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The Ultimate Guide to How to Improve Your Animation Skills

“I made tons of films. I did animation for my friends’ films. I animated scenes just for the fun of it. Most of my stuff was bad, but I had fun, and I tried everything I knew to get better.”

Pete Docter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar

Being a freelance animator means staying at the top of your game to keep attracting clients in a highly competitive industry. One way you can do this is by making sure your animation skills are top-notch.

You might be wondering how to improve your animation skills. After all, you probably already know the basics and have learned new skills on the job, but there are ways you can improve your animation skills on the side that will ensure your animation portfolio stands out from all the rest. 

Improving your animation skills and getting better at animation is a lifelong journey, so make sure you create a learning process that is fun and will keep you motivated. 

In this blog post, we will provide you with the ultimate guide on how to improve your animation skills so you can be the best freelance animator out there. Let’s dive in!

Our Top Tips On How to Improve Your Animation Skills

1. Be Receptive to Feedback and Criticism

You’ve probably heard this before, but we’ll say it again – criticism will make your work better. That doesn’t mean you need to listen to everyone or that you should take hurtful comments to heart; it simply means that you’ll need feedback from people more advanced than you to improve your animation skills. 

Sometimes, criticism from a director or animation client might make you feel like everything you do sucks. This is a mentality you should avoid. Remember that they are not criticizing you as a person; they simply think you can do even better. 

an animator can absolutely take constructive criticism

Gif by bravotv.com via Giphy

See criticism and feedback as an opportunity to push yourself and improve your animation skills even further. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with when you push yourself to do a little better.  

You’ll also need to grow a thick skin. Sometimes, people don’t give feedback as kindly as they probably could have. It’s important to let feedback help you get better at animation instead of bruising your ego so badly that you feel like a failure and unable to do any good work after. 

As a freelance animator running their own business, criticism, and feedback can be what helps you turn it into a success because it will push you always to do even better than you think you can. 

2. Learn New Animation Skills From The Experts

Having animators you look up to is a great way to stay motivated, and learning from people who really know their stuff is an amazing way to get started when you’re curious about how to improve your animation skills and grow your animation business.

Pluralsight recommends you pick up some of the most-loved animation books that can help you improve your animation skills. 

an animator can learn from the experts and other seasoned animators

Gif by funnyjunk.com via Giphy

These books include “The Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston and “The Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams. Even though these books primarily focus on 2D animation, you’ll find that many of the principles and techniques discussed within their pages also apply to 3D animation. 

These books provide a treasure trove of information on how to improve your animation skills and are vital to any freelance animator running their own animation business. 

3. Improve Your Animation Skills by Mastering the Basics First

Whether you’re just starting out as a freelance animator or running your own animation studio for a while, you need to master the basics of any type of animation you haven’t done before.

If you’re wondering how to improve your animation skills, mastering the basics is one of the first steps. It is essential to keep in mind that taking on animation that requires skills you haven’t mastered yet is a surefire way to make yourself look bad in front of clients. 

If you notice a trend in the animation world that requires animation skills you don’t yet possess, make a point of mastering the basics of those specific animations and practice it until you are confident that you can provide quality animations to your clients using those newfound skills. 

mastering the basics as an aniamtor will help you be confident in your skills

Gif by Truly. via Giphy

Just because you’re a freelance animator running your own business doesn’t mean you’re automatically brilliant at every type and style of animation out there. You might have to go back to the basics every once in a while to ensure you continue to get better at animation. 

Trying to do complex animations that you haven’t even mastered the basics of will only cause frustration for you and your clients. Starting out simple is the key to improving your animation skills and making sure you continue to grow as an animator. 

4. Use Real-World People, Places, and Animals as a Reference

Have you ever wondered how to improve your animation skills in an almost effortless way? As it turns out, there is one particular animation skill you can improve upon by simply observing the world around you. 

To animate characters, creatures, and environments well, you need to know how they behave and move in real life. An easy way you can improve this animation skill is by simply becoming a keen observer of the world around you.

you can use real world references for your animations

Gif by reddit.com via Giphy

Watch how people move or stand while you’re waiting in a queue at the supermarket. Look at how the birds move when they look for food on the pavement and watch how the trees’ leaves and branches respond to a breeze versus a strong wind. 

The opportunities to observe the behavior of the world around you are limitless, and before you know it, you’ll be keenly observing everything and everyone around you without even trying. This is an incredible tool to improve your animation skills daily. 

5. Improve your Animation Skills by Recording Yourself to Use as a Reference

Even as a “full-time” freelance animator, you’ll need to continue practicing your animation skills to stay at the top of your game. 

Sometimes, you’ll want to practice your animation skills but won’t find the right kind of reference videos online for what you’re trying to achieve. 

Luckily, phones have cameras these days, so you can easily record yourself doing whatever you want to animate to use as a reference, whether that be running a certain way, jumping, or throwing some punches. 

animators can record themselves as a reference

Gif by tumblr.com via Giphy

You can even consider taking some acting classes on the side to continue providing references for yourself instead of relying on others; plus, it’s a fun activity you can do after work where you can meet new people. Many animation studios actually let their animators take some acting classes for this very purpose. 

