How To’s

The Art of the Long Take

If there’s one thing every aspiring filmmaker should consider if they want to achieve success, it’s learning to take chances and be persistent. Not giving up on risky creative ideas is what separates the good films and their makers from the great ones.

Right now, people can’t stop talking about the latest Star Wars film to release — a franchise that wouldn’t exist if the young George Lucas hadn’t gambled his career at the time to see his vision come to life.

Such is the essence of the long take, a technique that offers great benefit to those willing to put in the effort and take a chance.

Risk = Reward

When you consider that today’s movies are made up of several thousand editing cuts, putting together typical shots comes with enough challenge. But while a typical final cut rarely exceeds three seconds per shot, a true long take can last several minutes — or even last for an entire film, as in “Russian Ark” (2002).

These tracking takes involve complicated camera movement, countless hours of rehearsing, and enormous amounts of patience, as a single mistake forces the team to prepare and shoot the scene all over again.

Of course, long takes almost always stand out from the rest of the film when done right. Whether it’s an elaborate action sequence or an establishing shot, viewers love watching a scene unfold without any visual interruptions. This is why many directors pay close attention to long shots, even if it might cost them valuable time and resources.

The Many Uses of a Long Take

There are many ways this powerful technique can be used in filmmaking

A common one is for an establishing shot that introduces the audience to a new scene or location. Since there aren’t any cuts, a long take smoothly draws us into the space via continuous look at the setting and moving parts. For example, the first shot in 2015’s “Spectre” lasts a breathless four minutes as we follow a masked man moving through a Dios de Los Muertos party and up onto a rooftop before revealing the identity of the man we’ve followed.

Long takes are also a fantastic tool for when a director wants to instill suspense into a scene. The best example is also one of the earliest uses, in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” as we begin by watching a man place a timebomb in the trunk of a car that then drives through busy city streets. The long shot allows tension to simmer as the audience waits to see when and where the clock will run out.

Many action directors strive to create intense scenes through the use of complex choreography that goes uninterrupted. If you’ve seen 1992’s “Hard Boiled” then you no doubt remember the incredible shootout scene as two men blast away several mobsters while moving down corridors, using an elevator, and tearing the place apart.

These are only a handful of the various uses of the long take.

Recipe for your Long Take

If you’re a fan of long takes and hope to utilize one in a project one day, we applaud you. The following are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping in:

  1. Do You Need A Long Take?

Although an exciting challenge, the long take shouldn’t be used just for its own sake. In other words, take time to evaluate your planned film and decide where, if at all, a long take would be the optimal choice. It’s better you realize early that a long take won’t actually make the scene more impactful.

  1. Are Your Actors Ready?

There’s more pressure on actors when one mistake can lead to hitting the reset button on a scene lasting several minutes and you may need extra preparation and rehearsal. You should make sure you have enough time available to budget in everyone’s schedules for rehearsals prior to shooting.

  1. Do You Have The Equipment?

Unless the action will be circling the camera like in 1992’s “The Player,” you’ll need a budget or access to the essential equipment that will enable the camera movements to allow for a long take. You’ll also need audio equipment that can pick up sounds throughout the take as well as the ability to light the entire thing so it looks good. NYFA students have access to one of the largest equipment libraries in the world, so your time spent training here may provide the perfect opportunity to create the long take you envision.

  1. Can Your Crew Handle It?

Composing long takes requires extra effort from everyone involved, and that is doubly true for your crew members who are handling the camera equipment. If they’re up to the task, make sure you plan for breaks between long takes so exhaustion and stress doesn’t play a role in ruining a long take and leaving your team upset.

What are your favorite long takes in films? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Inspiring Advice from 3 Top Animation Studios

No matter whether you’re about to start your program at The New York Film Academy’s 3D Animation & Visual Effects (VFX) School or are already deep into your journey into the magical wizarding world of professional animation and effects, we are sure that the hard work and long hours you put into your work are motivated by a lot of passion and a lot of creativity.

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Because you work so hard at what you love, we rounded up some inspiring advice to give you a boost. So regardless of where you are on your path as an animator or effects artist — whether you’re gearing up for class, tackling a tricky challenge on a project, or hunting down your next professional animation job — we thought you could use some extra insight and inspiration from animators who work for Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, and Dreamworks.

Here are 8 great tips to inspire your animation and effects work:

1. Research

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Just like actors who do research for their role, animators should do research too. Even if you’re just jumping into a shot, take the time to draw or do video research. Make sure that it becomes a habit.

2. Animation Motion

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Chances are that at some point in your career, you’ll have to animate something that you aren’t familiar with creating. If you need to, break the animation down into simple components to help you.

According to Andrew Gordon and Robb Denovan, directing animators for Pixar’s  “Monsters University,” the team had to color-code Terry-Terri’s tentacles to help during the process.

3. Drawing It Out

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Aaron Blaise, an animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios, tweeted, “Try forcing yourself to draw by just laying single lines down. No searching lines. This will force you to think about every line.”

4. Mastering Technology

According to Scott Wright, an animator for Dreamworks, always look to enhance your skill set. He wrote on Twitter, “Technology changes fast. Don’t rely on mastering one program. You never know how the next software package will enhance your imagination.”

