“What I love most about animation is it’s a team sport, and everything we do is about pure imagination.”– Jeffrey Katzenberg, American Film Producer and Media Proprietor
If you are an avid fan of animation and someone who’s keen to enter the industry, you might consider yourself pretty well-versed with the different animators, animation styles, formats, animation production studios, and so on even as the animation industry pops up with tons of new developments every now and then. Take 3D animation for instance.
DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, and Walt Disney Pictures’s Up – These are some of the top 3D animated films made by famous 3D animators. Everybody knows these films, but you’re bound to know more. After all, it’s only important that you’re aware of the various goings-on in your respective industry.
You may also recognize how the field of 3D animation is incredibly lucrative but demanding as people will always be on the lookout for new 3D animated series, games, films, and so on.
According to an article by the Nashville Film Institute, the salary of a 3D animator ranges from $33,000 to $95,000 per year, so you can earn an average of $59,920 yearly. Naturally, the more skilled and experienced you are, the higher you can earn.
Besides that, being one of the famous 3D animators means you get to create animated videos that are more engaging with stronger visual appeal. These types of animations are typically appealing across various demographics and can be used for more than just animated films.
3D animations can be used for marketing videos, promotional advertisements, presentations, and video games, to name a few.
Such information may not be so new to you. However, you have to admit that there are still going to be many things in 3D animation that you may need to learn, especially as there are many animators and animation studios that need more recognition.
So if you’re considering becoming one of the most famous 3D animators or in the midst of mastering 3D animation, you must familiarize yourself with some of the people who are already paving the way for you.
In this list, we’re here to show you the 4 famous 3D animators who are shaping the future and how you can learn from them.
Image via Wikipedia
Pixar has always been a beast in the world of 3D animation, churning out hits almost every year. Think “Toy Story 1” (1995), “A Bug’s World” (1998), and “Cars” (2006), among other films. If you’re young enough, chances are high that you’ve even grown up adoring such hit 3D animated films.
Whether it be because of their storylines, characters, or animation style, these 3D works of art have inspired and will continue to inspire a ton of young animators. However, none of these animated films would have been possible or would have been the way they are without their animator, John Lasseter.
But it wasn’t easy for Lasseter to climb the ladder and become one of the most famous 3D animators in the industry. Did you know that he was actually fired from his position as an animator at The Walt Disney Company? All because he was promoting computer animation.
This then prompted him to join Lucasfilm, where he was able to experiment with different animation styles, including computer-generated imagery or CGI. Eventually, Lucasfilm turned into Pixar.
So if Lasseter hadn’t played around with 3D or CGI animation, then our beloved Pixar classics, such as Toy Story and Cars, might not look the way they look. They might have even had different storylines and character animation.
According to the culture and arts website Concept Art Empire, Lasseter is “perhaps the defining animation goliath behind [the] classic Pixar [animated] films.” In total, this famous 3D animator’s film has amassed more than 19 billion dollars, with 5 of them grossing more than 1 billion dollars.
For more, not only is he one of the world’s most famous 3D animators, an animated film director, executive producer, and screenwriter, but Lasseter is also the head of the animation at Skydance Animation, the animation division of the American media production company, Skydance Media.
In 2022, the animation studio released its first animated film Luck through Apple TV+. The animation style of the film went on to receive praise from fans and critics alike.
Thanks to Lasseter, 3D animation has turned from a contentious animation style into one that’s celebrated and beloved. Concept Art Empire writes, “he shaped the way 3D animation entered pop culture.”
In the world of animation, this famous 3D animator has shown us how important it is to continue exploring and innovating on different mediums and animation styles no matter what critics may say. Keep exploring until you find something that fits you like a glove.
Image via Wikipedia
Nassos Vakalis expressed an interest in 3D animation during his adolescent years. However, growing up in Athens, Greece where the field of animation wasn’t that sought-after, becoming an animator seemed like a pipe dream.
So he worked as a cartoonist and graphics artist for the advertising agencies and production studios there instead.
Fortunately, a family member offered to finance his education in the United States, where he pursued an art education at the Pratt Art Institute of Animation and character animation at the California Institute of the Arts.
Like most animators, he started out working with 2D animation. Vakalis joined Warner Bros, taking over the animation planning and movement of the lead character in the 1998 animated film, “Quest for Camelot”.
Eventually, he began working for DreamWorks Animation as a storyboard artist for a dozen years, becoming one of the pioneers of digital animation storyboards while tons of animation studios were still animating using pen and paper. In fact, he has even won Emmy Individual Achievement Awards for his work as a storyboard artist.
This famous 3D animator quickly grew his portfolio and even worked on DreamWorks’ iconic animation films, “Kung-Fu Panda”, “Monsters vs. Aliens”, “Megamind”, and “Puss in Boots” among other films.
