What is the job of the freelance animator

Animators breathe life into cartoon characters - in cartoons, computer games or in action sequences.

Anyone who makes cartoons has not drawn flip books completely by hand for a long time in order to then photograph them and process them into film sequences. But even if the computer and the corresponding software do some of the work in high-tech times, animation is still largely manual work.

The animators' areas of work are not just cartoons - their skills and knowledge are also sought after in the design of interactive websites and multimedia productions. “Drawings and 2D animations form the basis of many films,” says Manfred Behn, project manager at the Animation School Hamburg. Primeval-looking puppet, laying and clay animation are by no means outdated - the adventures of a certain "Wallace and Gromit" or the kids from the American "South Park" prove it.

Nothing works without drawing skills

The basic knowledge of an animator is also useful for documentation - because he learns everything from creating the storyboard to animation and layout. The modern software makes editing easier - but that doesn't change the fact that the story is actually still being drawn at first.

When a complete film is created on the computer, numerous computer specialists are at work. For example with films like those from Pixar - “Shrek”, Nemo or “Ratatouille”. “Pixar is probably every animator's dream - but only very few make it into this studio,” says Behn. But the special effects of big action films are also inconceivable without computer animators. Nothing works in the industry without computer and software knowledge - but neither without drawing skills. “These basics are important so that people can correctly program perspectives, proportions and movement sequences on the computer,” says Behn.

Storyboard is at the beginning

At the beginning of every animation there is the storyboard, in which the sequence of the planned animation is usually sketched out. Therefore, graphic talent, an eye for design and spatial imagination are essential. Because the objects are first constructed as wire frame models in the computer and the surfaces are provided with suitable materials. Then the scene is illuminated to give it depth and contrast through light and shadow. If the objects are animated, the scene can be rendered, i.e. converted into a pixel graphic or image sequence.

After rendering, animators often edit the individual images in an image processing or compositing program as well as with editing software in order to create a video or a film for playback on a computer. Technical basics are therefore necessary tools: Computer animators handle computer-aided design (CAD) as well as image and graphic programs with ease. You will of course also deal intensively with special authoring tools and animation programs such as Macromedia Director as well as with the latest 2D and 3D software.

Most demanding technology in game development

The most demanding technique is 3D animation: objects or players can use it to move in a virtual space. This is why computer animators often also work in the field of game design, where the task is to create the atmosphere and mood of virtual fantasy, comic or science fiction worlds.

That is only one field of application - but one that is constantly growing. The market for computer and video games has left its niche existence in recent years and not only generates huge sums of income, but is also increasingly becoming a job market. The German developer association G.A.M.E. has made a spectacular change. observed within the entertainment industry over the past few years. While cinema, television and music are losing market share year after year, games are catching up tremendously. In 2005, around 20 billion dollars were generated worldwide with computer and video games. In Germany it was around 1.6 billion euros - around twice the cinema income for the entire year.

"There is no such thing as a game developer," says Felix Wittkopf, training advisor at the Games Academy in Berlin. "The more complex the games, the tools and the technology, the more people you need." There is plenty of room for experts in game development teams - because the developer industry has not yet given a name to numerous job profiles. “That develops over time,” says Wittkopf. You can see which specializations you need and name them. Level designers, for example, are the virtual set builders, game artists and game designers deal with the overall appearance of the game, while "texture artists" are responsible for surface properties.

Unattainable manga tradition in Japan

The Berlin Academy trains 3-D programmers specifically for this industry who implement the ideas. Animators who have previously specialized in two-dimensional dimensions also have a chance: because anyone who can also program and implement the designers' ideas has opened up a further field of work.

This is important. Because as exciting and varied as the work in film, especially in animation, is - the jobs in the few German studios are comparatively limited. “The animation industry is a very small industry,” says Behn. This has advantages, but also disadvantages for your employees. "If you are really good, you make your own way."

Real films are also animated

Other European countries, especially North America and Asia, have a much larger industry - however, according to Behn, it is extremely difficult to get a job there. "Japan, for example, with its long manga tradition, is almost inaccessible for Europeans."

Fortunately, there is another field of application for computer animators: real films. Their tasks include post-processing film scenes, staging special effects and sounds, or merging real film sequences with 3D elements or worlds. Films like “Lord of the Rings” show how vivid and lively virtual reality can be. An animation can also be helpful for the visualization of real existing objects, for example if you want to simulate a virtual tracking shot through the planned building on the basis of CAD data from an architect.

Computer science leads to the goal

In the past, training to become a computer animator was based on the training-on-the-job principle. Talented and creative interns mostly stayed loyal to the industry. In addition to the schools that provide training and further education, the universities now also offer corresponding courses: The Konrad Wolf University of Film and Television, for example, has an independent course in animation in its program, in which both classic and digital techniques are taught.

The computer visualistics course, which can be studied across Germany at the Universities of Magdeburg and Koblenz-Landau, also teaches the digital implementation of images. Of course, you can also achieve your professional goal through computer science or media informatics. Media IT specialists, graduate designers from various disciplines, information designers and media technologists are also busy in this area.

Insecure freelance prospects

The practice-oriented training of these courses provides the necessary basic and specialist knowledge to work as an animator, intermediate phase draftsman, layout artist, background painter, storyboard draftsman and figure designer. There is also the option of taking this subject as a focus or elective within the framework of courses such as communication, media or graphic design.

Anyone who travels as a computer animator must not limit themselves to knowing the subject and being creative. He must also be fit in business administration, accounting and marketing. Because most animators are freelancers. “It's not a safe job - the industry is too vulnerable for that,” says Behn. "If you want to make a lot of money, you should stay away." Because if you work freely, you usually work on a project basis. And daily rates between 120 and 280 euros are on the agenda.

(Verena Wolff / 09/15/2008 / Image: Entropia, Fotolia.com)

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