I have said this many times and I will continue to say it – most people study 3D animation to do animation and there cannot be a worse reason for coming into the industry. I say this because they come in for the wrong reason, and will leave for the wrong reason.
The first time most people are exposed to 3D animation they are usually exposed to animated cartoon features like Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo, Incredibles and the like. Inevitably many people are drawn to the industry with the aspiration to work on such grand productions. And inevitably animating characters becomes the main reason why most people join the animation industry.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that most CG artists end up doing something other than character animation. Notice I use the word ‘CG artist’ – which is computer graphics artists for short – instead of the word ‘animator’. This is because strictly speaking, an ‘animator’ is somebody whose profession is just to animate. In reality, somebody who studied 3D animation could end up with a job doing something other than ‘animation’. These alternative prospects include texturing, modeling, rigging, lighting or even rendering.
These translate into jobs as a texturing artist, a 3D modeler, a rigger, a lighting artist or a render wrangler. Below I will briefly explain the various job scopes, including that of an animator.
Texturing Artist – Somebody who paints and creates the textures to wrap onto a 3D model. His job is to create the ‘skin’ for a 3D model so that it looks exactly like how it’s supposed to look.
3D Modeler – Somebody who creates the 3D models necessary to populate a scene in the 3D environment. This process is called modeling where the artist manipulates a mesh to create a coherent structure, which can be further manipulated to become a recognizable object in the 3D environment.
Rigger – Somebody who creates the bones system required to fit a 3D model and then bind the two together so that the animator can ultimately animate the 3D model by manipulating the bones system.
Animator – Somebody whose sole responsibility is to animate. The subject matter might not always be a character. It may be a special effect, a camera movement, a mechanical action, a germ mutation…etc. In short, an animator is required to animate anything that moves.
Lighting Artist – Somebody who specializes in setting up the lights for a particular 3D environment in a particular scene. It is his job to ensure that the environment looks exactly like how it’s supposed to look and feel exactly like how it’s supposed to feel.
Render Wrangler – Somebody who is in-charge of a render farm and makes sure that each frame of 3D image is generated properly by the computers.
The above are the various aspects of a typical 3D production, and thus the various job scopes CG artists may end up in. Seats for the animator job are the hottest and the most competitive. Most companies want only the most talented animators. If you aren’t good enough you just have to do something else.
This is when reality strikes the animator-hopeful. The strong ones stay to battle it out and finally get what they want if they are talented enough. The weaker ones leave with a broken heart without a good word to say about the industry.
Running a 3D animation company, I have interviewed many good young CG artists who came in for an job. Very often, I set the record straight from the start that Mediafreaks does everything from cartoon series to documentary animation to medical animation. And if they are coming in hoping to do only character animation then they are in the wrong place. I lose some potential good talent as a result. But setting their expectations wrong from the start can do more detriment than good in the long run.
I do urge CG artist hopefuls to take this into consideration when they approach a 3D profession. If they just want to be character animators, then they have to be prepared for the fact that very few companies in the world have such full-time positions. This means they really have to be very very good as seats are limited.
I hope that this article gives you a good understanding of the various jobscopes within the 3D animation industry, and clears up the general perception of a CG artist wannabe who might think that 3D animation involves just animation. This cannot be further from the truth.