Welcome to Rusty Animator! This is Animation 101.
If your new to the world of Animation and how you can make a living as an Animator. This page is perfect for you! It has all you need to get started today and preparing for a job in the industry.
Where Do I Start?
It’s the question I hear most. Today, Animation couldn’t be any easier to learn. There are more books, lessons, FREE software, methods, and schools than ever before to get you started. And you don’t even need to know how to draw.
So there’s no more excuses.
But what are the books?! What animations should I do first?! What software is the best? What even is Animation?
It can be daunting and confusing at first.
Everything below will spell it out for you. Just breathe. Nothing worthwhile happens overnight.
More importantly, if you want to be an animator, see your name on the credits screen, and never work a ‘normal’ job again – TAKE ACTION – don’t just read.
After you roughly understand what the art is – download a free animation software, download a free rig, make your first animation, and order that first book!
Dreams will remain dreams until you do something about them. Trust me you’ll be thrilled you took the first step.
Lets get started!
What Animation Is and Isn’t
When a stranger outside the art scene asks about my career – the conversation is stimulating
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an animator”
“Oh so you work at Pixar and push buttons?!”
“Yes, Pixar is the one and only magical place movies get made and they pay me to click a mouse once or twice. The computer does the rest”
Most of the general public has no clue how Animation is made, and that’s fine. I’ll admit I was in the same boat starting out.
But when nobody around seems to know, it can be hard to crack the code.
Animation is an art form that delivers performance, and entertainment through an illusion of movement. That illusion is created with a series of repeated drawings, puppet positions or 3D character rigs shown in sequence over time. So Animators are ultimately responsible for how a character acts. That covers everything from body movement to deep emotional thought.
Animators are the Robert De Niros, Cate Blanchetts, Gary Oldmans, Christian Bales, and Jennifer Lawrences of their own shows. They even go beyond as Dogs, Cats, Birds, Dragons, Robots, or simple inanimate objects. Species or gender doesn’t matter – animators are boundless, limited only by their artistic ability.
This means your going to be an artist rather than a software techy. Rigging, Modeling, Lighting, Composting, and FX are all disciplines you dont need to concern yourself with. They are all apart of ‘computer animation’ but they aren’t animation.
If you dont believe me take it from the Ceo of Disney and Pixar.
(John Lasseter – On Being an Animation Artist)
If you like the idea of getting paid for crafting a hilarious skit, controlling all the eye blinks, spine bends, and dragon wing flaps – you’ve chosen the right path.
This is a perfect example of all that. Guaranteed the Dreamworks animator on this didnt design the characters, make the texutres for the environment or create the rigs – only the performance.
Ready for more?
2D or 3D?
Honestly who hasn’t heard of Wall-E, Up, or Monsters Inc? It’s obvious today, 3D dominates the animation industry.
Most of the jobs out there are 3D (including my own) so that’s what we will focus on.
Although, its important first to give you some background on the different mediums Animation can be created in.
Animation is an extremely young art and when it started 2D was the name of the game. Drawing after drawing on hundreds of sheets of paper to just to make a mickey mouse short film.
(Mickey Mouse’s Debut in 1928)
Back in the early days it meant you had to draw like nobody’s business. Day in day out. Extensive knowledge of human anatomy floating around in your head.
If you imagine mickey mouse, this meant keeping his head the same size from page to page, creating an illusion of depth that one foot was behind the other, and being able control perspective so he could seemingly walk away from camera or towards camera.
Heres a few examples:
Each page is a drawing and those numbers in the middle of the page count the frames – or pages.
Milt Kahl animated this scene and is considered one of the greatest if not the best animator who ever lived.
Hes responsible for performances of Pinocchio, Shere Kahn, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Sir Ector and so many more.
Glen Keane is another animation master and he shows you here how the process works.
(Glen Keane – Animates a scene just like they did for the mickey short above)
Showing off a famous Glen Keane transformation – the final product of 2d turns out like this.
2D is a blast offering a very tactile, emotional connection to your work that you can’t get from the computer.
It does present quite the challenge in drawing though.
Thankfully, today software side steps that difficulty – Allowing anyone to get started right away.
Characters are already premade into rigs. Their size and shape is consistent unless you wish to alter it. So drawing isnt a must. In fact many of my coworkers have very little experience drawing anything. Although, its worth mentioning that knowing how to draw, will make you a much stronger animator in the long run.
Below is a throwback to those original mickey mouse shorts from the 30’s and some new school 3d.
(A Great Example of the difference between 2d and 3d)
The important part to remember is you still need to understand the art, even though the drawing is scrapped, creativity most certainly isnt.
We could get really ramble on forever with this subject, but all you really need right now is a way to start animating.
There will be plenty of time later for geekin’ out.
As mentioned earlier, most of the jobs out there today are in 3D. So If your out to be a professional animator you might as well get your feet wet and get used to the software used on the job.
Free Software Guide
Autodesk Maya is industry standard. A few studios have created their own in-house software but most (including the studio I’m working at now) use Maya.
