The key to being good at animation isn’t just working hard but it’s also working smart. Even if you’ve practiced harder than anyone else, all that hard work still might not amount to much if you’re not thinking about other important things, such as the business side of animation and the importance of taking breaks.
Learning the business side of animation can refine your marketing and negotiating skills and help you get and retain more clients. Meanwhile, taking breaks every once in a while is crucial to preventing burnout and keeping your creative juices flowing.
Apart from those, you also have to know what to focus your energy on and what habits you need to adopt. Here are our top 9 pieces of advice on how to become a good animator.
1) Decide What Kind of Animator You Want to Be
The key to becoming a good animator isn’t learning as many disciplines as you can but choosing a limited selection of disciplines to excel in. Very early on in your animation career, you will need to ask yourself if you will generalize or specialize as an animator.
Being a generalist animator means learning how to excel in different animation tasks. On the other hand, being a specialist animator means choosing one discipline you’ll specialize in for your entire career.
The decision to specialize or generalize will determine the animation skills you should develop and the course of your animation career.
If you choose to be a generalist, you can work full-time for a small or midsize animation studio or work as a freelance animator and set up your own studio.
On the other hand, if you choose to be a specialist, you’ll be able to find work at bigger animation studios, as those are the ones that can afford to pool together groups of animators with diverse talents.
One decision isn’t better than the other. Knowing what you want to do early on will help you get started on your animation career.
2) Learn How to Use Different Animation Software
It’s important to know the tools of your trade. See to it that you learn to use different animation software. Doing so will strengthen your resume and make you more adaptable to learning different skills in animation.
If you already know how to do 2D animation using Pencil 2D, it’s not a bad idea to learn how to also use TVPaint or Animate CC. If you’re not familiar with 3D animation tools, it’s never too late to learn how to use Blender, Aurora 3D Animation Maker, or Cinema 4D.
3) Develop a Growth Mindset
There’s no doubt you’ll encounter many obstacles along your way to becoming a great animator. You might not realize it, but sometimes one of the obstacles might be yourself. The way you view growth and learning can either hold you back or keep you going.
An animator with a growth mindset believes that learning new skills is possible with hard work and dedication. On the other hand, an animator who has a fixed mindset dismisses the possibility of learning new skills because he or she believes that a person either has talent or does not.
It’s important for animators to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. A growth mindset will help keep animators motivated to hone their skills, learn new ones, stay positive in the face of adversity, and be open to new possibilities.
This will also keep you flexible when clients ask for changes to their projects. Animators with fixed mindsets don’t reach their full potential and tend to give up easily.
4) Immerse Yourself in the Animation Industry
You must keep learning about the industry you’re a part of to help you get clients and ensure you aren’t behind on trends, issues, and events in the animation industry. Read animation books, watch animated films, and listen to podcasts about animation.
The great thing about podcasts is that you can easily listen to them while accomplishing your other tasks. You can listen to them while you’re animating, doing your chores, cooking your meals, or exercising. Here are a few animation podcasts you can start with:
- Hosted by Morgan Stradling and Chelsea Robson, this podcast is for anyone who loves animation. Each episode sees the hosts have an engaging, in-depth discussion of an animated film - be it a classic or a recent release.
- Over the years, Nickelodeon Animation Studio has put together an impressive roster of animated films and series that it’s enough to make a podcast about. In each episode, host Hector Navarro talks to some animators and voice actors behind Nickelodeon’s most popular productions.
- This podcast is hosted by twin brothers Tom and Tony Bancroft, who have both had impressive careers as Disney animators. The two invite fellow animators, voice actors, and directors to discuss industry trends and the future of animation.
5) Practice Your Animation Skills
You can enroll in all the classes and workshops there are, but at the end of the day, practice is the only way for you to get better at animation.
Experts recommend practicing any skill you want to hone for one hour every day. It’s short enough to be able to fit in with whatever else you have scheduled for the day.
