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Who is a game animator, and what do they do?

Game animator job description: career options, roles and requirements

Game Animators are multimedia artists focused on animation within video games. Using a combination of art and technology, they make interactive animated images and environments for use in video games. To put it simply - an animator job means you are in charge of all the behavior, movement, and, well, animation in the game.

As mentioned, it's not that easy. The animators’ job comes to the fore when the characters in the game need life breathed into them - they need to move. Using software is one thing, but an animator needs to manipulate the “bones” of the video game assets, pose them and move them. This is why anyone desiring a job in video game animation should take the effort to study the way animals and humans move, and anatomy so that they can better depict this movement within the video game. Then there is the matter of faces and animating them - 3d animators are often in charge of creating realistic facial expressions for the game characters and syncing them with the spoken dialogue - a challenging task that usually involves cooperating with the sound department.

A 3D or 2D game animator must be able to show their knowledge - an animation reel showing keyframed character and creature animations is a must-have. The animators need to communicate their knowledge on the principles of body movement, overshoot, follow-through, anticipation, squash, and stretch and a plethora of other elements of 3D and 2D animation. Since communicating with other departments will be a staple of the job, a video game animator should preferably also have skills in skinning, modeling, and rigging.



How to become a video game animator?

Being an animator is an incredible career, where you can have the opportunity to bring characters and ideas to life. Read on to see what steps you can take to become an animator in game development and how to break into this field.

1. Sign up for courses or a degree program.

For most people, going to school is the first step for how to become an animator. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, multimedia artist and animator positions typically require a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your individual career goals, there are numerous animation programs you can choose from.

Be sure to pick a program that gives you hands-on practice with industry technology and that is taught by people with experience in the field.

2. Keep developing your skills.

Be ready to put in the hard work, as practice is the key. Either you chose to follow a formal animation course or learn from online tutorials, there will be a lot of practice needed to sharpen your skills and push to achieve your best.

On top of building foundational art skills and learning animation and editing software, you will also want to develop acting and observation skills. Doing so can help you understand body language and movements to recreate specific emotions and qualities in your characters.

3. Create an outstanding portfolio and demo reel.

Having an outstanding portfolio is the key to obtain your dream game animator job. It is best to host your portfolio online, where you can have a section for a short demo reel and an area for longer work samples. Be sure to include all the works that showcase your experience; the more variety, the better. Don’t forget to add a link to your portfolio in your CV so that recruiters can easily access and explore your work. Our next article will cover everything you need to know to create a portfolio that will land you a job in the industry!

Let’s dig deeper into different animation techniques you can find not only in the game industry.

2D vs. 3D Animation

First thing's first: neither 2D nor 3D is objectively “better.” Both have their place in the industry!

When choosing the style you want to pursue, it will mostly come down to your artistic preference. If you create a new video game, TV show, web series, or even a static medium such as a comic book, you might decide that one style suits the premise better.

The main difference between 2D vs. 3D animation is that 2D is more artistic and 3D is more mechanical. 2D requires a large amount of illustration, as every frame needs to be drawn, while 3D works with 'rigs,’ where a 3D model is essentially given a skeleton that can be manipulated.

Keyframe and Mocap Animation

Let’s discover the main differences between the two and how we can recognize them. Traditional or “keyed animation” refers to how the first processes for animating were executed based on the twelve principles of animation—creating pose to pose animations for a scene and then filling the in-between poses (tweening).

For a traditional 2D animation, each frame would be a separate drawing. For the 3D animator, each frame would be a different pose for the animated character. It requires a lot of time and attention, and it is a meticulous process.

Mocap or motion capture works differently. An actor is dressed in a skin-tight suit with visual markers placed on specific parts of the body to track movement. A special camera records and tracks the movements of the markers, and then animators apply those movements to 3D models using various software. This makes for a more realistic, natural, and life-like movement for a character but lacks some of the visually expressive principles of animation like squash and stretch, flowing arch movements, anticipation, and exaggeration. With the advances in technology in the animation and video game industry, motion capture is being used more and more, especially in AAA console games.

What are the primary tools used in the game industry?

When it comes to the tools used in the industry, there is a vast palette of tools you can choose from. Below you can find a list of the most commonly used tools in the gaming industry:

Autodesk 3ds Max

Based upon polygon modeling, 3ds Max is one of the best animation software out there. You can create images like cubes, cones, teapots, pyramids, etc., that serve as bases for models. It enables animators to do easy yet powerful modeling and high-end rendering.

Suitable for big projects, it also works well when you strive to create sleek video games or movies.

Autodesk Maya

With support for multiple platforms, including macOS, this state-of-the-art tool can create interactive 3D applications. This creative toolset is filled with powerful features for modelers, animators, and VFX artists.

Autodesk MotionBuilder

A powerful, real-time 3D character animation productivity suite for games, films, television, and multimedia. MotionBuilder offers animators and technical directors real-time animation display and editing, a non-linear environment for 3D editorial, and tools for customizing and extending the software.

Blender

If you are looking for a free and open-source 3D creation suite that offers extensible features to its users, Blender is the right choice. With robust support for the entirety of the 3D pipeline, it presents numerous opportunities to multimedia artist and animators, both amateurs and experts alike.

Video game animator jobs are in demand due to how specialized they are. Game companies seek talented artists with their distinct styles and creative flair while smaller companies might be looking for all-rounders. The bigger the production, the more specialized the animator’s job becomes. A career in 3d or 2d video game animation requires an extensive scope of knowledge, from anatomy to game dev knowledge, to perform a highly specialized and sought-after artistic position - and one that is always in demand.


Interested in how fine arts links with video game development? See our blog entry about game art jobs and how to become a game artist.

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