Animation for Beginners (Where do I start?)
One of the most commonly asked questions I get on a daily basis is:
“I want to be an animator/do animation. Where do I start?”
Instead of directing you to our Making an Animated Movie series, our awesome beginners page, our selection of animation courses, or even our YouTube channel, I decided to write this guide to cover (almost) everything you might need to know when trying to get into the animation industry.
In this article I’ll cover some of the basic concepts of animation, as well as some of the options for people who want to get into the animation industry, but are overwhelmed or intimidated. I’ll go over what is animation, what it takes to make animated movies (2D or 3D), and even how to start looking for a job in the industry.
Easy to Start, Hard to Master
It is easier to get into animation today than ever before. There are plenty of software available, some are quite cheap (or even free), and most modern computer can handle the more simple animation tasks (mostly 2D).
The catch is that although anyone can start animating right now, the art of animation is not easy to learn and very hard to master.
The good news is…
That you don’t need to be a Disney quality animator to create really cool animations. You can start small and simple and slowly develop your skills and unique style. You don’t even need to know how to draw well.
We’ve built an entire course dedicated to understanding the basic principles of animation, so that you can cover your basics before you jump into animating. It’s this one, right below.
Animation Foundations course
Learn the basic principles of character animation, including a survey of the different types of animation, basic vocabulary, and the 12 principles of animation. If you’re just starting out and want to make sure you got your basics covered – this course is the best place to start.
So what does it mean, being an animator?
In this video I explain the differences between animating in 2D and 3D. This should give you a clue about what direction you might want to pursue.
Probably a more recommended route to take for absolute beginners, since it’s less intimidating and the software/hardware needed is cheaper.
The two programs I would suggest you start with are Animate CC (formerly Flash) or Toon Boom Harmony. The reason for that is that they are relatively cheap and accessible. You can get Animate for $19 a month, including a free trial month – so you have nothing to lose. Harmony is a bit more expensive, ranging from $15-$73 per month, depending on the package you buy, and they also offer a free trial. For more detailed information check out our animation software list.
- Flash (Animate CC): The most used animation software by hobbyists/YouTubers out there. You can learn it quickly and start animating right now by taking our course, or even just play around with it. Whether you wanna make cool animations for YouTube, or 2D frame-by-frame animation for commercial use, Flash is one of the best choices.
- Toon Boom Harmony: Toon Boom Harmony is an incredibly robust professional-level animation software, and can do pretty much everything in the realm of 2D animation. Anything from stick figures to Disney-level results.
- After Effects: A less conventional choice for character animation, but I actually found it incredible for it. It can do rigging, lip sync and use cameras to create a sense of depth. I loved using it so much that I created an entire animation course specifically for animating with After Effects.
- Computer: The good thing about using Flash or Toon Boom is that you don’t need some crazy monster computer to use them, any modern machine will do the trick.
- Tablet: I’ve written about the merits of animating with a tablet, and for 2D animation it’s pretty much a must. I can’t imagine doing it with a mouse. The price of the Intuos Pro (our tablet of choice) might scare you, but for about $70 you can get the Intuos Pen which is great for beginners.
Different arguments could be made for which is the best book for learning animation, but here are a few that will help you learn and refine your skills, regardless of the type of animator you want to be.
- The Animator’s Survival Kit / Richard Williams: This book is an animator’s bible. It thoroughly covers the basics of spacing, timing, walks, runs, weight, anticipation, overlapping action, takes, stagger, dialogue, animal animation and much more. It’s not called a “Survival Kit” for nothing. This book will teach you EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW to start your training as an animator.
- Cartoon Animation / Preston Blair: Originally released in 1994, Cartoon Animation (also known as “The Preston Blair Book”), has been an amazing reference source for creating cartoon-style animation. With this book you’ll learn how to develop a cartoon character, create dynamic movement, and animate dialogue with action.