Don’t be afraid to use the different types of tools that you have. Computers and software can do CGI well. Put your efforts into the performance and let the computers help you fine-tune everything.

 

5. Polishing Your Work

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If you prioritize correctly, you will know what aspects of your project may need more polishing. Animation requires a great deal of time and effort to bring an idea to life, and you will need to spend a lot of time to achieve a level of work that is polished and ready to share.

6. Show Your Work

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It’s better to show your creation early on versus keeping it under wraps: you can gather valuable feedback, see your work from a new perspective, and find new opportunities to collaborate or flesh out an underdeveloped part of your idea. Creating solid animation is teamwork and that means being open to critiques.

7. Seek Out Advice

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There will be times when you feel stuck while working on an animation project, and there may be a time when someone else’s work fits better in a scene. If that is the case, go find the person who created the work and talk to them. Some animators will open up and go over scenes to show another animator how they made a scene work. Again, collaboration and critique are vital tools to help you grow and improve your work, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your colleagues and peers whose work you admire.

8. Live Your Life

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Animation is similar to acting in that it requires emotional understanding, a passion for storytelling, and an awareness of life experiences to develop believable characters.

Your creativity and discipline at work will draw from how you live your life, so take the time to travel or go see a show, watch people, and write about memorable experiences. Your own life can serve as a valuable resource and support for you as you develop animated scenes, whether you excel at creating funny scenes or subtle and dramatic scenes.

Either way, it’s important to learn to draw from real life, as that can give you immense insight into understanding what makes a scene entertaining for the audience. After all, your audience is full of people living their lives, too.

Do you have any inspiring advice for our animation students? Let us know below!

How to Animate a Film for an Older Audience

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Each year, animated films give viewers of all ages something to anticipate and enjoy. If you’re an aspiring animator, one of the most important skills to foster is the ability to create animation for any and all ages. If you’re particularly interested in producing content that speaks to adult viewers, consider the following strategies while planning your film:

Use Themes That Make the Audience Think

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There’s nothing more powerful than a story that leaves you with both emotions and thoughts. Adults appreciate thought-provoking films because they offer a whole new level of engagement, discovery, and experience. Whether a story includes philosophical elements or asks questions about how technology may affect us one day, a thoughtful theme is a great hook to secure the attention of mature audiences.

A great example that includes both themes we just mentioned is “Ghost in the Shell.” This cult animated classic tells the story of a cyborg police officer named Motoko who struggles to keep order in a futuristic city. As a being with both organic and mechanical parts, the rise of a powerful hacker eventually causes her to question her own humanity and existence. And the film certainly appeals to its intended audience. When animating for mature audiences, choose themes that will allow your animation to evoke intriguing concepts or questions and engage your audience on many levels, both emotionally and intellectually.

Analyze Your Content and Storytelling

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There are a lot of reasons why “South Park” has remained one of the most popular cartoons on television, from it’s quirky animation to its sly, timely humor. One important element of the success of “South Park” is its abundance of adult-oriented jokes. As an aspiring animator, know there is permission and precedent for creating animation specifically for mature audiences. Risque, controversial, and violent animation also has its place in the entertainment industry.

Of course, it takes more than mature content to make a successful animated film for an older audience. It also takes strong storytelling. For example, while Seth Rogen’s “Sausage Party” had all the mature language you could ask for, it was the storytelling that won the praise of critics and propelled the film to become the highest grossing R-rated animated movie of all time. If you choose the route of animating content that speaks particularly to an older audience, also remember to include excellent craftsmanship and thought-provoking themes in your animation.

Include Fun, Meaningful Stories

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You don’t have to animate for older audiences alone — you can also choose the route of animating films that have broad appeal. Both Pixar and DreamWorks have proven that animated movies can simultaneously appeal to all ages. From “Up” and “WALL-E” to “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda,” there are plenty of animated movies that viewers of all ages can enjoy. And aspiring animators can learn a lot from tackling the challenge of crafting fun, meaningful stories for all ages.

“The Incredibles,” for example, looks like the perfect film for kids. It has heroes that appear ripped straight out of a comic book and boast amazing powers any kid might dream about having. But along with that you have a story that illustrates a strong message that family is more important than anything else, including fame and glory. This meaningful story has the potentially to appeal universally to all ages. Whether you make an animated film only for adults or for people of all ages, don’t forget that almost all humans love stories with meaning.

Do Something That’s Impossible to do Elsewhere

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The power of animation is its ability to let us tell stories in a unique way that simply can’t be done in any other medium. For example, Dragonball Z has remained one of the most iconic animes of all time, and yet every attempt to recreate Toriyama’s world in live action has failed. Also think of all the best claymation and beloved anime films, which create visual worlds and characters so unique and specific that it’s hard to imagine them any other way. Animation offers unique possibilities.

And whether you’re animating for youngsters, mature viewers, or all ages, we hope these tips help you at the drawing board.

How do you prepare when creating animation for audiences of different ages? Let us know in the comments below!

Six Best Options For Free Graphic Design And Animation Software

Creating 3D, manipulatable models without the need to get arms-deep in clay is an attractive idea. Forking over $1,500 every year for a subscription to Autodesk Maya, however, is not.

