Woo-hoo! I have been professional animator for a month!

This is not much of news by itself, but I think that I learned some stuff that can be applicable in home studio / hobbyist environment, so here I go:

Due to some happy turn of events, I have been able to find a time (apart from my daytime job) and work for a while at “fx3x” (Macedonian fx company, have been doing fx for movies as: “Terminator: Salvation”, “Punisher: War Zone”, “Golden Compass”, “Aviator”, etc…)

They have 3D animation department, and were hiring at a time, so I applied with my Blender stuff and got hired. I was able to work afternoons during May and June and full time for a month during most of July. After that, reality rised its ugly face, and I had to return to my daytime job :wink:

They are using Maya (which I have never used before) but I was able to get up to speed in only couple days of tinkering with it (I did my animation test third day after I started, and they decided that I could do actual shot from the movie). I was very happy to find out that almost all of my Blender knowledge is applicable in Maya. Maya is very ugly app (it looks ugly), but make no mistake, it is animation and effect powerhouse, and (after some tweaking) has very animator friendly interface. I have to say that I was surprised that some things that I took for granted in Blender are strangely absent from Maya (for example, paste mirrored pose) which is very strange, having in mind that Maya has about zillion different tools and settings. Maya’s model referencing is a dream come true (proxies in Blender) and I wish that Blender had that robust system of referencing.

The studio was working on the outsorced direct – to – DVD movie project for a company from USA, and I was impressed by the quality and quantity of animation that was produced. During this time I animated 13 shots from the movie which result into about minute and a half of screen time.

Leasons learned:

I have noticed that there is an amazing number of 3D artists that aspire to became animators but most of them never move beyond rigging phase (me included). I have been thinking about the reasons for that and came to the conclusion that while everyone has strong feeling of control when modeling and rigging, that feeling just ebbs away when animating and we are loosing terra firma from beneath our feet. Animation has so many variables that it takes great leap of faith (and lot of work, LOL) to be able to pass that period of initial insecurity. So I think that I have learned few things which will enable me (and hopefully help someone that reads this) to work with greater confidence on projects of my (your) own.

  • You don’t need to have complete mastery of your 3D app to be able to animate! It came to a great surprise to me that at least two of the animators that were working on the movie (and me as third) had only superficial knowlege of Maya and were actually only versed in its animation tools (they had no idea about my questions about modeling, texturing or rigging in Maya, but were able to give detailed answers about some problems regarding animation)

  • Do your homework! If you have idea for an animation, first make sure that you have script, storyboards and layouts ready before starting animating. If possible, record the dialog! Make an animatic! It is an amazing help when you can have an overview how things will look when put together. You may save yourself a lot of grief! When looking to the layouts you can decide what needs to be modeled, and what left out. Also, having animatic and dialogue is great help when making decisions about timing of the animation. This is valid even when you animate something for practice! If you have clear idea about the structure of the animation and camera angles beforehand, you may concentrate on the performance for the camera. Nothing frustrates more than this: you make excellent piece of animation and than decide upon a camera angle, and you have to tweak every keyframe, beacuse they don’t loook quite right from the camera! Grrr!

  • Respect the workflow: Modeling, Rigging, Layout, Animation and then Lighting of the scene, postproduction etc… I have learned this the hard way with my own projects: I animate something, make preview, but then I decide that I sould check out how the final render should look… and then I decide to tweak the lights, touch up the material of the bakground object… and all of the sudden, I have been working for a day and have nothing to show for it!

  • When animating, make a rule not to make final renders (this was made even easier for a simple reason: workstations were not able to make final renders, you needed to run a script to be able to use custom shaders… and this was a relief)

  • Try to finish your blocking before you make first animation preview (unless you absolutely have to)

  • Try to note all things that need to be corrected in the preview (playblast in Mayaspeak), write them down and make sure you correct them all before making another one – I couldn’t believe how much time I saved when I came to this conclusion!

  • Have someone to give you an honest oppinion (having supervising animator and director at hand helps, but you cannot carry them everywhere ;-)). Ask someone, or just watch the previews enough times, and ask yourelf: “How would Lasseter animate this?”

  • Animate a lot! I couldn’t believe how much my animation improved after just several days of doing it full – time (and that is not just me, there was at least one other novice that made very visible progress in a matter of days.

  • When you get “in the zone” you’ll be able to produce a lot of footage with quality beyond your wildest expectations. But have this in mind: you’ll need at least an hour of concentrated effort to be able to be “in the zone”. So, animating for 15 minutes today and 17 tomorrow just woudn’t do the trick.

    Thank you for your attention. There was a bunch of other things that I consider important, but this is a condensed (and a bit too long) gist of it. If I have time, I’ll expand this a bit in a next couple of days.

    Best regards,


Wow…a fantastic post. Thanks for taking the time to share that with us here. And good job on the work. Can you tell us the name of the movie / show you worked on?

Congratulations, and thanks for this great post

Wow, thanks a lot for this post and reflection on your experience. It is quite helpful now with me starting my first short film and having no real animation experience. I had hoped with real hard work and endurance I might be able to do this and your post seems to support this.

What was your level of expertise in animation before you started at fx3x.

Appreciate your observation. It was quite helpful.

I enjoyed reading this post.

I enjoyed reading this post.

Thanks sir…
As a newbie, i definitely felt a little more confident after reading this.
I’m quite sure your post will help a lot of upcoming artists.
I am practicing and understanding 2-d animation at college. I am quite sure that the knowledge gained at college combined with experiences shared from professionals here will be very fruitful in future.

Thanks again!!

Great post! LOL, I actually did the opposite, studying with Maya in school and jumping into Blender for my first professional job. I was shocked at how pretty, feature-laden, and surprisingly small Blender often was by comparison–but being the free alternative!

I found in retrospect that Maya hobbles itself a lot; it hopes to keep milking your wallet for all the bells and whistles (MotionBuilder, Renderman, a lot of their advanced particle/fur tools, and even stupid easy stuff like unwrapping) so it purposely stays stupid and primitive.

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, you just prove the dream of lot’s of blender users can become true :yes:
Wish you to be able to do it again.

Thanks for your comments, I really do hope that my post will be usable.

As for my previous experience: I have almost 9 years of 3D experience (Animation Master and Blender), but mostly in modeling / rigging / texturing. Previously I have made about 5 minutes of completed animations in those two apps (not much to show for a 9 years of 3D tinkering, I know)

About the movie… as they said when I asked about some of the other projects that they were working on… I am not sure (most of their work is under non disclosure agreement) - so, I’ll have to ask if I am supposed to tell you the name of the movie.

When I first saw this post I asked myself how this could possibly be news. But this is some good information. I too am learning the value of preparation. Good info. Thanks.

Fantastic and very useful piece of information.

Thank you for writing this !

Thanks for sharing. Interesting read.

Great post indeed, good luck on future projects :wink:

I just went full time as an animator and It’s a huge challenge. Thanks for the encouragement!!