- The Illusions of Life / Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston: This book started as an animation guide and turned into a detailed survey of the progression of animation, both within the Disney studios and in the world of animation in general. Written by two of the nine old men who defined the Disney animation style, this book takes the reader through all the steps of discovery and research of the best methods of animation.
- Animation For Beginners / Morr Meroz: Bloop Animation’s own guide to newcomers interested in getting into the world of animation. Including a survey of the different types of animation and what does it mean to be an animator for each of them, a detailed list of the best animation schools with all the information you’ll need, a complete animation dictionary and much more.
- Setting Up Your Shots / Jeremy Vineyard: A great book for getting your basic understanding of shot composition and camera movement for better storytelling and filmmaking.
Flash Animation course (Animate CC)
There’s enough in this course for the person who wants to make cool short animations for YouTube, as well as for the working professional who wants to get hired as a 2D animator.
Flash is a very easy software to learn, though it takes time to master. I’ve brought in an amazing 2D Flash animator to take you through the complete journey of making a full animated shot using only Flash. We’ll show you how simple it is to get amazing results with Flash.
Toon Boom Animation course
I’ve designed this course to be tailored specifically for people who want to get into 2D animation in the most professional way.
Toon Boom Harmony is an incredibly robust professional-level animation software, and can do pretty much everything in the realm of 2D animation. Anything from stick figures to Disney-level results. I’ve brought in an amazing 2D animator to take you through this amazing journey, and I truly believe he created one of the best animation courses out there.
After Effects Animation
There’s enough in this course for the person who wants to make cool short animations for YouTube, as well as for someone who wants to get to know After Effects, and learn what amazing things can be done in it.
After Effects is simple to learn, though hard to master. I’ve been using After Effects almost daily for the past 7 years, and I’ve done anything from animated logos, animated web series, to compositing and visual effects. This course is a great place to start your path to animation, as well as learn a highly profitable skill.
If you’re looking to get into 3D animation, the road is a bit more complex, but I’ll try to help you make sense of the journey ahead of you.
In this video I go over each of the 3D animation steps and show you how I animate a shot from scratch.
Since this is a beginner’s guide I’ll list programs from different price tiers and for different usages, so you’ll have a better look at your choices . For more detailed information check out our animation software list.
- Autodesk Maya: The industry standard for computer animation. If you want to do animation professionally, this is the program you should focus on. 3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software with an integrated, powerful toolset. Use it for animation, environments, motion graphics, virtual reality, and character creation.
- Cinema 4D: More accessible and easy to learn than Maya, also cheaper and comes for free with Adobe After Effects (A lite version). Although used mostly for motion graphics, Cinema4D can be used for other types of animation and is fun to play around with.
- Blender: A free, open-source, 3D program, Blender provides a broad spectrum of modeling, texturing, lighting, animation and video post-processing functionality in one package. Through its open architecture, Blender provides cross-platform interoperability, extensibility, an incredibly small footprint, and a tightly integrated workflow.
- Computer: Since you’ll be rendering in 3D, your computer should be equipped with a serious processor, and that could be quite pricey. A serious workstation starts at about $2,000 and could go above $8,000.
- Tablet: Again, as with 2D, I recommend animating with a tablet. It makes the workflow much faster. No need for a Cintiq, though. I use the Intuos 5 Pro.
Any of the books listed in the 2D section will benefit a 3D animator, but if you’re looking for a specific 3D animation book, I would suggest “How to Cheat in Maya”. It covers a lot of what you need to know to start animating in 3D.
Whether this is your first time animating with a 3D software, or if you are transitioning from a different one (like Maya or Softimage), this course will take you through all the necessary tools so you can start animating with the best free 3D program straight away.
Maya is the industry standard for 3D animation, so if you’re planning on getting into the animation industry you need to be familiar with it.
While Maya is extremely complex and can do many different things, I’ve structured this course to only focus on what you need to know to get straight into animation. Even if you’re intimidated by it, Maya can be really fun to use, and this course could be a great way to fast-track your animation career.
Getting a job in the animation industry
So how do you take the next step? What if you want to make animation your career and not just a side project?