Given that the price range for professional-grade modeling suites can be eye watering, many amateurs, and even professionals, find themselves looking for free 3D modeling software alternatives. Luckily, there are more than a few free and open source options available. Even with the lack of a price tag, many of these are up there with the best.

If you’re a graphic design school student or attend animation school, check out the below options and we can guarantee you’ll find something that fits your needs.

Free 3D Modeling Software: 10 of the Best

1. K-3D

A mercifully stripped-back, no-nonse piece of software that doesn’t skimp on features. K-3D is centered around a plug-in driven procedural engine for handling polygonal modeling and animation, with one of the most brilliant and unique benefits being the ability to mirror the object you’re working on; add curves and NURBS to one half, and the other half with follow suit with a seamless join in the middle, creating a fully manipulable subdivision surface.

Also comes with support for RenderMan.

2. 3DCrafter

Amabilis have put out a whole suite of weird and wonderful tools over the years, and 3DCrafter is perhaps the best and most polished among them.

The beauty of this free 3D modeling software is that it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, ranging between drag-and-drop and fully customizable sculpting of intricate models from the ground up. The interface is a charm to use and extremely intuitive.

3. Blender

One of the most recognizable names on this list, Blender is incredibly popular due to its versatility. Everything from animation and video games modeling to 3D applications can be created, and graphic designers will love the simulated visual effects that can be implemented to a project effortlessly. It’s free and very much open source, with much of the development being driven by the lively Blender community.

Features within Blender include 3D modeling, texturing, particle simulation, UV unwrapping, skinning and rigging, animation, liquid and smoke simulation.

4. POV-Ray

Vision Raytracer, more popularly referred to as POV-Ray, is an entirely free and open source ray tracing software available for pretty much any platform you can name. It has been in development, in one form or another, for over thirty years and has even been used on the International Space Station. To boot, it’s longevity as a program means that there is a huge amount of 3rd party support for the software.

Features Turing-complete scene description language (SDL), a library of ready-made objects, textures and scenes, several kinds of light sources and atmospheric effects, surface patterns and radiosity. This one is highly recommended for graphic designers in particular given the impressive results that can be achieved with it.

5. Google SketchUp

Quickly becoming common place within the modeling and graphic design community, Google’s SketchUp is geared towards open-ended sharing. Either working from scratch or by using a ton of free, pre-built objects, it’s a great tool for projects that will be worked on and shared between multiple team members. While it has something of a learning curve for beginners, the amount of support and tutorials available is unparalleled, and it also boasts an incredibly large and active community base around the globe.

6. Art of Illusion

Highly recommended for beginners or traditional graphic designers who only want to model occasionally, Art of Illusion offers an intuitive user interface and is stripped back of any distractions. At the same time, it does offer a few bells and whistles that aren’t prevalent in the other software listed on this page; the free access to online repositories, a live chat function which lets you tap straight into the fantastic AoI support community and an array of view modes.

Other features which come as standard include: Boolean operating; wireframe animation (complete with weight systems, constraints and reversed kinetics), texture mapping by face or vertex, fully customizable light refraction and scattering.

Know of any other free 3D Modeling Software we should be checking out? Don’t hesitate to share with the group via the comments below!

How To Do Stop Motion Animation

Before the advent of fully-blown CGI animation, traditional animation – in which every single frame is drawn by hand – was the industry standard. If you wanted to create something involving 3D models, stop motion animation was your only option.

But even though there are now many more ways to skin the proverbial cat, stop motion hasn’t waned in popularity. If anything, it’s becoming even more appreciated as an artform as people push the boundaries of what can be achieved with stop motion. Adam Pesapane – more famously known as PES – is a great example, with his work having delighted animation fans for over a decade:

Alongside the numerous accolades and awards PES has picked up over the years, the above animation (titled ‘Fresh Guacamole’) was also the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar.

But how to follow in his footsteps? Join us as we explore…

How To Do Stop Motion Animation

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: stop motion animation is extremely time consuming work, which is instantly apparent to anyone who has ever seen even a basic film created in the medium. It is something that should only be attempted by those with patience, dedication, and an extreme amount of attention to detail…

… the reward for these is a level of job satisfaction that is simply off the scale.

Assuming you’re already in animation school or ready to embark on your first stop motion animation project, let’s take a look at how to do stop motion animation by first looking at the essential things you’ll need:

Models to Shoot

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The props and models you’ll need can vary wildly, and depend wholly upon your vision for the animation and what you’re hoping to create. Many people just starting out figuring how to do stop motion animation find a lot of use and versatility in Lego, although the downside is that it can be fairly expensive to buy a large set from scratch.

A Scene in Which to Place Them

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Again, the setting can be just about anything. PES uses a simple kitchen counter and lets his props and models take the main focus . You can also hand draw imagery or use other props to build a backdrop to the scene. A green screen can also be useful if you’d like to experiment with digitally inserting backgrounds in post production.

An HD Camera

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Given that stop motion animation is as much about animating as it is an exercise in photography, you’ll want the best camera you can get your hands on. Using a phone or tablet is also an option. Although the overall image quality may not be as sharp, there are apps out there that can automate the editing process (we’ll come to this a bit later on.) Also make sure that you’ve got a big enough SD card or storage space to store all the images during the shoot.

