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Career in demand: Animation!


Preetee Brahmbhatt | October 07, 2004

Pop quiz: Which was the first ever full-length animated feature film?

Before we get into which one it was, consider this statement by Walt Disney: 'I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I've ever known.'

There has to be a certain amount of truth in that statement. That little mouse -- who first appeared in October 1928 -- has inspired generations of children and adults, made millions giggle like teenagers, and earned some people a whole lot of money.

Let's face it. There will always be those who find Pinocchio a lot more interesting than Preity Zinta.

For this select bunch, animation is fast becoming a hugely interesting way to make a living.

And, considering the interest now shown by biggies like Walt Disney and Warner Bros in Indian companies, the money they are being paid doesn't hurt either.

"It's fun," says Allwyn Rodrigues, a programmer who might just make the move to animation. "Thanks to Business Process Outsourcing, animators who were earning small sums a few years ago are now being paid big bucks on account of the work coming in from the US."

So, how do you become an animator?

What are the courses you can take to help you make it?

Are there certain skills you must possess if you want to become an animator?

Where do you go from there?

Animation isn't for everyone!

First of all, animation isn't for everyone. You have to love the art form.

More important, those who are artistic, creative and innovative stand a better chance of shining in the field.

After all, it isn't just about making mice run across a screen. Today, an animator in India can find himself or herself doing anything from cartoon films and video games to promos for television serials.

Ask Vanitha Rangaraju-Ramanan. This woman went from Trichy in Tamil Nadu to the team that won an Oscar for 2002's animated film Shrek.

Vanitha works as a Lighting Technical Director, and was part of the team responsible for bringing the components of a shot together in Shrek.

So, is there a market?

You bet. All we had a few months ago was Cartoon Network. Now, almost all channels devote at least a couple of hours to animated content alone.

Consider this as well: Going by the amount of outsourcing currently coming our way, India needs over 20,000 animators. We have less than 4,000!

2D ink and paint, or 3D models?

Absolute newbies in animation will find themselves facing options like 3D and 2D. Then there is computer-generated animation, animation for films, animation for television and multimedia animation.

2D relies on an animator's artistic abilities with ink and paint. It is the kind of work thought of and delivered on paper or cells (like the frames you see in a cartoon strip). Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, for instance.

3D is a whole other ball of wax. This is a creation delivered with the help of models and sets. Remember the film Chicken Run? Or Toy Story? It also depends on an animator's artistic abilities in modelling.

While 2D involves the placing of each cell before an animation camera and then filming it, 3D animation calls for models to be placed on a set, with body postures manipulated shot by shot. The result is a sequence of movements that is realistic.

Before you join an institute

While joining an institute that offers courses in animation would be an obvious beginning, here are some things you should consider:

1. Do your homework. Do not, for even a minute, assume all courses offered are of the same calibre.

2. You might want to contact these institutes, sit down with faculty and understand their individual strengths before signing off an amount of money to them.

3. Ask questions. Meet people in the industry.

4. Consider the going employment rate after the completion of a particular programme.

5. See if the institute has tie-ups with professionals outside.

6. Check if practical experience is being offered.

7. Find out if they can help you find a job once you have finished the course.

"When I decided to dabble in animation, I did ask a number of institutes about the kind of courses they were offering," says Jasbir Bolar, who relies on animation to support his ventures into advertising online.

"I was surprised by the number of institutes in Mumbai alone, which made picking a course difficult. I opted for software like 'Director' and 'Premier' for my work on 2D animation, moving on to '3D Max' for everything on 3D. Eventually, I picked a course by matching the content offered with my personal requirements. That, I think, is the best way to do it."

What skills do you need to become an animator?

Artistic ability is obviously the most important.

There are other skills that always help though, such as self-motivation, a tremendous amount of patience -- ever tried moving a character centimetre by centimetre to build a sequence that lasts for a minute? -- as well as an ability to communicate easily and work as a team.

Also, mastering the basics of script writing, stop-motion photography and editing would be a definite plus.

Remember, animators often work completely in isolation. They do everything from writing a script and creating a storyboard, to directing, producing and editing their work.

The right age?

There is simply no right age to begin.

You could start now, if you liked, with something simple like a flick book -- pieces of paper with characters moving page by page, creating the illusion of movement when the pages are flipped.

You could also think of possible storylines or try your hand at creating characters with clay modelling.

One more thing

The skills you develop as an animator don't belong to cartoon films alone.

They can be used in a whole lot of other ways. When it comes to making an animated film, an animator is just a cog in the wheel.

There are assistant animators, background and layout artists, visual development artists, animators working on effects alone, storyboard artists, graphic designers -- the list can be pretty exhausting.

  • Check out the options

    While the courses you have access to have a lot to do with where you live, checking what's online can help in some way.

    1. There are eight-month courses at institutes like Escotoonz in New Delhi. Their animation services include everything from pre-production and layout posing, to backgrounds, key animation, digital compositing, post-production, flash and 3D animation. You can join the minute you clear your higher secondary examination.

    2. Companies like Mumbai-based Crest Communications, and institutes like Arena Multimedia or Pentamedia, also offer courses that are useful.

    3. Residents of Delhi also have the option of studying for papers on animation offered by:

    Chandigarh College Of Arts
    Sector 10C
    Chandigarh 160 010

    OR 

    College of Art
    Tilak Marg
    New Delhi 110 001

    The next step

    1. You might want to consider creating a showreel of animated sequences you have worked on, because that is what potential employers may ask for.

    2. You could also create a portfolio of character designs and storyboards.

    The moolah

    Depending on your level of expertise, a newbie could walk away with a minimum of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per month. That figure can go up astronomically as your experience increases.

    Here's another reason why you should consider the line. It is not going to disappear in a hurry. Hollywood is increasingly turning to animators, not just for full-fledged films, but also for special sequences.

    The recent hit, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, is an excellent example of animation and sheer computer power taken to the limit. All that changes is, well, the software.

    PS: Those who yelled Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs to answer the question at the beginning of this article ought to start making a few calls at once!

    Illustration: Dominic Xavier




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