highly technical as they work to develop action content or perfect head rotations within complex scenes. Storyboarding and creating background animations are aspects of the job found on the creative side.

Animators work not only in the animation industry, but across a variety of industries such as advertising, marketing, gaming, and film/TV. They can be found practicing their craft in advertising agencies, production studios, and public relations firms as well as teaching the passion to others in classroom settings at colleges and universities.

Roles And Responsibilities Of Character Animators

Animators work effortlessly and enthusiastically to bring a character to life. They often can be found:

  • Animating the mood and movements of animated characters, including emotions, behaviors, and facial expressions   
  • Brainstorming physical features, personal feelings, and specific qualities of animated characters
  • Creating cool 2D and 3D animations, stop-motion, motion graphics, and traditional video formats
  • Collaborating on animated video, interactive vector animations, and other projects
  • Developing animation strategies to ensure character consistency and scene structure
  • Integrating characters into compelling scenes in animation for games, videos,  or advertisements
  • Familiarizing with animation standards and guidelines
  • Following a tight schedule to meet deadlines and adjust goals
  • Researching style, tone, mood, and additional qualities of a project
  • Revising animatics of scenes and sequences based on team feedback and production goals
  • Syncing frame animation to dialogue, music, soundtrack, sound effects, etc.
  • Using storyboards to create sequences that incorporate a character’s basic body, minuscule movement, and other small details into the animation 
  • Working in digital computer software such as Adobe Animate free, Adobe Animate CC, Blender, MotionBuilder 3D, LightWave, Maya, and other video editing programs

Character Animator Job Titles

While one typical job title for a role in the animation field is character animator, there are countless other possibilities. Careers in animation include:

  • 3D Modeler: Builds 3D characters and animation environments based on art renderings
  • Animator: Creates animations and visual effects for various formats from a music video to a Hollywood film
  • Art Director: Develops the overall vision for projects, manages team members, and approves designs and other artwork for publishing
  • Character Rigger: Manipulates the geometry of a character for proper movement within an environment
  • Creative Director: Acts as the head of a creative team to make high-level creative decisions from the concept of a project to its execution 
  • Effects Animator: Makes images or graphics such as characters or objects for animations
  • Film and Video Editor: Creates and edits video content from customer explainer videos to corporate videos
  • Graphic Designer: Designs and creates graphics for animations, advertisements, websites, customised logos, and other formats
  • Online Content Creators: Brainstorms ideas and contributes content for a wide variety of formats such as blogs, vlogs, animations, social media, and other online platforms
  • Storyboard Artist: Focuses on turning a written script into drawn animation by hand or computer software
  • Stop Motion Animator: Take pictures of models, puppets, or clay that use lighting and angles to create animation without digital manipulation
  • Video Game Designer: Brainstorm ideas, write code, and test products to develop user-friendly games for computers, GameCube games for consoles, and mobile devices

The Life Of A Character Animator

Artistic expression is at the core of the life and workday of a character animator. As individuals that enjoy acting and storytelling, character animators spend their days making characters come to life. They use techniques to create automatic lip-syncing, edit hair physics, enliven hand postures, and more to make a character look and feel as real as possible.

A character animator might work in a game studio as a video game designer, at an advertising agency as an effects animator, or from home at an art company as a freelancer. Either way, their days will generally be spent in quite a creative environment as they work to meet time constraints with patience and diligence.

How Can I Become A Character Animator?

Character animators have a special affinity for the complexity of animation and an in-depth understanding of acting and directing to be able to portray expressions, body language, and empathy. Animators need a creative flair, good drawing skills, and the ability to use the software tools required. Employers may look for some or all of the following skills in an animation artist:

  • Active listening 
  • Artistic talent
  • Attention to detail
  • Animation experience 
  • Character design
  • Creativity and imagination 
  • Critical-thinking
  • Computer literacy 
  • Decision-making
  • Drawing skills
  • Fast-learning
  • Storyboarding
  • Time management 
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving
  • Project coordination 
  • User interface (UI) and user experience (UX)
  • Visual storytelling

In addition, employers want to see that you have obtained a degree in animation or a related field beyond developing a well-rounded skill set for the animation process.

Diplomas and degrees come in handy for landing your dream job, and employers prefer that your qualifications include at least one of the following degrees: 

  • Bachelor of Arts in Animation & Digital Arts
  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Animation  
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation 
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Character Animation 
  • Master in Fine Arts in Animation, Game Design, or a related field

Your program should encompass courses that focus on digital design, 2D/3D programming, computer graphics, story structure, modeling, sculpting, drawing, photography, film, or other design-related areas, regardless of the educational route you choose in animation programs.