An Extremely Stable Camera Rig

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And ‘stable’ is the operative word here. If the tripod isn’t 100% stationary for the duration of the scene (or the slightest knock will move it), you’ll end up with very chaotic footage in the final edit.

A Lighting Set Up

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Uniform lighting is also paramount. A simple desk lamp can suffice in many occasions, but make sure you don’t have natural light coming into play which will change over the course of the shoot.

Editing Software

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Software developers have become attuned to the needs of stop motion animators in recent years, so there are a number of options that will help make the editing and file management part of the job a lot easier – check out our guide on Stop Motion Animation software here.

Above all, you’ll need a clear idea of what you want to achieve. One of the biggest pitfalls that many people fail to consider when working out how to do stop motion animation is the storyboard. There is no room to work things out on the fly, and any attempts to do so will result in a mish-mash of unworkable stills. Every hour spent planning will pay off dividends in the long run, so be sure to meticulously lay out your storyboard ahead of time.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start shooting!

  • Get all set up. Rig up your lighting and camera, and put your models and scenery into place. Bear in mind that you’ll likely be in it for the long haul, so make sure you’ve got enough time to prevent having to deconstruct everything mid-shoot.
  • Take a test shot. This is simply to make sure your lighting and camera settings are optimal before you take hundreds of photos!
  • Begin shooting. Take a photo, move the model by a tiny amount, then repeat. Do make sure your own shadow doesn’t make it into the shot…
  • Ending the Shoot: Hopefully you’ll have allowed for enough storage space to get all the images you need! Once you’re done, export all the files to your main editing suite (you may want to use a batch renaming tool to make the file names logical and in sequence.)
  • Edit the project. How you go about this comes down to which stop motion animation software you’re using, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure the individual stills are all of equal length. You’ll also want to cut in some audio or speech to make the film more dynamic from an audio perspective.

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Once you’ve completed your first stop motion animation, you’ll be able to analyze the finished results and identify areas for improvement on your next project.

Golden Rule: Start off small, be patient, and keep on practicing until you create even bigger and better stop motion animations. Best of luck, and be sure to share your results in the comments below!

Best Stop Motion Apps for iPad & Desktop

If you’re studying the craft at animation school, you’ll have every professional tool imaginable at your fingertips. But what about when you want to work on the go and experiment away from campus? We’re guessing you don’t want to blow multiple thousands of dollars setting up a home studio, but the good news is you don’t have to.

If you’re looking to get started in stop motion photography, you might want to start with our guide on the basics of the craft. But if you’ve already got all your image stills lined up and just need some free or budget software to process them, then here are…

The Best Stop Motion Animation Software and Apps

Smoovie (Mac & iPad)

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Featuring precision editing, onion skinning, chroma key effects, direct-to-YouTube publishing, and an intuitive interface, Smoovie is specifically designed for stop motion animation. While it’s not the most powerful or beautiful software ever released, it’s ideal for getting to grips with the basics. To boot, the iPad version makes good use of the tablet’s camera, meaning the entire production can be conducted right from within the app.

Smoovie offers a free trial for its desktop version (the full version is priced at a budget level $39.99) while the iPad version is currently $6.99 in the App Store.

iStopMotion 3 (Mac & iPad)

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iStopMotion by Boinx Studios has long been the go-to software suite for both amateur and professional stop motion animators alike. It’s updated regularly and is already packed full of brilliantly implemented features. It also comes with unparalleled developer support

A trial version is available to use without limits for 5 days, and the full desktop/iPad version is yours for $49.99. A similar app exists for the iPhone by the same studio, albeit under a different name (search for iStopCamera on the App Store.)

Dragonframe (Windows & Mac)

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Dragonframe is pretty much the most widely-recognized stop motion animation software in the industry, and has been used to create numerous box-office hits such as Coraline and this year’s Shaun the Sheep.

This is one of the pricier pieces of software on the list at $299 for the full version (which comes with controller hardware), but it deserves a mention here since there is a free trial which is well worth checking out. The full version, although expensive, represents great value for the money for a professional suite.

MonkeyJam (Windows)

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MonkeyJam is the only free stop motion animation software we’ve been able to find that is still operational and worth trying, and by free we mean it isn’t just a free trial with the need to pay for access later on.

MonkeyJam is slightly (and sadly) neglected, having not had an update in four years. This naturally means it looks a little rough around the edges and new features aren’t likely to arrive any time soon, but the ones already in place are still effective at getting the job done and the program is delightfully functional as a whole. If you’re a Windows user and don’t have the budget for Dragonframe or any of the professional-grade suites, MonkeyJam remains the best free stop motion animation software out there.

Stop Motion in iMovie (Mac)

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Not looking to pay for a dedicated piece of stop motion animation software? Never fear, because iMovie – packaged for free with all new iMacs as of 2003 – can get the job done quite nicely even if it wasn’t designed specifically for stop motion. All the features are there and great results can be teased out of the software. Although, you’ll probably want to look for the latest tutorial online since the interface can (and does) change dramatically with each update.