A free trial is available to anyone. If your a student you can get it free for 3 years. Just type in the name of your school.
If you want to know more details on that, alternative software for free, how to use them, and more its already covered in this guide. Download it.
Doing so also makes you apart of the Rusty Animator Newsletter. You’ll receive updates on the blog, podcast, and exclusive animation lessons. You can unsubscribe at any moment, but I promise you wont be put off.
If for some reason you prefer to start in 2D – Toonboom or Photoshop are tools of the trade beyond paper and sticky notes. Take comfort knowing that if you ever decide to learn 3D you wont be learning from scratch. All the skills you pick up still apply in 3D and vice versa. The pencil simply becomes software.
Of course once you get the software – you’ll need something to animate with.
These are the ‘puppets’ you can pull the strings on. Also, mentioned in the guide above, there are tons of characters available for free.
CreativeCrash has been a great resource over the years for finding a bunch of free rigs. Just make a free account and start searching.
Additionally, Online Schools like Animation Mentor and AnimSchool offer them to anyone learning.
Its common for newbies to want the coolest looking, most complex rigs out there. The danger is you can quickly get in over your head and become overwhelmed with too many controls, pivot points, or sliders. This is your warning – keep it simple and learn faster. Below are a few of my suggestions for starting out.
Books Every Animator Needs
By this point, it should be obvious, that the Art of Animation is the real skill to learn and not the software.
This craft is incredibly easy to start and incredibly hard to master. Your going to need help to grow fastest.
With 3D programs and the characters coming to you all for free the least you can do is invest in a few books to give you a roadmap in this challenging field.
If you were to only buy one book to start with – this is my pick.
The master animator Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is responsible for this and you’d be hard pressed to find a professional without this book.
He takes all he learned from the greatest animators who lived (the 9 old men) and compiles it in animations.
Example after example – simple to more complex – this will establish your foundation that your skill will depend on.
The best part is it used more drawings than words. As you know us artists are better with pretty pictures than words.
Typically dubbed, ‘The Animators Bible‘ this book was created by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas (2 of the 9 Old Men).
They animated Bambi, Baloo, Pinocchio, Bagheera, Smee, and Thumper to name a few. They are also partly responsible for animation existing as you know it.
The Illusion of Life differs from the Survival kit, in that it provides thorough mental understanding of the art over formulaic step by step examples.
As you grow you’ll appreciate it more and more. Areas you struggle with will be made simple with the genius that sits on these pages.
Another Approach to describing the facets of Animation. This book favors theory over application although this is sometimes this is exactly what you need. A slight different perspective or drawing example to understand principles better.
Eric Goldberg the animator behind Aladdin’s Genie and Hercules’s Phil recently put this together.
Crash Course is chalk full of technical detail for exactly how to pull off cartoony double takes, walks, and splats.
Eric assumes you already understand the foundation of animation and expands on your skill of invention towards the fundamentals.
The included disc with frame by frame scrubbing of each animation takes the books lessons to whole other level.
Now that you’ve got the tools and have some books on the way its time to make an animation!
Bouncing Ball Animation Walkthrough
The bouncing ball is almost always the first lesson in this art.
Yep, it looks simple. Maybe you think its even trivial compared to a fire breathing Dragon, a Looney Tune Slapstick, or a Dramatic Lipsync.
Why dont we just jump into that stuff?! Isnt it a waste of time?
To be honest it would be too much for you at this point. Like expecting to drive a Ferrari without a motor.
The bouncing ball IS the motor you see. Later on I’ll show you how it can describe even those complex animations, but for now learn how to run the motor before adding all the fancy bits.
We’re going to use the Bouncing Ball rig mentioned above. When you’ve downloaded that – load up Maya and follow along.
(HD Recommended in its own Window)
The Path to Your Dream Job
Now that you’ve completed your first animation – its time to look at the big picture as you move forward.
Yes your end goal is to get paid animating.
So where does that bouncing ball fit in that picture? What will you need to tackle to get all the way?
Look at this infographic for an overview. Feel free to save it.
A Small Note On Mastery
You don’t need to be great to get started BUT you’ve got to get started to be great. Remember that next time you think you have to become a Pixar Superstar by tomorrow. Dont jump into a character walk until you’ve done a bouncing ball.
Practice the simple fundamentals found in the books mentioned above. Skipping through them will cost you years of struggle and frustration.
Most animators cherish the fact that there will always be more to learn and better ways to create in this art. So take your time each day – you’ll always be reaching for the next level. Thats the best part!
Hats Off To You!
I just wanted to finish by saying that I’m here to help you not just as a mentor but as a friend.
I read and respond to all emails sent in. Not a single one is lost. And I don’t hold myself above anyone – I’m here to help others have an easier time than I did learning animation, so you can all have the careers you dream of – and in doing so make our industry better.
Thank you so much for taking the time to get started on your dreams. I cant wait to see what you accomplish.