A guide to developing as an animation director

Friday 25 October 2019

EP Sue Loughlin shares advice on how to become a fully fledged animation director.

Following on from yesterday’s article ‘A guide to developing as an illustrator‘, UK Executive Producer Sue Loughlin sheds some light on the path to becoming an animation director as well as sharing some industry insight into the world of animation.

Whats the difference between and animator and an animation director?

An animator is someone who is employed as part of the animation production team to do the actual animation. IE to make the individual drawings or frames move one frame at a time. These animated frames can be drawn either in the traditional way with pencils or in a digital way on a tablet. Animators are employed for their own technical animation skills, depending on the visual style and type of movement required for the project. The style of the actual movement within any animation can vary hugely from project to project and so, like with all craft, animators each have their own particular strengths when it comes to animation styles and so are usually selected based on their individual skillsets, on a project by project basis.

An animation director is the person with the overall vision for the animation project, who makes all of the creative decisions such as; the visual style, the type and speed of movement, timings, carefully selecting the content within each frame, deciding how each individual drawing becomes a series of drawings or a single shot, how those shots are put together on a timeline to become scenes, how each shot begins and ends, deciding on camera movement within and between the shots, then works with the editor to edit the timeline and ultimately decides how the story unfolds one frame at a time.

They will also direct the team of animators to create the style of movement and the timings which will express emotions and communicate the meaning within the project based on their vision. The animation director will direct the team on the project through all stages of the production, post production, grade and sound making the relevant creative decisions along the way.

On a commercial, the animation director will work closely with the agency creative team and will direct the production team to deliver the project which has been commissioned to the highest standards of completion.

In short, an animation director is the person with a personal directorial style, who makes short animated films or commissioned projects, communicates in that style effectively and who can deliver a brief from start to finish, consistently and effectively, who has ideas and knows how to get those ideas made.

Making the leap from illustration to animation / The difference between animated statics and animation.

As an illustrator you will be skilled at creating single images which effectively communicate the meaning within any given brief. To take those single images into animation you have two possible routes to follow.

The first route is to create what is effectively an animated static, where you stay with the main single image and simply add a little movement to selected elements.

The second route is to make the leap into animation, where you will take the brief and create multiple images which will communicate the meaning on a timeline, as a story.

If this is the route for you, there are a few considerations you need to make to decide how you want your story to unfold… What kind of movement/animation will be best for the visual style of your work.

Don’t just go for the obvious, it doesn’t have to be traditional. Do some research, watch animated ‘films’, not just those blockbuster ones, watch short indies, go to some animation festivals, and see if any resonate with you, there are lots of different ways to tell your story effectively.

What kind of ‘story’ is it that you are communicating? How will you tell the ‘story’ with multiple images and what order will they appear? How will you get from image to image? How will one image turn into the next? How long will it take for one image to become the next image?

Once you have multiple images and you know what order they will be in, each image can now be called a shot, and you can put those images together onto a timeline, viewing the timeline you can decide on length and timings of each shot, how will each shot move, what will happen within each shot, what is the beginning, middle and end of each shot, how will you get from one shot to the next, will it blend seamlessly or will it be a straight cut?

Once you know these things, your story is beginning to unfold as an animated piece….You then need to make those images move, to fill in the gaps in between, to turn those images into animation.

You will either need to learn to animate or, if your project is commissioned, you will need to select your team of animators who will do the movement for you. You’ll choose those animators based on their skillsets and what kind of animation they do well.

How to develop as an animation director
So, now you know what you want to do, you now need to communicate your intentions with your team, how do you want it to move, what do you want it to do, how long should it take? You need to keep checking progress along the way and if the animation isn’t what you wanted, you need to say why and how it should change to become what you envisage.

And that’s all there is to it!

Of course, it takes time, the key is to be confident in your ideas, to form your own directorial style, to get down and do it, either by personal projects or commissioned work but to be considered for animation projects you will need a body of work to show, a portfolio. It will become a showreel but you will need to do some work on your own to develop a style that makes you stand out from the others.

Give it a go……