You may also like to check out our quick guide to the best apps for photography and other editing duties, since many of them work alongside your stop motion setup to streamline workflow. In the meantime, do let us know which stop motion animation software works best for your needs (and feel free to share your creations) in the comments below!

Jobs in Animation: Average Salaries & Career Paths

To someone who is passionate about animation, gaining paid work in the field can be something of a dream come true. The only downside is getting your foot through the door in the first place, especially given that the industry – much like any creative profession – is saturated with competition.

But don’t despair. Those armed with information are better prepared for success, and you’ll find plenty of it below as we delve into the various sub-professions within, and related to, animation.

We’ve also listed the typical career paths people usually follow to break into them (for instance, is animation school a prerequisite?) as well as the average salary one can expect and difficulty of attaining regular paid work (not the difficulty of the job itself).

All figures correct at time of writing, but should be taken as estimates only. Salary can vary wildly depending on location and experience level.

Art Director

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While many industries – from publishing to marketing – employ art directors for any project or campaign that requires heavy visual elements, the role is even more prominent in animation.

An art director holds a very high position on an animation team, and most creative staff involved on a project report directly to him or her. Not only do art directors have the final say on what footage or stills are to be included in the final cut (as well as helping to coordinate and shape the entire project), but may also be required to train junior staff and manage budgeting requirements.

Art Director Career Path: Typically working up from more junior roles, with qualifications from an animation school helping accelerate the process.

Pros: Being in charge of calling the shots is often the biggest pull for art directors.

Cons: Nobody knows pressure like an animation art director, particularly one who also has to manage budgetary issues.

Art Director Salary: Averaging $70,000 to $80,000, but wholly depends on the scale of the project.

Difficulty: 8/10

Stop Motion Animator

Stop motion animation jobs

Stop motion animation is a very laborious discipline which takes an incredible amount of skill, attention to detail and, above all, patience. What sets stop motion animators aside from traditional 2D or 3D animators is that they must also set up physical rigs, usually to specification, in which to work with the models and camera equipment before using specialist software to bring it all to life in the editing suite.

Stop Motion Animator Career Path: More often than not, stop motion animators are self-taught and break into the industry gradually having honed their skills through freelance work.

Pros: The job satisfaction when you see the finished animation – usually after weeks if not months of painstaking work – is truly off the scale

Cons: The painstaking work.

Stop Motion Animator Salary: Most stop motion animators earn a fairly steady $60,000, with no great difference being seen depending on experience or location. This is similar to how much somome earns while playing blackjack for a living.

Difficulty: 5/10

3D Modeler

3d modeler jobs

Working with a number and combination of industry-grade animation tools – Maya, 3DS Max and Blender to name a few – a 3D modeler works from the ground up to bring fully rendered models and environments to life. While this may sound like a fairly niche job, a skilled 3D modeler can find work not just in film and video games but also in engineering, advertising, manufacturing, architecture and many other fields.

3D Modeler Career Path: Given the steep learning curve, many modelers get their leg up onto the career ladder via 3D animation school. Internships usually follow, or the modeler can sometimes get straight into paid work if they’re based in an entertainment hotspot.

Pros: A fair amount of creative control, as well as no two days ever being the same (for the most part).

Cons: The competition for paid work is pretty stiff.

3D Modeler Salary: Very hard to calculate averages given that most 3D modeling work is offered on a freelance basis. A contracted modeler for a major studio like Disney or Pixar can expect as much as $100,000, but it can be less than half that for a smaller company.

Difficulty: 7/10

Flash Animator

Flash animation jobs

Predominantly working with the Adobe suite of animation tools, Flash animators combine skills in illustration, graphic design and composition in order to create compelling 2D and 3D animation in Adobe Flash. Given the prevalence of the format in modern usage, Flash specialists are employed in just about every area in which animation is required but particularly in web applications and advertising.

Flash Animator Career Path: A standard career path for those specializing in Flash is to self-teach before seeking out freelance work.

Pros: As long as Flash is as popular as it currently is, work is plentiful for a skilled Flash animator.

Cons: If you work in web advertising, client demands can get almost comically outrageous at times. A lot of work is being outsourced overseas, too, leading to greater competition at lesser rates than previous years.

Flash Animator Salary: As above – quite difficult to calculate given most Flash animators are self-employed. The median average lies around the $60k mark, but this is a very rough ballpark figure.

Difficulty: 4/10

Compositing Artist

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Compositing artists hold a great degree of responsibility over the final appearance of an animation, working closely with the other animation staff (particularly SFX specialists, lighting and texture directors) in order to add a layer of polish and keep the entire project looking consistent. If you’ve ever been impressed by the stylistic quality of an animation, that’ll probably be the work of one or more compositing artists.

Compositing Artist Career Path: There are numerous routes to becoming a full-time compositing artist, and while many studios hire professionals who have undertaken specialist study in this area, it’s usually a case of working up from a junior animator or SFX level.

Pros: An opportunity to use your artistic flare to the fullest and leave your own creative stamp which is immediately apparent in the final animation.

Cons: It’s an under-appreciated artform, and you’ll be forced to satisfy the demands of numerous departments.

Compositing Artist Salary: Between $50,000 to $75,000 per year depending on location and experience.

