What is Animation?

Discover the rich history and exciting future of animation, a field that has evolved drastically since its roots in the late 1800s and now plays a crucial role in various industries. Learn about the rewarding careers and salaries in animation, and how you can acquire the skills necessary through different platforms.

Key Insights

  • Animation, once painstakingly done by hand, has evolved dramatically with the advent of computer technology and is now a crucial skill used in industries ranging from film to architecture.
  • Popular animation software includes Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Autodesk Maya, Cinema 4D, and Blender, each with its own unique features and price points.
  • The benefits of learning animation extend beyond creative expression; it can lead to lucrative career opportunities in fields like education, advertising, marketing, and arts.
  • As of 2021, the average pay for an Animator or a special effects artist in the US was $79,000, and job growth in the field is expected to be much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • Animation careers can include roles like 2D or 3D Animator, Effects Animator, Forensic Animator, or Animation Director, each requiring specific skills and software proficiency.
  • Noble Desktop offers comprehensive animation training through in-person and live online courses, helping students gain marketable skills and build a strong portfolio.

Animation has been around since the late 1800s, yet it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that most animation was developed using computers. Today, Animators use programs such as After Effects to create cartoons, special effects for films or shows, computer games and more. Almost every industry uses moving or still graphic images. In this overview, you’ll learn more about what animation is, what it can do, who uses it, and how to learn it. This will help you determine how to add this skill to your professional toolbox.

What Can You Do with Animation?

Animation is a valuable skill that can kick off a creative career. Traditionally, animators sketched all of their creations by hand, painstakingly drawing and redrawing a character or image with the slightest of changes. Today, many animators use computers to bring their designs to fruition. Animators may develop 2D or 3D designs. Or they may develop motion graphics or stop motion animation. 

Skilled animators can join the film industry, producing visual effects and creating images for movies or television. These animators are responsible for some of the impressive special effects we saw in the Harry Potter films, Avatar, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Animators develop many of the CGI or computer-generated images used in films. However, CGI is also needed for video games, advertising, virtual reality, and architecture/engineering. Video games such as Gears 5 and Fortnite are entirely created through stunning and lifelike CGI and have come a long way from the days of Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros 1. Virtual reality, developed for military purposes, is now gaining popularity with gamers primarily due to CGI. However, CGI is starting to sneak into other applications, entering the advertising world as it can cost-effectively and creatively display products. It’s becoming mainstream, as evidenced by its prevalence in Super Bowl and YouTube ads. Engineers and architects are discovering how useful it can be to create projected images for clients before starting work; CGI helps improve communication about final plans. For architects, CGI is the difference between hand-drawn 2D images you can look down upon and 3D visualizations you can “walk” through, spin, and manipulate. The same is true for engineering designs.

How Do You Download or Get Animation Software? How Much Does it Cost?

Animators often use more than one software to develop their creations. Going with one or two of the major software programs can keep a subscription or purchase affordable. 

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Adobe has developed some of the most popular software for 2D and 3D animations. Check out their free versions of their most popular software. The Character Animator Starter version allows Animators to select a “puppet” and make it move across the screen. Adobe Premiere Rush permits users to edit videos and create motion graphics. You'll need to pay a monthly fee to get the full programs that professionals use. Adobe Illustrator which allows users to create vector graphics that they can later animate, costs around $21 per month. Also for $21, Adobe After Effects allows users to create motion graphics and visual effects. Each complete program can be licensed individually, or users can purchase their Creative Cloud or CC subscription, which costs around $55 per month. Students can buy it at a reduced rate. CC allows access to over 20 different pieces of software. Once you pay using their secure server, you’ll have access to the software and can cancel anytime. 

Autodesk Maya is another popular software used for creating 3D animations and modeling, like you might see in games. Though this is the priciest of all options, it’s one that professionals rave about. Like many others, it’s also a subscription-based software; for $225 per month, users can access all of their features. The company offers a discount for a full year or a more significant discount if a three-year subscription is purchased.

Cinema 4D is necessary to create motion graphics that look natural. Their software costs about $94 per month, but they provide a discount if purchased as an annual subscription. Before purchasing, potential users can download a free trial of Maxon One, allowing them access to all of Maxon’s products, including Cinema 4D. Once the software is purchased, it’s easily downloaded directly to a computer hard drive. 

