RED BANK, New Jersey (Achieve3000, June 19, 2020). Imagine having the power to bring anything you can think of to life. Sunbathing snowmen sparkling on the sand.



RED BANK, New Jersey (Achieve3000, June 19, 2020). Imagine having the power to bring anything you can think of to life. Sunbathing snowmen sparkling on the sand. Winged kangaroos leaping across an emerald-green sky. Weird beasts and magical places unlike anywhere on Earth.

It's possible. And there's no superpower required. Computer animators do it every day.

Computer animators create amazing animation and visual effects. They use illustrations and software programs. You see computer animation in movies, television shows, video games, and ads. Some computer animators focus on bringing characters to life. Others work on scenery design. And some create special effects for live-action films.

Four kangaroos with white wings, on a green background and flying over a field of yellow plants.

From Storyboards to CGI

Computer animators begin by sketching a storyboard. It shows how a story will unfold.

During the planning stages of a project, animators often do research. That helps them figure out how to make the animations look real. Sometimes they'll travel to faraway locations to get ideas for settings. They might even put themselves in a character's shoes. Or clothes! The animators for Disney's Frozen put on long dresses. Then they trudged through deep snow. This helped them make the characters' movements look real. 

Next, it's time to create the computer-generated images (CGI). This task calls for technology skills, creativity, and science knowledge. Computer animators also use their knowledge of the real world to build a believable animated world. Suppose they're making an outdoor scene. The animators will need an understanding of nature. For instance, how does water flow in a stream? How does the light bounce off the water?

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Big projects rely on teams of animators to get the job done. That's because there are so many different elements to craft. A single frame of animation can have millions of moving parts. In Pixar's Monsters, Inc., Sulley has more than two million hairs on his body. It took the animation team 11 to 12 hours to animate every frame in which Sulley appears!

Animation teams can work closely together on a single project for a long time. About 75 animators spent four years working on Frozen 2. Many more people take part in the moviemaking process, too. Animators also get opinions from directors, game designers, and others. They use that feedback to improve their work.

Becoming a Computer Animator

What do you need to become an animator? A bachelor's degree in a field such as animation/illustration, computer graphics, or fine art. You also need a portfolio. That's a collection of your best drawings, computer-generated images, and animation clips. You'll show it to possible employers. But what if drawing isn't your strongest skill? Not to worry! Great drawing skills are required for 2-D computer animation but not for 3-D.

Ready to get creative? Who knows? Someday you might find yourself animating one of Sulley's hairs in the next Monsters, Inc. movie!

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