This is a great way to get better at animation when you’re a freelance animator running your own business. Using yourself as a reference means you can teach yourself to animate almost any movement, which can really set you apart from other animators out there. 

6. Pay Very Close Attention to Timing and Spacing

Practicing timing different key poses is crucial when you want to improve your animation skills. Think of the scene in “The Lion King” when Mufasa teaches Simba how to pounce. The timing and spacing were perfect. 

In order to achieve this, you need to first master the key poses by making sure they move in sync with the audio; then, you can focus on the speed from one pose to the next and figure out the poses that need to be in between to make the scene come to life. 

the timing and spacing of animation of lion king is beloved by animators as a perfect example

Gif by Disney via Giphy

As a freelance animator, you will often deal with “time-sensitive” scenes like these where you need to get the timing perfect for a sequence to work. Practicing this animation skill on the side will ensure that it’s a breeze when you need to do something similar for an animation client. 

7. Learning to Offset Keys Can Improve Your Animation Skills

Offsetting your keys is a technical animation skill that will help your animation look more believable and lifelike, which is something that will definitely make your animation business stand out from the rest. 

Using this animation technique helps you to ensure that your characters’ movements look realistic by not moving their whole body simultaneously at the same time and speed. 

an animation with offset keys can look smooth and lifelike

Gif by DLGNCE via Giphy

For example, if you have a girl with long hair twirling, her hair would follow her movements, but when she comes to a stop, her hair won’t stop while the rest of her body comes to a standstill. 

It’s working on animation skills like these that will make you one of the best freelance animators out there. 

8. Use Basic Models to Animate

Depending on how fast your computer is, you might want to consider just working with the basic models of your animation so there’s no lagging and you can focus solely on your animated characters.

This is especially important if you’re working on multiple animation projects at once and are short on time. 

a basic model used for practicing animating eyes

Gif by alecjerome via Giphy

You should make sure that you don’t turn on high-quality viewpoints since this will require you to playblast the scene a couple of times to ensure that you got the timing right for the sequence you're working on.

Steemit also suggests you keep the polygon at a minimum while you animate character models and hide the background if it’s not essential for what you’re currently animating. This way, you can focus solely on the character and its movements, ensuring that everything works and moves in perfect harmony. 

This is great for when you’re trying to improve specific animation skills or edit a very difficult sequence. It also works great if you’re simply practicing mastering a difficult animation skill. Your computer won’t lag, and you can focus on what’s most important: the animation. 

9. Becoming Well-Versed in Physics Will Improve Your Animation Skills

This is not a drill. No, you don’t have to be Einstein, but you need to understand basic physics if you want to improve your animation skills.

physics are important to creating likelike animations

Gif by CaseOfNuts via Imgur

Good animation sequences need to follow the laws of physics to look lifelike. This means you need to have some basic knowledge about things like impact and momentum as well as inertia. 

Knowing how these basic principles of physics work will help you to animate sequences and scenes that look believable. 

10. Pay Close Attention to Eyes and Eye Darts

If you’ve been looking for a way to drastically improve your animation skills and make your animation portfolio stand out among your competitors, focusing on your characters’ eyes is one of the best ways to bring your animation skills to the next level. 

Characters shouldn’t blink for no reason, and their eyes should convey a message and specific emotions to the viewer. You can use a character’s eyes to direct the audience’s attention to something on-screen that you intentionally want them to pay attention to. 

animated eyes like from puss and boots can evoke a lot of emotion from your audience

Gif by Tumblr via Giphy

This kind of animation skill takes practice, and you should ensure that you master it so your animation is the best it can be. 

Once you master it, you can use the characters’ eyes to deliver the exact emotions to the audience that you want them to experience and make them look at the things you want them to look at. It’s an invaluable animation skill that will please your clients and attract even more people to your business.

11. It’s All About Balance 

Characters need to adapt to their environments. When making a list of how to improve your animation skills, practicing balancing your characters properly should definitely be at the top.

If a character navigates rough or uneven terrain, their movements and posture will differ from walking or standing on straight, even terrain. 

there needs to be balance for your animations from character to environments

Gif by SpongeBob Squarepants via Giphy

Take the time to create different terrains and practice animating your characters according to that terrain, making sure that you adopt their posture as needed. This will prove to be an invaluable skill when you do out-of-the-ordinary animations for clients. 

Making sure that your characters continue to appear lifelike and balanced in whichever terrain or environment they find themselves in will make your animation shine. 

12. Spend Time Mastering Basic Body Mechanics

While acting shots are incredibly fun to animate, body mechanics is the crucial animation skill you need to master to make them look great. Body mechanics focus on how the human body behaves and moves. 