Difficulty: 7/10

Storyboard Artist

storyboard artist jobs

While not strictly a branch of animation, storyboard artists usually work hand-in-hand with animation and/or filmmaking teams to help map out a story from start to finish long before work starts. Taking input from writers and directors, it’s the storyboard artist’s job to produce conceptual artwork from stills from which the production team can work – given that a skilled artist can save everyone else an exceptional amount of time (and, ergo, money), they’re highly sought after on film shoots, traditional animation, music videos and commercials.

Storyboard Artist Career Path: Like many professions in the creative industry, it’s all about having a solid portfolio and leveraging connections. This can take years of working on smaller projects for very little (or no) money, but studying the craft at illustration school can help you get there quicker.

Pros: Getting to be pretty much the first person to start the transformation process from written script to polished animation.

Cons: Being sandwiched between a director making demands and an animation team trying to make sense of the whole project.

Storyboard Artist Salary: In LA, the salary for a contracted storyboard artist can be as high as $80,000 to $100,000 but once again this can be half as much in other locations (and depending on the sector in which the artist is employed).

Difficulty: 6/10

Mathematical Modeler

mathematical modeler animation jobs

Arguably the most specialized branch of animation in the industry (and with a commensurate pay scale to go with it.) As the name suggests, a mathematical modeler uses complex formulae in order to generate equally complex models for use within animation; typically this skillset is mainly used in precise engineering such as aeronautics, but the increasing advancements in video gaming have seen a call for such specialists in recent years.

Mathematical Modeler Career Path: Intensive. A degree in math, engineering or similar is virtually essential, and coupling it with a program specific to 3D animation and modeling doesn’t hurt either.

Pros: Let’s not mince words – the main attraction here is the money.

Cons: Have fun digging through 20,000 lines of code to find the one mistake causing the model to act that way.

Mathematical Modeler Salary: Expect no less than $80,000.

Difficulty: 10/10

Forensic Animator

forensic animator training

Declaring that you’re an animator will usually fire up interest and conversation at a party, but being a forensic animator is guaranteed to turn heads.

Pretty much exactly as it sounds, a forensic animator will utilize his or her unique skills to help investigators piece together crime scenes and collate evidence for presentation to a jury. Forensic animators are also used often in insurance and/or liability claims, requiring strong experience in both 3D and 2D animation as well as terragen software in order to recreate real life locations and scenarios.

Forensic Animator Career Path: An already established animator can transfer over to forensic animation via specialist courses, but be warned: your flashy portfolio of superb SFX won’t do you any good since the field calls for technical attention to detail over dramatic embellishments. A criminal record will kill this career dead in the water, too.

Pros: As you can expect, playing an instrumental part in solving crimes is its own reward.

Cons: It’s not quite as ‘CSI’ as most people think, and it can take a strong mind (and stomach) to deal with some of the work you’ll undertake.

Forensic Animator Salary: Nearly always freelance based, a forensic animator can charge anywhere between $20 to $100 per hour, depending on experience.

Difficulty: 9/10

Render Wrangler

render wrangler jobs

When an animation is complete, somebody needs to make sure it is rendered down into a format fit for public consumption. That’s where a render wrangler comes in.

Modern animations typically comprise of many terrabytes of data per minute; this necessitates entire banks of computers to provide both the RAM and storage required to handle the rendering, and it’s entrusted to the render wranger (sometimes referred to as a data wrangler) to come up with workable solutions to facilitate this.

Render Wrangler Career Path: Computer science skills a must; animation knowledge secondary.

Pros: If you dream in zeroes and ones, this job is the epitome of high-powered computer geekery.

Cons: Trying to explain to non-technical staff the limits of what’s achievable. The pay is also fairly dire.

Render Wrangler Salary: Surprisingly low given the technical expertise required – typically only around $15 per hour.

Difficulty: 3/10

Texture Artist

Texture artist salary

Texture is an often overlooked aspect of animation, but it’s also one of the most crucial.

As one can imagine from the title, a texture artist concerns him or herself with the finish of any models (and sometimes terrain) to be featured in the animation. Often the main goal is to achieve a realistic look, but texture artists may also have to use all their graphic skills to create effects not usually found in nature. 

Texture Artist Career Path: Texture artists typically come from a graphic design school background, becoming proficient in texture creation first and foremost before transferring those skills to the animation sphere.

Pros: As well as always having to push your own boundaries to get results, if you enjoy using artistic skills to solve logical problems, this is the job for you.

Cons: Sometimes spending many hours just to get one particular texture on one character right, which may only get half a second of screen time.

Texture Artist Salary: $60,000 is a fairly standard mean average, ranging up to around $80,000 in some location hotspots.

Difficulty: 6/10

Ready to learn more about future possibilities in the world of 3D animation and visual effects? Check out NYFA’s Animation School for program offerings, and apply today!

See Also: Filmmaking, photography and broadcast journalism guides for jobs and salaries in other fields.

The Best Free / Open Source Animation Software

The Best Free 3D Animation & Drawing Animation Software

For the most part, animation is not an expensive craft to pursue but it does come with some fairly pricey overheads when you’re first getting started out.

