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Computer Animator  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotComputer animation fuses computer technology and artistic creation to produce a living creation. There are many steps along the way and computer animators are involved in many of them.

They draw by hand and use computers to create the large series of pictures which, when transferred to film or tape, form the animated cartoons seen in movies and on television.

dotComputer animators are high-tech graphic artists. They make use of the newest computer software on the market to create dynamic images. They may also use model figures.

"The animation procedure consists of manipulating the models using keys or movements, and creating a series of frames on the computer," explains Doug McKirahan, a freelance computer animator in the San Francisco Bay area.

dotComputer animators, whether freelancers or employed by a firm, often use a variety of print, electronic and film media to create art that meets a client's needs. Technology is changing and evolving with accelerating speed. As a result, computer animators must be vigilant to keep up with the new developments.

One way that animators ensure they don't fall behind is by watching new animated films, reading current magazines and playing the newest video games.

dotComputer animation is something you can start learning about right now. There are a number of software programs available. "The programs aren't important, it's the concepts," says computer animator and teacher Dan Kallenberger.

A firm grasp of the basic concepts will help you adapt in this whirlwind of a career. "Older students may be afraid to push buttons. That's where those who've grown up on computers have a real advantage," says Kallenberger.

dotWhile it's true that computer animators are part artist and part computer wizard, new animation technology doesn't replace artistic ability. Kallenberger says that computer animators are "constantly drawing and sketching."

Computer animators need to have a strong sense of color, an eye for detail, a sense of balance and proportion and sensitivity to beauty.

dotMany computer animators are cartoonists harnessing a new medium. They draw storyboards -- which are like comic strip panels -- to break down action before sitting down at a computer.

Kallenberger says drawings are a client's way of judging an animator's thought processes before they decide to invest a lot of time and money in animation. He had his students make storyboards of a simulated flight through a room and over a dinner table.

"Some of them couldn't get perspective," he admits. "But they got the idea. You need to have a clear picture in your head before you can get a clear picture on the computer."

dotThere are many different industries that employ computer animators. Entertainment, business and the government are all examples of sectors where animators can work.

dotSome computer animators create logos and graphics for television and the Internet. Kallenberger works for WTMJ-TV in Wisconsin. He designs and produces news shows opens; mini-opens, which run within a show to introduce different segments; animation for commercials; and various news "explainer animations," as he calls them.

Kallenberger has designed 3D flying logos, treated colorized video clips, and re-created accidents in 3D simulations. "Every project I do I try to make look different and appealing," he says.

dotComputer animation can be used to create animated demonstrations of products in use -- a sort of 3D test drive! Corporate videos, virtual versions of the traditional company brochure, also increasingly involve computer animation.

dotComputer animators generally work a standard 40-hour week. During busy periods, they may work overtime to meet deadlines.

dotBecause computer animators sit in front of computer screens for extended periods of time, they may experience many of the same physical problems of regular computer users -- eyestrain, a sore back and wrist injuries.

At a Glance

Create animations using computer technology

  • This industry is changing constantly
  • Artistic skills are as important as computer skills
  • Animators can work in a wide variety of industries