If you’re curious about improving your animation skills in this department, the answer is fairly simple: Study how humans move and walk. If you’re working on a scene where a character does gymnastics, you can watch videos of gymnasts on YouTube to study their movements so you can recreate them in your own animation. 

gymnastic animations to practice your movements

Gif by Eran Mendel via Giphy

Depending on how skilled you are at animation and how long you’ve been doing it, you likely shouldn’t start practicing body mechanics on something as complex as gymnastic movements. 

Master the basics first, like walking and sitting down. Practice these repeatedly until they become second nature and keep the shots short – think three to four seconds – instead of trying to animate long body mechanics shots. 

13. Continue to Work on Your Drawing Skills

Even if you primarily work as a 3D animator where illustration isn’t so important, it would still be wise to work on your drawing skills continually.

Being able to draw well is an animation skill that will serve you throughout your animation career, and you’ll find that it helps you understand the anatomy of your characters much better. In turn, you will have a better understanding of how these characters and creatures move – a vital animation skill. 

you can work on your drawing skills to improve your animation skills

Gif by Sherchle via Giphy

Utilizing this animation skill will help you improve the quality of your 3D animations even more, which will help you stand out from other freelance animators. 

Curious about how to improve your animation skills when it comes to drawing? The first thing you should try to do is push yourself outside of your comfort zone. 

Learn to draw things you’ve never drawn before, explore different styles – you might even discover a unique style you can use for your animations that can set you apart from others. 

You can also sign up for short courses covering the different drawing styles you’d like to learn.

14. Find Sources of Inspiration to Keep You Motivated

If you’re wondering how to improve your animation skills and stay super motivated and excited about animation, you’ll need to find sources of inspiration that can continue to push you to do your best and try new things when you’re feeling a little unmotivated. 

You can find inspiration to improve your animation skills by following other animators you admire on social media and YouTube. Keeping up with what they are doing is a great way to stay inspired, and it might even give you that extra little push to try new animation techniques and styles yourself. 

you can improve your animation skills by looking or finding sources for inspiration

Gif by Chibird via Giphy

You can also make a list of your favorite animated movies and rewatch some of them whenever you’re in need of inspiration. Being reminded of what you aspire to be able to do as a freelance animator will give you that extra push and hopefully help you to feel motivated to improve your animation skills with renewed enthusiasm. 

Watching the movies frame by frame can also help you identify great animated moments. Pay closer attention to the shots that stand out to you, and use your animation skills to figure out how the animator created those awesome animation sequences. 

This is a great way to learn new animation skills that you can practice and implement in your own work. 

Be aware of your self-talk while you study other animators’ work, however. Be positive. Don’t allow yourself to think that they are so much better than you and that you’ll never be able to animate as they do. 

Keep in mind that they have likely been doing it a lot longer than you and that they, too, at one point, were precisely at your level. Let that encourage you and allow their great animations to inspire you to continue working towards your own animation goals. 

15. Keep Up With New Animation Trends and Technology

You’ve probably heard this before, but as a freelance animator, it’s important that you keep up with animation trends. Knowing what’s new in the animation industry is crucial for taking steps to improve your animation skills. 

learn to keep up with the trends as an animator to improve your animation skills

Gif by YoungerTV via Giphy

Animation changes as frequently as technology, so make sure you’re constantly plugged into the world of animation via social media, YouTube, and your favorite websites, so you don’t fall behind. 

Keeping up with animation trends is an invaluable animation skill that will ensure you always deliver work that is fresh and fun, utilizing the latest trends and animation technology and techniques. 

16. Never Stop Practicing Your Animation Skills

You might get to a point where you feel very confident in your animation skills. You might feel like you’ve finally reached a point where you can do almost anything. 

Once you reach that point, you need to keep practicing. Yes, you read that right. You always have to continue improving upon your existing skills.

The beauty of animation is that it will always continue to evolve, and your animation skills need to follow suit. 

practice makes perfect as an animator

Gif by HBO Max via Giphy

No matter how good an animator you are, there will always be something new to learn. If you fail to keep up with the changes and new developments in the animation industry, you will fall behind at some point. Other animators who keep up with the new techniques and trends will snag your animation clients from right under your nose. 

Always continue to practice your animation skills and allow them to evolve as new technology and trends emerge. This way, you will always have something fresh and new to present to your animation clients, and you’ll continually become a better animator as your animation skills continue to advance. 

Lifelong Learning Is the Best Way to Improve Your Animation Skills

Get ready to learn something new every day as a freelance animator. There will always be something new to discover in this ever-changing and exciting industry. 

If you’ve always wondered how to improve your animation skills, you now know that the best way to do that is to be a lifelong student. 

Constantly honing your skills and working even harder on the animation styles you’re not very good at yet will set you apart from other freelance animators out there.

Working to improve your animation skills is one way to ensure your freelance animation career is a raving success. 

If you’re ready to get better at animation and hone your skills, consider signing up for our Animation Accelerator course, which will teach you everything you need to know about starting your own freelance animation business and making it a raving success. 

You can also check out our free marketing handbook and master class, as well as our blog post on how to start your own animation studio.

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