If you’re in animation school, chances are you’ve got access to all of the equipment and software you could possibly need. But if you’re interested in kitting out your home setup with animation software, the price tag can quickly rack up. Luckily, there are some free animation software alternatives which are good enough to see you through the majority of animation projects you’ll undertake.

Presenting…

The Best Software for Animation: 2D Animation

Pencil

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

When it comes to free and open-source 2D animation programs, Pencil is by far the most well-rounded and comes with a surprising number of features given that it comes with no charge.

Although it looks simple from the clean interface, it is packed with all the main tools you’ll find in some of the Pencil’s paid counterparts. It supports both vector and bitmap images, multiple layers and has its own in-built illustration tools (so you can either import graphics or create them right there and then before animating them).

Synfig Studios

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

Right up there with Pencil, Synfig is very similar in design but arguably comes with a steeper learning curve; reason being, it throws in even more advanced features, and the results which can be achieved once you master them border on the professional level.

Stykz

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

Given the above two open-source suites which offer an impressive level functionality, why are we featuring a simple stickman animation tool?

Simply put, Stykz has got a lot of use for anyone who likes to draft things out before getting down to fully-fledged artwork and animating. It’s completely free with no strings attached, works on any platform and can produce fluid .GIFs incredibly quickly (which will no doubt lead on to bigger things).

One particularly neat feature is that it also integrates with Pivot, another node-based (and free) animation tool.

CreaToon

OS: Windows

An entry-level animation program, CreaToon is cut-out based (all graphics are imported) that takes a lot of the headache out of creating cartoon-esque animation. While it isn’t quite as polished as some of the other names on this list, the real-time editing, auto in-frame filling and versatile file format support are real pulls.

Ajax Animator

OS: Windows, Mac, iPad

Not to be confused with the coding language, Ajax started life back in 2006 and was developed by a 6th grader as a replacement to Adobe’s expensive Flash MX. From such auspicious beginnings emerged a robust and fully functional animator that is well worth checking out despite its primitive look, especially if you’re an iPad user.

The Best 3D Animation Software

Blender

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD

If you’ve heard of Blender, that’s because it’s one of the most widely-used free animation softwares still in active development (even professional animators and video game developers turn to it from time to time). Although it may take some time for beginners to get to grips with, those who manage to put even half the features Blender offers to use will be able to produce very impressive results.

Bryce

OS: Mac, Windows

Although it’s not strictly an animation suite, free terrain generation software (of decent quality) is hard to come by. Bryce has really stepped up to the plate in this department – as a terragen, it’s both as simple and as elaborate as you need it to be depending on the scale of your project and works seamlessly with most other modeling software.

Incidentally, Bryce is developed by DAZ 3D, who are also responsible for:

DAZ Studio

OS: Mac, Windows

This fantastic modeling and animation software wasn’t always free, but as of 2012, the professional version of DAZ is yours simply for signing up for a free registration account. The rendering engine is lightning fast, and the huge library of pre-created component content will have you creating in no time.

Clara.io

OS: Browser-based

Not only is Clara free, but it’s the only web-based one we can think of that is fully functional (and you don’t need any browser plugins to get it going). Not only does it feature a good system for polygonal modeling and skeletal/keyframe animation, but due to its 80,000+ user base there’s a strong community feel and plenty of people with which to chat shop.

Know of any great free or open source drawing animation software/tools which we’re missing? Do help the animation community out by leaving your suggestions in the comments below. And, if you’re interested in learning more about 3D animation and visual effects, check out NYFA’s 3D Animation & VFX School to begin your journey.

How to Make a (Good) Kinetic Typography Animation Video

Kinetic typography is a fantastically engaging way of delivering text information in a visual way. It’s a great marketing vehicle for those looking to spread a heavy message without losing their audience, and is equally as good simply for entertaining the viewer – particularly with the advent of YouTube, there have been so many great examples of kinetic typography that it’s become something of an artform.

Rendering text in an appealing manner is a fundamental skill taught at graphic design school, and there are a lot of resources out there to get you started with the animation aspect. But putting technical factors aside, what makes for an aesthetically pleasing kinetic typography animation that stands a chance of going viral?

The Key Ingredients for a Great Kinetic Typography Animation

  • Don’t Go Over Three Minutes. This is a real biggie – no matter how excellent you think your material is shaping up, your audience’s mind will wander around this point (and all those hours you spend putting into the superfluous two minutes will be wasted). Keep it tight and concise, and your viewers will love you for it.
  • Don’t Use A Weak Soundtrack. Another huge mistake that can kill an otherwise good animation is using an audio file with a terrible bitrate, distortion or other issues. Although kinetic typography can be seen as primarily a visual media, it’s very much an aural one, too.
  • Render The Exported Video on the Highest Settings. Again, it’s all about not selling yourself short – why bother spending hours on a crisp-looking typography that would get you accepted into animation school, only to stick it on YouTube in a pixelated 320p resolution?
  • Triple-Check for Typos. This one sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often we see excellent kinetic typography laden with spelling (and grammatical) errors. It can ruin the experience for an eagle-eyed viewer, and it’s very difficult to go back and correct these, so be sure to triple check for typos.

