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Animation Fundamentals that Every Freelancer Needs to Master

Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”

Jim Rohn, Entrepreneur

In all aspects of life, there are always going to be essential skills and Jim Rohn, Entrepreneuractivities everyone must know, like dressing up and eating. These fundamentals are the groundwork which more impressive skills can grow from. For instance, one’s knack for experimenting with food can lead to one becoming a chef.

The same thing applies when venturing into a new business. So as a freelance animator, there are fundamentals that you must master in order to get your animation career up and running in the right direction.

What are we talking about? 

When it comes to animation, there are so many things you must master. But it all boils down to your passion, creativity, and ability to sketch. From there, you can train yourself and enhance your animation skills to adapt to different animation styles and techniques. 

And when it comes to launching a business, there are the ABCs you must learn, such as accounting skills and negotiation skills. These skills are meant for you to continuously improve in order to become a savvy businessman.   

But that’s all just the tip of the iceberg. Becoming a successful freelance animator has its own set of fundamentals besides learning how to draw. And while it can honestly be overwhelming, especially if this is your first business venture, that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. Simply take it one step at a time, starting with learning your animation fundamentals. 

In this blog post, we’ll show you the six animation fundamentals freelancers must master and explain why these animation fundamentals are integral to creating a successful animation career.

6 Animation Fundamentals Freelancers Must Master

1. Identifying And Resolving Your Animation Skill Gaps
always to resolve your animation skill gaps

GIF by identity via GIPHY

This is the first and most important fundamental: You must identify your animation skill gaps. All industries have particular gaps. While some gaps are small and unavoidable, others may even be the downfall of your animation career if you don’t address them immediately. 

When it comes to animation, there are arguably tons of things to master, whether it be settling on a suitable animation niche, improving your particular animation style, or choosing the right animation software or equipment. Not knowing what you want as an animator and what works best for your freelance animation career is one of the most common animation gaps.

Furthermore, according to a study by the media production website ScreenSkills, 48% of the people in the animation industry perceive animation skill gaps. 

Other animation skill gaps include poor time management skills, inept communication skills, inefficient teamwork, and a lack of understanding of animation software.

Most of these animation skills are driven by hiring beginner animations (65%), incomplete animation training (60%), new technology (25%), new products and services (19%), and new working environments (12%).

Therefore, it’s important you take the right steps in analyzing whether you have any of these animation skill gaps and work toward fixing them. Fortunately, it’s not as impossible as it appears to be. 

For instance, let’s say you’re still unable to find a good animation niche. An animation niche is what will help you stand out among the competition. It is part of what defines your freelance animation career. Besides doing research, there are a number of questions to determine the animation niche that would best suit you.

You can ask yourself questions such as “What kind of videos can I make well?”, “What topics am I passionate or knowledgeable about?”, “What business industries have the most and least amount of competition?”; and “Is this kind of animation niche good for the long-term?”

That way, you’re also identifying the kind of animator you are and the specific animation style you can do best.

For another example, let’s say your current animation software or equipment is outdated or you’re not up-to-date on the best animation technology. One thing you can do is go through our list of animation tools. You can browse our list of the best animation software or the best computers for animators

You can also scour online articles to keep tabs on the leading animation technology for different animation styles.

As a freelance animator, it’s up to you to determine your animation skill gaps. You can do this by attending animation and business classes, talking to your peers and listening to stories of their animation gaps, and by asking for reviews from your clients. Be receptive to everyone’s feedback and treat it as an opportunity to grow. 

Mastering this animation fundamental will prevent you from committing any unintended mistakes. That way, you can be more prepared to launch your freelance animation career and have confidence in facing your animation clients.

2. Drawing And Sketching Everyday
an animation fundamental to master is to simply practice every single day

GIF by digitalpratik via GIPHY

This goes without saying, but as a freelance animator, you must be passionate about animation and determined to keep improving. Aim to set aside a number of hours in a day where you’re able to let your imagination run wild and simply draw or sketch whatever you want.

If you really can’t work every single day, just draw as often as you can. While waiting for a friend in a restaurant, before going to bed, or while on the bus –– Sneak in a couple of minutes for a quick sketch.