How do I get my foot in the door?
Since I don’t know you personally, I can give you some advice that will work for most people. The best way to get noticed is to create things. Having a BFA in animation or a diploma from an online school will definitely help, but it won’t guarantee a job after graduation.
You know what I did the day after graduation?
Continued animating for my reel. And that’s what I did everyday until I got my first freelance work. And then after work I would keep working on more shots so I’ll be ready for the time the freelance project was over.
You need to keep making. Always.
There’s always enough time to work on your reel, especially in the first year of your animation career. When you add stuff to your reel, make sure you follow our Demo Reel Guidelines so you don’t waste your time.
If you keep creating things and putting them out there, while constantly applying to studios, you will eventually get noticed, and hired.
Our FREE ebook: Making an Animated Short
One of the best ways to get noticed (and hired) is by showing off your animated short film. Most animation students finish their degree with one, but you can make one on your own. This is why I created this free ebook to guide you through the process of making an animated short film.
Don’t leave without taking your free copy!
Getting a job checklist:
- An updated resume.
- A working link to your demo reel (preferably Vimeo, because they have an option to swap videos under the same link – that way you make sure your link stays relevant when you update your reel.
- A portfolio website with your own domain. Non of that john.wordpress.com crap. Check out these great WordPress templates to make your life easier.
- A solid demo reel.
Your demo reel
For many professions, having a good resume or cover letter is the most important factor in getting a job. For animators and visual effects people it’s all about the demo reel.
Over the years I have made many demo reels for myself, and watched dozens of other people’s reels. Before you start sending your reel to a bunch of studios, I beg of you, read our demo-reel guide. I have collected a ton of information about how to create an effective animation demo reel that actually gets you hired.
Don’t skip it.
Finding work / Connecting with artists
- UpWork: A great website to find various freelance animation work. The platform lists jobs based on your skills and updated frequently.
- Bloop Creators Club: An exclusive community of professional artists. A place to collaborate, get inspired and meet like minded people.
I hope this guide helped and answered some questions for you. If you feel there are things I didn’t cover that you want to know more about, you’re welcome to shoot me a message. I’ll try to keep this guide updated over time.
Getting Started with Animation
- The 5 Types of Animation: This guide breaks down the five different types of animation available to you, and what you’ll need to start animating. Best software, best schools, and more.
- Best Animation Schools: A curated list of the best animation schools in the world.
- Animation Studios: A detailed guide to the best animated film production studios
- Animation Software – Which One Should You Use: A break down of the options you have when choosing your animation software.
- Why You Don’t Need to Know How to Draw to Be a 3D Animator: You have no excuses anymore!
- Switching to a Wacom Tablet for 3D Animation: How to make the switch to animating in 3D using a tablet instead of a mouse.
- Start Animating Now with Less than a $100: In this article I show how you can start animating like a pro with less than a $100.
How to Make an Animated Movie
Building Your Portfolio
- Creating an Animation Demo Reel – The Complete Guide: For many professions, having a good resume or cover letter is the most important factor in getting a job. For animators and visual effects people it’s all about the demo reel.
- Lighting and Rendering your Animation Demo Reel: A video tutorial covering a basic lighting/rendering setup to make your demo reel shine.
- Creating a Portfolio Website: Our step-by-step guide to creating a professional portfolio website from scratch.
- How to Install a WordPress Theme for your Portfolio Site: A step by step guide to installing a WordPress theme.
- Best WordPress Portfolio Themes: Having your own website to show off your work is extremely important. One of the easiest ways to set up a portfolio website is using WordPress Themes.
- Why Make a Second Film: If you’ve already make one films, here’s why you should start working on your next one.
- What I did After Graduation: My graduation story and all about how I picked myself
- 5 Reasons You Won’t Be an Animator: If you need a little push, read this.
- What Ratatouille and Monsters University Taught Me About Being an Artist: A thought provoking article about the lessons learned from 2 great Pixar films.