Step 1: Know the Path You Want to Take and Where to Start
Knowing the path you want to take is very important. Do you want to work on animated movies like Pixar and DreamWorks produce? Do you want to work on movies like the Transformers and Avengers franchises? Or maybe you want to get into games? Whatever the case may be, you need to know your end goal. Each industry is typically looking for a different style of animation. That being said, you also don't want to start off by only animating big fight scenes just because you want to work on Transformers movies. Instead, you should be learning the fundamentals of animation, and then you can cater your demo reel to these different types of jobs when your skills get up to that level.
Whether you want to work in movies or games, starting with the basics is the most important step. Get every book on animation you can find — "The Illusion of Life," "Timing for Animation," "The Animator's Survival Kit." These are all books created for 2D animation, but they still apply to 3D animation. Each book teaches the core fundamentals of animation from the pioneers who refined it into an amazing art form. Study these over and over, and most important, learn the 12 principles of animation, which are the core techniques for creating great animations.
Step 2: Technical Skills of an Animator
When it comes to 3D animation, it's important to have the right technical skills. Of course, the computer doesn't create great animations automatically; the animator does. That being said, you're still going to be working in a complex piece of animation software like Maya or 3DS Max, so you'll need to take the time to learn the software. Even though a 3D application is simply a tool for you to animate with, you still need to learn how to use that tool, because software like Maya is more complex than a pencil and paper. There are many places to learn and find tutorials, such as YouTube, Vimeo and even schools where they have animation programs, both 2D and 3D. With these tutorials, you'll be able to get up and running and comfortable with the software so you can spend more time animating.
Step 3: Learn the Fundamentals
Animators are essentially actors; it's up to you to create all the movements for the character. So learning to act is paramount. This doesn't mean you have to join acting classes. Of course, that would be beneficial, but you can also study acting through books and movies. As an animator, you'll typically be given a simple line of dialogue, and you must create all the actions and movements the character is going to take. You have to come up with the acting, and your own emotions will show through the character. If you have bad acting skills, it'll translate into bad animation.
Another important thing you'll need to master is body mechanics. In order to create believable animation, you need to understand how the human body moves, as well as how animals move. One of the best ways to do this is to go outside and shoot video reference. How does a person swing their arms when they walk? When do the weight shifts occur in a run? Having an understanding of these real-world principles will ensure that your animations are believable. You should build up a whole library of references you can pull from when working on your next animation.
As an animator, you're going to need good communication skills, as you will work with many different departments. Creating a film, commercial or game is a very collaborative effort. You'll need to be able to communicate your concerns and ideas clearly to your peers. For instance, you might be working with a team of animators who are all tasked with the job of animating several sequences together. You'll need to communicate how each individual shot is going to translate to the next in order to make it come together and feel like it was an entire sequence animated by a single person. While creating animations is one animator's job, the production process is a team effort.
Step 4: Practicing and Pushing Yourself
In order to become a successful animator, it all really comes down to practice. As mentioned before, animation isn't something learned overnight; it's arguably one of the most difficult aspects within a 3D pipeline. It'll take lots of trial and error, and most likely some frustration. You may have heard before that it takes a thousand bad drawings to get to those good drawings. The same goes for animation. The best thing you can do is just practice — practice implementing the animation principles over and over, and always find ways to push yourself further.
As an animator, you should have a willingness to learn and an eagerness to learn new things as well. Animation is never something that's truly mastered; there are always new things to discover. It's never good to become complacent. Find new ways to enhance your skills, whether it's animating a type of creature you've never tried before or taking on a more subtle acting shot you're not use to.
Step 5: Tips for Your Demo Reel
Include only your best work, and put that work first.
This might sound obvious, but really, only include your most amazing content. Your demo reel is your “Greatest Hits” album. Only include work that is polished and highlights the skills you need for the job you’re hoping to get. Also, put your best work at the beginning. Time is money — especially in the entertainment industry. If your 3D animation demo reel doesn’t grab your audience’s attention in the first few seconds, they probably won’t stick around to see the whole thing.
Make it two minutes or less.
A good demo reel is meant to open the door for you — not stay for an extended visit. Save something for the interview. Your demo reel should be long enough to intrigue your audience and show that you have a body of work and a variety of animation skills to bring to the table. Make it two minutes or less. A longer demo reel only indicates that you don’t know how to edit yourself.
Be unique, but don’t go over the top.
It’s good to show that you have creativity, problem-solving skills and a unique way of looking at things. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to express your individuality. Include pieces that set you apart from the competition by using unique concepts or techniques. However, don’t include pieces that might put off potential employers by addressing controversial subject matter or including music or other elements that might appeal to too narrow an audience.
Don’t make your audience work.
This is just a good overall rule of thumb. Don’t make your audience work to figure out how to contact you. Don’t make them work to understand what work you did in your pieces. Don’t make them work to get past titles that are flashy or highly stylized. Animation reels should present each shot separately to let the viewer know what he or she is looking at. Simplify. Make it as easy as possible for your future employers to figure out that you are the right candidate for the job.
Give credit where credit is due.
If you collaborated on the pieces in your demo reel, make sure to call out exactly what your part in the project was. This helps employers understand your strengths and what to look for in your work. It also shows that you’re not trying to take credit for other people’s work.
Be clear about the job you want.
It’s important to be specific. For instance, if you really want a job as a texture artist, make sure that is clearly communicated in your resume and at the beginning of your demo reel. Also make sure that your demo reel showcases your texture work. Don’t expect prospective employers to know what you’re looking for in a job. If you have a specific interest, spell it out.
Extra Tips and Websites