As an animator, you can learn so much from this simple act of practicing. For one, you can work on your design flaws and improve your ability to sketch particular elements.

Furthermore, this animation fundamental will enhance your visual senses, spark your imagination, improve your storytelling skills, and heighten your attention to detail. So whether you’re an animator or not, drawing is a good skill that will stimulate your creativity

The moment you include this animation fundamental into your daily routine, watch how fast your animation skills improve. You may also end up realizing certain techniques and styles that work best for you.

Some days, it may feel as if you’ve hit a dead end as if you’re creativity has hit a roadblock, and you’re feeling uninspired. During days when you’re not in the mood to draw, it’s okay to take it slow and focus on feeling inspired again. You can take some time out, go for a walk, revisit old animation projects, read a book, watch an inspiring film, or talk to your peers.

Just do what you can to bring back your inspiration to continue drawing. 

Other days, it may feel like you’ve reached your peak and you’ve mastered all the crucial animation skills and styles. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop working on your animations once and for all. You have to keep practicing as often as you can. Why?

Like most industries and businesses, the animation industry is continuously evolving. It’s a fast-paced and competitive industry where animators and artists are always bursting with new ideas, and trends will constantly be taking over and overlapping each other. 

You have to do what you can to stay on top, and the ideal and most practical way to do so is to keep practicing. Work on developing fresh ideas and concepts that will keep your animation clients surprised and satisfied. 

3. Understand The 12 Principles of Animation
every animator needs to understand the 12 principles of animation

GIF by teamcoco via GIPHY

First introduced in 1981 in an animation book by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, the 12 principles of animation condenses the animation process of Disney animators from the 1930s onwards. It’s relevant in several fields and is found at the base of all motion-based media, most especially when animating a character. 

Despite how fast our technology and the animation industry progress, the 12 principles of animation will always be valuable as it’s consistently observed in animated videos. In a nutshell, they consist of the following: 

  1. Squash and stretch
  2. Anticipation
  3. Staging
  4. Straight-ahead action and pose-to-pose
  5. Follow through and overlapping action
  6. Slow in and slow out
  7. Arc
  8. Secondary action
  9. Timing 
  10. Exaggeration
  11. Solid drawing
  12. Appeal

These principles are always taught to animation students. It introduces them to the basics of animating so they can better understand how to make their animations smoother and more realistic. In essence, you can say that these principles are the ultimate animation fundamentals.

You know the saying, “Learn the rules so you can break them.” These 12 principles of animation serve as the rules animators must learn and master before they can begin experimenting and breaking them.

4. Creating Natural Body Movements In Your Animations
creating natural movements in animation is something that'll take time to master

GIF by studiosoriginals via GIPHY

Creating realistic body movements in your animated characters can be rather difficult. But it’s an essential animation fundamental, and once you’ve nailed it down to a T, it will all be worth it. 

This animation fundamental will improve your animation skills by giving you a clearer understanding of how your animated characters and elements react and move. It will also allow you to create more believable characters, depending on your animation style. That way, you can create better animations and attract more clients.

The best way to practice creating more natural body movements in your animation is to master basic body mechanics. It’s about how one’s body turns left and right, how their head tilts forward, how one extends their arms, and so on. 

You can hang around a group of people –– maybe you can be with your friends at a coffee shop or observe strangers in a park –– and watch how their bodies behave and react to various situations. 

From the way, they laugh to the way they pick up objects off the ground, observe how they move and try incorporating such movements into your animated characters. You can also record yourself moving around and reacting to different scenarios. Rewatch your clip a couple of times or keep it close by in case you get stuck on a certain body movement.

If you’re just starting out, try not to stress yourself over complex actions. Focus on basic body activities first, like standing up and sitting down, and repeatedly work on them in short animations until you get the hang of it.

5. Perfecting Timing And Space In Your Animations
perfecting timing is a critical animation fundamental to master

GIF via GIPHY

Character timing refers to how long an animated action will take place. It can also be referred to as the speed and rhythm of a certain action. On the other hand, space is where an element is located during each frame of animation. 