Blender is a free and open-source piece of software that can be accessed and downloaded quickly. It allows users to create 3D models and animate them. Users can also create games with it, although some find the software difficult to navigate. 

What Are the Benefits of Learning Animation?

Studying animation can be fun but can also build job skills that can lead to well-paying opportunities. Animators get to use their creativity and imagination to captivate an audience. Additionally, Animators often are free to express emotions through their work.

Learning animation can start a new season of life, allowing a new career to blossom. Fortunately, career prospects for Animators are strong; experts anticipate they will remain strong in the future since Animators are in high demand across many industries beyond the entertainment industry. Walt Disney and Pixar, companies that may come to mind when imagining where Animators work, are not the sole hosts of all animation jobs. Entertainment companies such as Blizzard Entertainment, Blue Sky Studios, and Amazon Prime hire Animators to develop shows and movies. Or companies may employ them to build computer graphics. 

Animators may find jobs in education, advertising, marketing, the arts, and other fields outside the entertainment industry. Animators may create short clips to summarize science concepts for a high school science textbook, accessed by QR codes. Or perhaps they may create sales videos for publishing companies, trying to market products. They may make moving art on billboards. 

Animators also earn more than the average across the US. In 2021, the average pay for an Animator or a special effect artist was $79K. Animators may also have non-cash benefits, such as the ability to work remotely. 

Besides creativity and imagination, Animators should have an eye for detail and computer skills. Knowing art and design concepts and possessing strong English skills is a bonus. Entertainment companies typically use Autodesk Maya, Houdini, or software developed by the company. Animators who develop motion graphics and visual effects may primarily use Cinema 4D or After Effects. 2D animators use Adobe Animate or Toon Boom Harmony. Of course, knowing more than one or two types of software can only make you more marketable.

Animation Careers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for Animators are expected to grow 16%, much faster than the United States average of 8% for all occupations. Animators can specialize further within the field, becoming 2D Animators, 3D Animators, Effects Animators, Forensic Animators, or Animation Directors. 2D Animators may work with developing characters and storylines for company advertisements or mobile devices. 3D Animators and Effects Animators typically design games or special effects for films. Developing animated films or television series requires the innovative lead of an Animation Director who guides Animators to carry out a plotline, animate characters, and create a backdrop. 

Trained Animators may branch out into other similar careers; some require additional training while others may not. Some Animators become Multimedia Artists or Multimedia Animators. These Animators or Artists specialize in developing moving objects and creating the background to accompany them. A common task for them is generating film or television visual effects. This role may require working closely with sound experts or voice actors, syncing sound with movement.

However, Animators can also be hired to design video games and characters. Game Developers may work in teams to create computer games, console games, or games that are played on a mobile device. Often the best Developers are gamers themselves; they intimately understand what makes a good game concept. Teams can develop storylines, characters, and backgrounds. Many different types of software go into game development. Those who are excellent coders may develop pieces of the game using coding language, yet coding isn’t necessary with software like Gamemaker Studio 2 and Adobe Animate software. 

3D Designers are Animators who work alongside scientists, architects, or similar professions to create 3D models. Often 3D Designers require a solid background in the area they create models. They may work with an interior designer to create a model of a remodel for prospective clients, or they may work with a physicist to create a model demonstrating how gas moves in a space for an instructional video. 

Animators who know design fundamentals may find jobs as Motion Graphics Designers. These Designers may start with Photoshop to create artwork. Sometimes they stop there. However, they can import their designs into animation software, creating visual effects or animated shorts for movie trailers, commercials, or similar purposes. 

How to Learn Animation

Ready to gain animation skills? Noble Desktop has found several courses that teach you animation skills, allowing you to move into or up along this career path. Their class locator tool can assist you with finding an in-person animation class. Noble has also created a resource outlining details about top live online animation classes for those with a busy schedule and who would prefer a virtual class. Virtual classes are taught live by instructors experienced with online engagement and delivery. These classes can be just as practical as in-person courses. 

