So You Want a Job Making Animated Cartoons?

I have always been fascinated by the “technique” of animated cartoons. More often than not, I can do without the subject matter – I could really care less about flying unicorns or talking bears or whatever – but the basic “process” of sitting down with a pencil and drawing images on paper, shooting them one-frame-at-a-time with a movie camera and then projecting them on a screen is just short of pure magic. When you look at some of the more “adult” titles on the market – like “Ghost in the Shell” or “Akira” and others – it’s amazing to think that these films are for the most part drawn by hand. But first, let’s take a trip.

I. In the beginning (well, not really THAT far back)

Over the last 20 years or so, a revolution and EVOLUTION has taken place within the animation industry. Originally a career field that was extremely small in number and difficult to get into, the industry exploded thanks to the worldwide box office success of the Little Mermaid and the Lion King. Suddenly animated films translated into big box office and that’s when studios started to notice that there really weren’t enough animators and artists to go around. Before you could sing the first line to “It’s a small, small world”, university’s and art schools were offering two, three and four year courses in animation, and churning out entry-level animators in great numbers.

II: And then the industry imploded.

Like all profitable ventures, the animation industry beat itself to death. Disney Studios saturated the market with films – each one getting increasingly worse and earning less at the box office than the one before. By the time “Treasure Planet” hit theatres and earned about 25 million dollars (domestic) and even less worldwide (compared to production costs of about 80 million dollars or more) the writing was on the wall: animated film had outlived their usefulness. There was a new sheriff in town and he was called “PIXAR Animation” and suddenly the industry had some new blood pumped into it as films like “The Incredibles” and “Cars” proved this new (and more costly) way of making films was no fluke.

III: A new cycle begins.

Everything comes in cycles. Who’s to say that computer animation won’t fall flat on it’s face like cartoon animation did. Or who’s to say that computer animation won’t evolve into some new fangled technique that creates a new wave of digital actors that don’t make silly demands and need to be paid almost more than most films cost to produce. What this means to YOU as a budding or not-so-budding animator-want-to-be is that there is still hope for you to find your nitche in an increasingly technical marketplace.

Now I’m hedging my bets here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there will always be a need for animated cartoons. Now, whether traditional 2-D animation is relegated to Saturday mornings, direct-to-video features or TV commercials remains to be seen, but the need for good artists who can DRAW is not going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. And if you like to draw, that’s a good thing.

In the old days, the only way to get your foot in the animation door was to go to the very expensive CALARTS (California Institute of the Arts) in Southern California. CALARTS was (and still is) a breeding ground for artists and animators destined to work for the Disney Studios and other high-calibre dream factories. Fortunately, CALARTS is no longer the only gig in town.

Here’s the part I like best, because there’s no way I can tell you what the “best” animation schools are or which one you should attend. What I CAN do is point you in the direction of what is probably the best animation resource on the web: the Animation World Network (WWW.awn.com). The Animation World Network offers an incredible selection of articles and interviews on the industry, complete with a help-wanted link, free how-to lessons and the cherry-on-the-cake: a comprehensive “resources” sections that provides links to an Animation School Database, Animation Industry Database, Student Corner, Book Corner, Toon Institute, Visual Effects Houses and much more. In fact, half the fun of AWN is looking through all that’s available. The important thing is you can find the right school for you. Whether it’s a traditional school you attend each day in person or an on-line institution where you can learn in the comfort of your home. The AWN is the most valuable resource out there. You can even sign up for a weekly newsletter to stay informed with what’s going on in the Industry.

Another cool resource is: WWW.geocities.com/animation_resources which is a little old, but still has valuable information and breaks down the industry into everything from studios to schools.

Not to be outdone is WWW.about-arts.com/animation which gives great info on schools, techniques, films and more. And finally, WWW.webmonkey.com/multimedia/animation offers some outstanding and fun animation tutorials. And these sites are only the beginning.

So you see, there is hope. Maybe you’ll become the next Walt Disney or maybe not, but if you ever had a hankering to break into the wonderful world of animation, there are some great resources to help you get on your way. You may find that going to school isn’t even what you need. Maybe it’s just a matter of hunkering down and drawing, making your own film for the contest circuit and getting some exposure. Hey, crazier things have happened.

The important thing is that you CAN do it if you set your mind to it, and you can have a lot of fun in the process.

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