Timing and space are character animation fundamentals that shape how your characters move and how believable your animations will become. Once mastered, both these animation fundamentals will help you make more creative and realistic character movements. 

However, similar to creating natural body movements, perfecting timing and space in your animations will take a lot of practice.

In perfecting timing, you must consider the weight of your character or object, its size, and its current emotions. Each of those is applied to ensure the timing is realistic. 

For instance, heavier characters or objects would move slower while lighter or smaller ones would move faster. Or let’s say a character is excited, they’re more likely to move with more energy and power compared to one that’s relaxed or tired. Always consider the current state of your character when working on their timing.

You can also look at real-life examples, such as how long a person takes to reach for a pen or how someone who is nervous paces around a room. 

When it comes to spacing, there are four basic styles you should consider.

The first is linear spacing. In this style, there is an equal distance between frames, showing a character or object is in constant motion, neither speeding up nor slowing down.

Second is ease out spacing. This style shows a character accelerating. Here, frames are initially spaced close together and then move further apart by the end.

Third is ease in spacing. This is the opposite of ease-out spacing, wherein a character is decelerating or moving to a stop. In this style, frames start further apart and then move closer together by the end.

And fourth is easy ease spacing wherein frames are close together at the beginning and the end but are further apart at the middle. This style shows both acceleration and deceleration.

You can incorporate these different styles to come up with various techniques and situations when practicing spacing. Also, remember that objects in animations move in a linear motion unlike those in real life, so you’ll have to manipulate them a little for a more accurate look.

6. Invest In Valuable Animation Software
investing in yourself as an animator is an often overlooked animation fundamental

GIF by new-girl via GIPHY

If you’ve been animating for a long time, you probably already have your choice of animation equipment and software. You’ve most likely been using them for as long as you can remember. However, as you begin your freelance animation career, it’s best if you check whether your current software can still do the most for you.

If you feel as if your current animation software is no longer affording you the space to try out new animation styles and techniques, then maybe it’s time for a change.

Equipping yourself with good animation software doesn’t necessarily mean the latest or most expensive option. It will all still depend on your expectations and capabilities as an animator.

Not only will this animation fundamental be good for business, but valuable animation software will also improve your animation skills in general. The new software will more likely include features that weren’t present in your former one, so you can become more creative as you explore different animation techniques. 

Nowadays, there are a vast number of animation software you can find online. With a snap of your fingers, you can easily find the best 2D and 3D animation software

Some animation software is more suitable for beginners, while others have a complex user interface and a steep learning curve. Do your research and compare the software’s pros and cons. 

You must also remember what kind of animator you are –– whether you’re a beginner or a professional –– and what your animation niche is. The best animation software is the one in which you can make the most out of. Hassle-free, smooth, and easy to use. Just because a particular software is ideal for one animator doesn’t mean it’s ideal for all animators. 

Why Is it Important For Freelancers To Master The Six Animation Fundamentals?

In any business venture, learning the basics is a must as it’s the foundation that will strengthen and sustain your business. After all, nothing lasting has ever come out of an unsteady foundation. So if you want to launch a successful career as a freelance animator, there are six animation fundamentals you must grasp.

First, you must identify and resolve your animation skill gaps. Mastering this animation fundamental will prepare you when faced with sudden difficult situations.

Second, you must train yourself to draw and sketch every day. Or at least as often as you can. You most likely already do this, but in case you still don’t, this is your sign to commit to that animation fundamental as early as now.

Third, you must learn and understand the 12 principles of animation. That way, you can grasp the logic behind certain animation techniques.

Fourth, you must practice creating natural body movements in your animations. Doing so will enhance how your animations appear, which will attract more clients.

Fifth, you must perfect your sense of timing and space in your animations. Similar to the fourth animation fundamental, this one will improve how natural and realistic your animations will move.

Sixth, you must invest in valuable animation software. Mastering a new animation software will allow you to explore different animation styles and techniques, leading you to upskill.

As a special bonus, we’ve added a seventh animation fundamental: Don’t rush it. Try not to pressure yourself to perfect all the animation fundamentals at once. Just focus on doing your best and taking it all one day at a time.

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”!

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