Want to learn how to be an animator? In 2016 it’s not as hard as it once was. Years ago, you needed pencils, xerox machines, white out, pencil sharperers, X-Acto blades, tape, animation cels, animation paper, cel paint oh yes and an Oxberry camera! Never mind that there were not many animation school options to choose from. Fear not however, as the digital age is here to help you and thousands of tutorials are available allowing you to learn quite a bit about animation and the various techniques out there. there are also many digital options open to the animator in 2016 allowing you to cast away all those costly supplies once needed.
In the US there are many solid animations schools to choose from but in my opinion the best of them is Cal Arts here in Los Angeles mostly for the connections it has to the studios. Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks all harvest students from there yearly. There are many others around the country as well such as The School of Visual Arts in New York City and Full Sail in Florida. In Paris, Goeblins seems to produce some fantastic animators and I drool over the shorts their students make yearly. I personally went to a small school called the Joe Kubert School located in New Jersey which is also a good solid place to learn. A decent list of animation schools can be found on AWN and while it can be daunting because there’s so much, it’s a good place to start. I believe most of art school is what you choose to put into it and the plain old ‘pencil mileage’ that you put into your craft anyway so the school does’t matter as much to a focused student.
But what if you can’t relocate or don’t have money to go to a school? There are still options open to you to pursue. One is Animation Mentor.com which will allow you to learn remotely and is run by well respected animators and artists. If you can’t afford that, I would suggest simply studying animation frame by frame and copying what you see. While Youtube doesn’t do frame by frame you can easily download stuff and watch it with Quicktime. DVDs work as well.
Of course the old school way of tradition paper and pencil is still a viable way to learn but it’s getting harder and harder to finds supplies. Animation paper and peg bars can be purchased at Cartoon Color and other places around the web and you can film your scenes frame by frame but you’ll still need a computer to digitally put them together. An excellent free option is Monkey Jam which turns your webcam into a pencil test system. You could also use as digital camera and film your scene frame by frame but that’s not the best approach. Honestly most studios expect you to understand how to animate digitally so you’re going to have to learn this eventually.
Most gaming PCs are powerful enough to produce animation both 2D and 3d, and even iMacs and Mac Books can do it. Most studios use Wacom Cintiqs to draw with but they’re mega expensive and not for everyone. There are also cheaper knockoffs of Cintiqs such as Yiyinova, Bosto Kingtee and X-Pen but you get what you pay for and they are not as good as Wacom’s flagship offering.Fortunately there are some cheap options out there to help you. Many studios use Pen tablets such as Wacom’s Intuos line which allow you to draw on a pad and look at your monitor. They’re not for everyone and I’ve never been able to effectively use one well but many people do amazing things with them. Another cheap option is purchasing a Motion Computing LE 1700 for a few hundred bucks and installing Sketchbook Pro which has a timeline that you can animate with.
Software-wise, there are a number of free options out there such as Plastic Animation Paper and Pencil. If you have deep pockets, you can’t go wrong with Toon Boom Harmony which is used by Disney, Starburns Industries, Bentobox and many other studios to produce 2d animation. Toon Boom even offers a subscription so you can pay as you go. Finally you can also subscribe to Adobe Animate and while it’s not the greatest to draw with, there are many studios currently using the software to produce network TV such as Titmouse and Renegade Animation. Globally there is Mukpuddy, and Boulder Media.
If you’re into 3d animation it’s hard to go on the cheap but Autodesk now offers subscriptions for it’s Maya, and 3D Studio Max softwares so you can sign up with them and pay monthly. In contrast Blender is a solid 3d animation program and it’s free but most studios use the Autodesk software so you’re eventually going to have to learn their interfaces somehow.
All in all there are many options open to an artist seeking to learn animation in 2016 and so you have less and less excuses to not pursue your dreams, so stop reading this and get out there! (and don’t forget to come back and do an interview for us once you’re established!)