In between his position as a storyboard artist and animator for DreamWorks, Vakalis founded his own animation studio in Athens, Time Lapse Pictures, where he created a number of European animated commercials, including computer-generated Christmas specials.
Time Lapse Pictures also helped various animation studios, like Paramount Pictures and Filmax, among others, produce parts of their animated films and series.
Vakalis has always been hardworking and persevering. Despite coming from a country that barely recognized animation, he was able to get an education, climb his way to the top, work with some of the best animation studios in the world, and become one of the industry’s famous 3D animators.
Allow his story to serve as a reminder that anything is possible, no matter where you’re from.
Image via Wikipedia
Born in Hong Kong, Raman Hui has always loved to draw. Because of his passion, he ended up taking graphic design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University before moving to Canada for a course on computer animation.
While he has since created various 3D animated films and series, perhaps one of the most significant is his work as Shrek’s supervising animator. This earned him quite a reputation in character design. He even became a co-director in the franchise’s later film, “Shrek the Third”.
Hong Kong considers Hui the “Father of Shrek” because of his pivotal role in the animated film – to this, the famous 3D animator responds by saying, “I’m really more like the Uncle of Shrek,” according to the South China Morning Post.
As a film itself, DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek has changed the game for 3D animation. It premiered in 2001 and went on to make over $484 million worldwide. Its enduring popularity has spawned a massive franchise, revolutionizing the animation industry and shaping popular culture in the process.
Besides Shrek, Hui has also contributed to the following DreamWorks’ animated films, “Kung Fu Panda”, “Monsters vs. Aliens”, and “Madagascar”, among others, and the DreamWorks animated series, "Dragons".
Despite his overwhelming success in the United States, Hui has always wanted to go back and make 3D animation films in his homeland. So, he did just that and created another computer-generated animated film that has once again shot him into the spotlight.
Monster Hunt is a Chinese-language 3D animation fantasy-action film released in 2015. With his massive success in the United States, Hui left for China to make an animated film inspired by a Han dynasty legend (“Shan Hai Jing” or “Classic of Mountains and Seas”) pertaining to a world of monsters living in the mountains.
The film skyrocketed to the top, making history in the Chinese film industry as one of the country’s highest-grossing films.
Image via Instagram (Maunory left-most standing)
We’ve all heard of the 3D animation action-adventure, Arcane.
Taking place in the online game League of Legends’ fictional universe, not only was the 3D animated series the number 1 show on Netflix during November 2021 but its animation style, storyboard, and worldbuilding were praised, with critics noting its “absolutely gorgeous and groundbreaking animation with a unique visual style.”
The animation style uses a mix of both 2D and 3D animation to give the animated series a “detailed and textured look”. Now, meet one of the famous 3D animators behind this innovative approach, Barthélémy Maunoury.
Maunoury notes that while all the show’s characters were animated using 3D models and rigs, 2D animation was used to add texture and effects, such as water, fire, dust, and so on to the background. It was thanks to the animation studio’s compositing team that the merging of both the 2D and 3D aspects occurred so seamlessly.
”Sometimes we go for something a little bit more extreme, a little bit more animated, or a bit more stylized. And sometimes we go for something a bit more real,” said the famous 3D animator in an interview with the animation website Animation Magazine.
Before stepping in to become Arcane’s Head Animation Direction, Maunoury primarily worked in the visual effects department. His contribution can be seen in Warner Bros “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, Disney’s “Prince of Persia”, and even “Children of Men”.
But his experience across different films allowed him to improve his skills and create something new for Arcane.
In the world of 3D animation, animators shouldn’t be afraid to mix it up and try out different styles, especially considering how much technology has evolved.
Being an animator means being an innovator. Take a look at how Maunoury, one of the famous 3D animators, explored both 2D and 3D animation in creating something that’s unique for an animated series inspired by an online game.
These 4 famous 3D animators are not merely shaping the future of 3D animation, but they’re inspiring creative individuals and improving the mass viewing experience.
With their contribution to the world of animation, we got to witness how 3D animation began and how it continues to progress.
John Lasseter, Nassos Vakalis, Raman Hui, and Barthélémy Maunoury are famous 3D animators who paved the way for 3D animation to be recognized and popular worldwide. They have made animated films and series that caught the attention of millions.
But even more than that, they have served and will continue to serve as an inspiration for anybody who would like to become a famous 3D animator. It is now up to you to learn from them.
Learn about how important it is to work on your passion even if people try to pull you away. Learn about the perseverance to make your dreams a reality even if it seems unlikely. Learn about remaining humble even in the face of success. Learn about the value of improving your animation craft, even if it seems like everything has already been done.
For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!