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Choosing Your Path: Generalist vs. Specialist Animators

ben marvazi 2020

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When starting in animation, have you ever thought that there was only one path to follow? Maybe that dominant thought was becoming a specialist. After all, the specialists were the people who worked on blockbuster movies like Toy Story and The Lion King. And if you were going to be an animator, why not specialize in something that would actually make you money?

So, what is the difference between generalist and specialist animators? In time, you’ll begin to learn that while specialists have more technical knowledge than generalists do and can master a single project better than their peers—they can also get bored working on the same thing over and over again. 

Generalists, on the other hand, have less technical knowledge but can work on many different types of projects—which means they can never get bored!

So which path is right for you? depends! Let's take a look at each path individually before we answer that question.

What's The Differences Between Generalist And Specialist Animator?

The Difference Between Generalist And Specialist Animator working at a desk on different projects

GIF by Scaler via GIPHY

Generalists are versatile and can do many different things. Specialists, on the other hand, focus on one specific area of animation. 

Generalists are more marketable because they have a wider range of skills but may find it harder to get their foot in the door when applying for jobs. 

Specialists may be limited in their career options due to a lack of experience in other areas (for example: if you want to work as an animator at Pixar or Dreamworks).

The Generalist Animator

character hitting his head and a bunch of general things come out

GIF by Robin Davey via GIPHY

When discussing the difference between generalist and specialist, as the saying typically goes, the generalist animator is a jack of all trades and a master of none. They have a wide range of skills, but they don't excel in any particular area. Generalists can do everything well, but not necessarily as well as specialists.

For example, if you need an animator to create an animated short film about a historical figure like Martin Luther King Jr., your best bet would be a specialist who has experience in historical documentary filmmaking. 

On the other hand, if you need someone who knows how to work with 3D software like Maya and Cinema 4D (or even just one or two), then it's better to hire someone who specializes in computer graphics than someone who doesn't know anything about computers at all!

The Pros of Generalist Animators 

tracking the upward trend progress

GIF by Tony Babel via GIPHY

You will be able to work on many different types of projects, meaning you will be able to take on more job opportunities!

As a generalist animator, you'll be able to get your foot in the door at studios that need an extra hand on short-term projects. You'll also have more options when it comes time for job interviews too. 

However, if you want to make animation your career and build up some seniority with one company or client over time (and make more money), being able to specialize may be better suited for your needs.

The Specialist Animator

A man adjusting his glasses

Read our blog on 6 Secrets to Becoming a Successful Animation Specialist!

The main difference between generalist and specialist animators is that specialist animators focus on one type of animation. This can include 2D, 3D, stop motion, or CG animation. They're a rare breed, with a unique set of skills that they've honed to perfection through years of training and practice. Think of them as the unicorns of the animation world!

These animation specialists are in high demand, and you're more likely to find them working in a studio than out in the ‘wild’. Their ability to conjure up stunning visuals and breathe life into characters is nothing short of impressive! Their knowledge of specialized tools and techniques makes them the go-to experts for companies looking to create animated masterpieces.

The Pros of Specialist Animators 

a designer working on two screens compared to a developer working on one laptop screen

GIF by Scaler via GIPHY

Specialists often have more technical knowledge and can be more versatile with software. This gives them an edge when it comes to working with multiple types of software, learning new techniques quickly, or doing a particular type of task like rigging or animating. 

However, generalists have the advantage when it comes to storytelling and communicating ideas visually through animation--something that's important for any artist!

Which Path Is Best For You?

a endless road going through green fields and past a park bench

GIF by Dan Harnden via GIPHY

Deciding which path is best for you is a personal decision that can be made with a basic understanding of the difference between generalist and specialist. You may want to specialize in one area or work on many different types of projects. You might be skilled at drawing, but not so great at animating. 

Or maybe your strengths are in storyboarding or character design, but not as much with technical aspects like rigging (the process of attaching an animated character's body parts to its skeleton).

There are also some questions you can ask yourself: What do I enjoy doing? Am I good at it? Do I want more experience doing this kind of thing? How hard would it be for me if I wanted to learn new skills later on down the line? 

These questions will help guide the decision-making process when considering whether or not becoming an expert generalist vs a specialist animator is right for you.

Finding The Right Path Is Important

a still frame of a person working on their laptop

Read our blog on 5 Questions To Ask Before Starting An Animation Career!

There are many different paths in animation and finding the right one is important. The best way to do this is by trying different options, and learning what you like or don't like about each path. You can learn a lot by trying different paths!

The most common path is to start as a specialist animator in a studio. This may be the best way to learn, but it can also be tough because you have to work hard and keep your skills up to date. There are other options though! If you don't want to work in a studio, many other jobs involve animation such as directing or storyboarding as a freelance animator.

Understanding The Differences Between Generalist And Specialist 

Sponge Bob Understanding The Difference Between Generalist And Specialist by giving thumbs up on both hands

GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants via GIPHY

The path that you choose as an animator depends on the kind of work you want to do, your skills and interests, and your career goals. This all comes down to understanding yourself as an animator and that the path you choose aligns with your goals.

If you're just starting in animation, it's important to consider where your interests lie. Are they more technical or creative? Do you enjoy working with technology or do you prefer a more traditional approach? If so, which one: 2D or 3D animation? And finally: what type of job do these preferences lead toward? 

These are all questions that will help guide your decision when choosing between generalist versus specialist paths as an animator.

For more information about specialist and generalist animators, as well as answers to any other questions you might have, check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio and GET FREE TRAINING to kickstart your animation career today.

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