 However, life may be overwhelming and busy– too busy to enroll in a class that meets on a specific day and time. It’s possible to still learn animation by signing up for an on-demand animation course. There is a wide variety when it comes to on-demand courses. Some are free, while others require a subscription or an upfront payment for the course. Courses may be tailored for specific levels, so check the course descriptions carefully. Many job assistance sites such as LinkedIn offer these types of courses. 

If you have some background in animation or learn new software quickly, try learning the new software using a video demo. Noble Desktop produced several animation YouTube tutorials that you can access easily. You can learn topics like how to get started editing videos with Premiere Pro or tackle important tasks in After Effects. Accessing a quick answer to a question is easy with their animation learning hub: a place where articles, tutorials, and resources co-exist. It’s also possible to find an animation seminar covering After Effects or one teaching Premiere Pro to attend. These seminars are quick– including plenty of useful tips in a short time.

Read the full guide on how to learn Animation.

A Brief History of Animation

Animation was developed first in the 1800s. Initially, animation was essentially a parlor trick- something that one individual at a time could view by looking through a hole at a series of pictures spinning around. In 1876, Emile Reynaud developed a way to commercialize animation by creating a rudimentary projector. However, not until the early 1900s did animation come to film. For the early part of the 20th century, many different Animators tested animation techniques like top-motion and hand-drawn pictures.

Walt Disney upped the ante when he added sound to his animated cartoons. With each successive film, his company continued to push the limits of realism. While Disney was rising, Warner Bros. also developed animated cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Tweety, and the infamous Wile E. Coyote. Across the world, other companies made similar advancements. 

In the late 20th century, most animation moved to being produced using computers which greatly reduced costs. Animation exploded with a series of films from Pixar Animation Studios, Dreamworks, and Disney. All these companies still produce popular films today. However, Japanese animation, known as anime, is growing in popularity among younger viewers. Shows like The Simpsons and South Park continue to be popular. 

Today the schism between animated films and films with live actors has dissipated. Many scenes in popular movies add animation. The Harry Potter films and Marvel films use animation to create action scenes.

Comparable Fields

Video editing, another creative field, bears similarities to animation. Like Animators, Editors blend special effects and graphics with sounds. However, Editors have more control over the final product. Early in the creation process, Editors, working alone or in groups, develop a storyboard. Then they build characters, creating scripts. After any live-action filming, Editors gather up the clips and blend them in a way that seamlessly conveys a story. 

Editors are necessary for any project. All traditional shows– films, documentaries, and TV series– require someone with vision to assemble the final product. Social media videos are becoming more and more popular, gaining on the traditional shows’ market share of viewers. As social media competes for these viewers who only have so much time in their day, they must put out only the most intriguing content since the superior content gains more views. Professional video editors can bolster the content, drastically increasing the number of viewers. 

Learn Animation with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

Many experts agree that animation is much easier to learn when taken either in a live online class or in person. Noble Desktop provides animation classes, from their live online training taken anywhere in the world to their in-person courses in Manhattan, so students can easily find a class that enables them to gain animation skills. Class sizes are small; students are not nameless faces on a computer screen. Instructors can provide plenty of attention and feedback to students. The school is committed to student learning, allowing students to retake the course free up to a year later if they want to brush up on skills. 

In just a few days, students can learn how to use Adobe After Effects in Noble Desktop's bootcamp. This class is ideal for people new to the field of animation and motion design who want to start creating moving graphics with industry-leading software. 

If you have more time, you can learn what it takes to become an Animator in Noble’s comprehensive Motion Graphics Certificate course. This class teaches animation with Adobe After Effects, video editing with Adobe Premiere Pro, and audio editing with Adobe Audition. These three pieces of software blend perfectly to create a polished final product. Participants will leave the course with a solid portfolio demonstrating their skills to future employers.

Key Insights

  • Animators may draw some ideas by hand, but they mostly use software like Adobe Animate.
  • Animators can work in entertainment with training, but other career paths are available.
  • Animation has been around for over a century, adapting to new technology as it becomes available. 
  • You can receive comprehensive Animation training through an in-person or live online course with Noble Desktop.

How to Learn Animation

Master animation with hands-on training. Animation is the process of manipulating still images so that they appear to move, often using software like After Effects, Cinema 4D, or Adobe Animate.

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