It’s also consistent and easy to make a habit of. Once you’ve gotten used to setting aside time for practice, it will be so part of your daily routine that it will feel strange not to do it.
You can practice your animation skills by doing a number of animation exercises regularly. One of the most popular and basic exercises at animation schools and courses is the bouncing ball exercise, where you will animate a ball bouncing in place.
There are also other variations of the bouncing ball exercise you can do. Instead of a ball bouncing in place, you can also animate a ball bouncing across the screen or canvas.
You can also play around with animating different kinds of balls and their varying weights - for instance, a tennis ball will bounce off surfaces differently than a soccer ball or basketball.
To refine your character animation skills, animate a character doing simple things, such as turning their head, blinking, or thinking.
If you’re looking for more challenging exercises, simply animate the character doing more complex actions such as walking, jumping, laughing, and standing up from a chair. You can also add more characters to the animation to increase difficulty.
Character animation isn’t limited to faces and bodies. Hands are notoriously challenging to draw and animate.
A few more exercises you can do include a close-up of a hand opening and closing into a fist and a hand picking up an object. The latter has plenty of room for variation depending on the object’s size, shape, and weight being picked up.
6) Build Your Animation Portfolio
You should continuously improve your portfolio and demo reel so that you can present your latest and best work when you find work-related opportunities in animation.
Even when you’re not currently working on client projects, make time for personal animation projects. They are liberating to work on since you can animate anything you want to, and you’re not bound by the guidelines and deadlines given by a client.
7) Learn About the Business Side of Animation
This is particularly important if you’re thinking of becoming a generalist animator because then you’d have the option of freelancing and setting up your own studio.
Apart from the animation itself, you’d also have to take charge of marketing, budgeting, and communicating with clients, and taking charge of the business side of things on top of the animation itself can be daunting.
To help you successfully learn the business of animation, we suggest that you join our Animation Accelerator Program. It’s the only program designed to help animators build successful freelance careers and studios.
By joining the program, you will learn how to consistently attract the right prospects, convert those prospects into paying clients, produce high-performing videos fast, and promote your client’s videos to help them get new clients.
8) Take a Break From Your Animation Projects
Breaks are essential to productivity. When you work without taking breaks every now and again, you can get burned out. Burnout is a result of chronic stress and manifests as exhaustion, lack of motivation, and as a result, a declining performance at work.
Apart from resting and recharging, breaks can also be a great opportunity to reflect on your goals and rekindle your love for animating. Distancing yourself from your work allows you to gain a fresh perspective on your work habits and how you approach your tasks.
If you need to take a longer break from work, take a sabbatical. These can last anywhere from 3 to 12 months. During this time, you can travel, pursue other creative hobbies, take classes that aren’t necessarily related to animation, and catch up with your friends and family.
9) Be Patient With Your Growth as an Animator
Good things can’t be rushed. It takes time to become good at something, and it often takes even more time for others to realize your skills.
Like other skills, learning how to animate doesn’t happen immediately after taking a class or tutorial. Rather, the true mastery of animation skills and software comes after years of practice and hard work.
Your skills as a motion designer develop over years of practice and trial and error. Everything takes time. Even animation videos take a frustratingly long time to render.
To become a great animator, you have to practice your animation skills. Doing so will help you to build and refine your animation portfolio. But there are many other things you also need to keep in mind.
For instance, you need to be up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry. You can do this by reading books and articles, and listening to podcasts created by industry professionals.
Next, approach your animation career with a growth mindset. This will help you persist when things get difficult and keep you open to learning new skills.
Such new skills include the business side of animation, which is important particularly if you plan on generalizing and putting up your own studio. Developing your business skills also helps you communicate and negotiate more efficiently with clients and market your skills to grow your list of clients.
Lastly, remember to be patient and take your time. It’s important to take breaks to avoid burnout and exhaustion. The skills you need are not going to develop overnight anyway.