These four major guidelines should stand you in good stead and get you most of the way there, but next we’ll take a look at some nuanced aspects of kinectic typography when executed brilliantly…

… and dissect some poorer examples, too.

Picking Workable Audio

Having good sound quality is key, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all of an audio track that will look good when animated.

Let’s assume you’re looking to take some movie dialogue and give it the kinetic typography treatment purely for entertainment purposes (a great place to start out).

What you should be looking for is a scene that isn’t too “messy”, with numerous actors talking at once or overlapping, a big soundtrack detracting from the spoken words or abrasive sound effects that will be tricky to represent in animated form.

While there’re no strict laws here, you’ll probably want to start out with just a one or two actors speaking at a fairly even rate (more on pacing in a bit). If the script itself is instantly recognizable and/or iconic, even better – a superb example from Breaking Bad:

Do set aside some time to fiddle with the audio track in the editing suite before you begin animating to get the best out of the finished product; a little time spent tweaking the EQ and lowering any ambient noise that may be in the clip so that the words shine out can pay dividends.

Working in the Third Dimension

Check out this kinetic typography video from Zombieland (a movie which actually employs kinetic typography during the scene itself):

You’ll notice how – particularly towards the end – the animator employed back and forth motion with the type and graphics rather than just scrolling text along the X and Y axes.

One of the great benefits of the medium is that you’ve got an infinite canvas to work with, so do make good use of it in all three dimensions – it’s a lot more engaging to see the ‘camera’ move through the frame, especially since this technique makes it hard to predict which direction the font will start moving in.

The Art of Pacing

In the above two examples, it’s clear that the animators paid a great deal of attention to the pacing of the script; sticking with some words or lines longer than others, and dramatically speeding up or slowing down at points.

How you approach this depends hugely on the audio you’re working with, of course, and more often than not you just have to go with your gut as to what feels ‘right’.

That said, the best way to demonstrate the importace of pacing is perhaps to look at a poor example. This one comes from the movie Inception:

Hit Them With a Surprise

Much like any visual medium, throwing in the odd curveball or twist can be a very effective way of leaving an impression on your audience. This is especially true of kinetic typography, which is, at its heart, simply text moving around a screen.

Check out this delightful animated clip from The Social Network, which not only incorporates a lot of the above advice, but features a delightful twist at the end: 

The Best Way to Make a Killer Kinectic Typography Video? Practice!

Your first few videos are likely to be very rigid and not particularly mindblowing, but that’s very much to be expected. The only way to better yourself is to have fun playing around and discovering what works and what doesn’t – by the same token, feel free to contravene every piece of advice offered above!

There are already a lot of tired clichés when it comes to typography, so there’s nothing wrong with trying to stand out from the crowd by experimenting. To demonstrate this in action, we’ll finish off with this marvelous Pulp Fiction clip in which the animator has even managed to incorporate video into the mix: 

Bring Your Ideas To Life With These Simple Steps For Animating With Clay

Clay animation is a unique way to express your characters and to truly connect with your subjects as you build them. Not only will you learn how to animate your clay figures, but you will learn how to build these clay friends.

Once you have armed yourself with your main attractions, you will learn how to animate your clay creations in your own short video. Let’s make your clay creations come alive.

Some of the materials you will need are bendy wire, polymer clay or plasticine, a camera, a video editing program, and a computer. Once you have all of your materials ready, you can start your clay animation.

Animating Clay Step 1

Begin with your polymer clay and bendy wire. You want to make sure that you can work with your clay without it being subjected to hardening while exposed to the open air. Cut a piece of wire three feet long and fold it in half.

Animating Clay Step 2

Twist both strands of the wire together beginning at the folding point. Mold your wire into the general shape of your character. Think overall shape rather than definitive shape. This is the mannequin for your clay character. You will mold the clay around this wire called an armature.

How-toAnimate-Clay-Step-3

The base of your clay character is gray clay, which envelops the wire frame and is your base.

Animating Clay Step 4

After the base is set, you will add colored clay on top creating detail and definition to your character such as clothing, facial features, etc.

Animating Clay Step 5

Once your character/s are complete, set up your still digital camera at the appropriate angle at which you would like to capture your animation. This is key. Use a tripod in order for the animation to flow congruently. Every shot must be captured at the same angle.

Animating Clay Step 6

Use a flat surface to rest your clay figure. Then find a starting position. This position should be marked for many reasons. The first is that clay animation must be moved slowly, frame by frame to look right. Second, if you need to adjust the clay figure, you can pick it up and then place it back down in the right location without having to start all over again. Use a pencil or a piece of chalk for markings.

Animating Clay Step 7

After the first shot, move the character a little bit into the next position and take another photo.

Animating Clay Step 8

These shot-by-shot photos are called frames. For a film, there are 24 frames per second. You must be precise when shooting clay animation, otherwise it looks like your figure is jumping in the final picture. Continue the process of moving the figure a little bit and taking a photo until you have finished your frames for animation.

Animating Clay Step 9

Load all of the pictures you have taken onto your computer and use your favorite photo editing program to link the photos together and speed up the photos into a movie format.

Animating Clay Step 10

Then watch your animation come alive. This is a lengthy process so take your time. After all practice makes perfect.

Image credits