Here are a few colleges and universities in the United States that rank well for a degree in animation as comprised by College Rank:

  1. Rhode Island School of Design: BFA Film, Animation, and Video
  2. Ringling College of Art and Design: BFA Computer Animation
  3. California Institute of the Arts: BFA Character Animation, BFA or MFA Experimental Animation
  4. University of Southern California: BA Animation and Digital Arts
  5. Savannah College of Art and Design: BFA Animation; MA of MFA Animation

You will develop a portfolio from your coursework, which is a necessity to show off your character animation skills in real-time. It is crucial that you can display your character animation techniques through advanced animations in the art industry. For example, these character animators build and share their portfolios digitally:

  • Alison Donato: With a retro-style logo and color scheme, this character designer shows her personality in a sidebar that stays next to her professional work on each page. 
  • Georgie Lord: This London-based stop-motion animator and photographer uses a minimalist approach in a grid-based layout to showcase her talent. 
  • Hannah Jacobs: This British animator also uses a grid-based layout with each thumbnail leading to a project page that features the animation, still frames shots, and descriptive text that can be understood by all viewers. 
  • Natalie Young: Located in the heart of Los Angeles, this character designer and artist created a self-portrait for her About page and a hand-drawn logo for her portfolio.
  • Rafael Varona: Using his name and an animation loop, this illustrator and animator immediately captures the attention of viewers. 
  • Yukai Du: From China, this animator uses a large animation loop as the front-and-center focus on the page. Viewers scroll down to see animations and stills that can be clicked on to reveal the animator’s intentions and process through storyboarding and simplistic descriptions.  

How Much Money Does A Character Animator Make?

It’s no secret that salary is important to any career. The salary of a character animator differs as such, depending on industry, experience, and location. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a character animator is:

  • United States: $81,630 per year
  • United Kingdom: £32,565 per year
  • Spain: €21,952 per year
  • China: between CN¥4,396 and CN¥11,996 per month
  • India: ₹54,368 per month

Many people take the freelance route, allowing them to show their animation skills as experienced animators over time. Freelancing offers a varying salary depending on your hourly rate and how many clients you have throughout the year.

As far as an hourly rate goes, character animator salary reports show a range. Character animators might make $21.54/hour in an entry-level position, $40.50/hour in a mid-level position, and $56.41/hour in an upper-level position.

Software Tools Character Animators Use

Character animators need to be familiar with a variety of computer software programs. A company’s choice of animation programs varies, so animators must be willing to adapt and learn different tools as needed. Here are a few of the best animation software available: 

  • Adobe Character Animator: Use your webcam and microphone to mimic your expressions and movement to animate your characters or apply a pre-created character rig in this desktop application. To get started, select a character template or import a design from Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Also, Adobe often shares Beta Versions for users to try out.
  • Animation Desk: Create storyboards for frame animation with one of Kdan Mobile’s mobile applications. You can sketch, draw, or write on images and videos to make your ideas come to life on mobile devices. 
  • Adobe Illustrator: Edit shapes and symbols for minimalistic animations for websites in Adobe’s vector graphic editor. You can begin by making individual animation frames on layers and then exporting those into frames. 
  • Maya: Control gestures, create 3D models, and construct simulations with this 3D graphics software. As one of the industry-standard apps for motion graphics, Maya boasts extensive features for impressive models and animations. 
  • Lightwave 3D: Make animated and static 3D images with great rendering quality. You can access separate screens for modeling and layout for ease in your workflow. 
  • 3ds Max: Model and render designs for animations and other visualizations. Formerly known as 3D Studio Maz, 3ds Max allows you to bring characters to life in massive, realistic worlds.

There are many animation apps and tools within the Adobe Creative Cloud that animators can make use of, and which accommodate all levels of experience. These are a few easy-to-use tools for beginners to develop their animation skills:

  • Blender: Provides a great foundation for 3D creation that translates into other 3D software
  • Moho: Serves as a complete 2D animation program to get started making cartoons and animations
  • Pencil2D: Uses traditional hand-drawn animation techniques to ease your transition into the world of animation software
  • Biteable: Allows users to edit and customize animated video templates
  • Animaker: Acts as an online do-it-yourself (DIY) program for easy animation

Getting Started And Furthering Your Career

Education and practice will help you get started and further your career in character animation. 

Exercises to Practice

Animation progress from frame animation to stop-motion videos takes time. Since practice makes perfect, here are a few exercises you can practice regularly to flex your character animation muscles:

  • Ball bouncing in place (and then across the screen)
  • Brick falling from a shelf onto the ground
  • Character moving (jumping over a gap, hopping on a pogo stick, etc.)
  • Character walking
  • Hand closing into a fist
  • Eyebrow movements

We recommend documenting your progress and saving your work in Adobe Creative Cloud or another cloud-based solution for the best results.

Books And Resources

Seeing your work on screen feels like a huge win, but with limited animation skills, you might be unsure of where or how to get started. Since eye-opening animations take time, we want to share resources that feature artists’ stories, animation projects, and character drawing ideas.

To learn more about how to get better at character animation, here are a few books and blogs as well as a few online courses and communities for you to improve your craft: 

You can start your quest to become a character animator with these resources. You have the change to engage your imagination, explore your passion, and see your vision come to life along the way.

Good luck on your journey, hero. 

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Author: Sierra Waite

Sierra Waite is a digital media and marketing intern for Kdan Mobile's U.S. office. Currently, Sierra studies Communication and Multimedia Arts at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA. Her vision is to use outreach, storytelling, and creativity to connect with people through communication, multimedia arts, and writing.

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