Sunday, 23 February 2020

Getting Started in Animation

free 3D software - yours to try for free
How do you get started in animation? Fortunately for would-be animators, there are today plenty of inexpensive and even free resources to get started.

Today, animation is a mix of art and technology.  Animators work at the crossover point between creative skills and techie skills - a good animator has both.  Below are some tips on how to get started in animation, and how to prepare yourself for a potential career in the animation industry.

Life drawing - useful skill for animators
1. Study Computer Animation BTEC
Here at BNU we are often impressed by the portfolios submitted by students who have done a BTEC at school, such as the one in Computer animation.

BTECs can be a great choice for a student, as (unlike A Levels) they focus  mainly on learning practical tech skills and not so much on purely academic ideas.  Students who come to us with a BTEC in computer animation or game design often have a big head start.

2. Study Art GCSE and Art A Level
Art GCSE and Art A Level are both very good subjects to study at school, as good animators should ideally have art skills as well as tech skills.  For an animator, practical skills - such as the ability to draw well - are very helpful. Students taking Art A Level will ideally learn drawing, painting and the art of design and composition.  Life drawing and gesture drawing classes are also very helpful.

3. Take Animation Summer School
There are a few summer schools in the UK that offer computer animation classes for 11-16 year olds. One of the best is 3Dami, which runs free summer schools in August, such as this one here. Keep an eye out for summer 2020 events, some of which get hosted here at Escape Studios.

4. Learn Blender
Animators need tech skills, so it's a good idea to try out some 3D software.  A great place to start is with the 3D software Blender - the software itself is completely free, and there are many free tutorials out there to get you started.

To begin, go to the Blender homepage at and download their free software. It's easy to do, and quick to install on your laptop.

Free Blender Tutorial at YouTube
Next, go to YouTube and search for Basic Blender Tutorials.  What you want are the most basic tutorials available, that teach you the really simple stuff, assuming absolutely no prior knowledge of the programme.

Below is one we like, which teaches you how to model a coffee cup. To do this tutorial you will need a PC (it's not so good on a Mac) and a three button mouse (or Wacom tablet).

If you're running a Mac, you might try this Mac-friendly tutorial below instead. The author gives instructions for both platforms (Blender is slightly different on a Mac vs a PC), so if you are on a Mac you are more likely to be able to follow the tutorial without running into problems.

If you can follow one or both of these tutorials without giving up in despair and wanting to chuck the computer out of the window - a career in animation might be for you.

Animation Studio by Helen Piercy
5. Try Stop Frame Animation
One of the best ways to get started for younger animators is stop frame animation. You could try making a short film with lego bricks. All you need is the lego, your iPhone, and a tripod, and one of the many apps (such as the "Stop Motion" app for the iPhone) which allow you to play around.

You will need a tripod to stabilise the phone/camera. The best tripod we recommend for filming with an iPhone (or other phone) is this one here; it costs just £15 at amazon, and works really well.

Animation Studio
There are also some inexpensive animation kits you can buy to get started. One that I like a lot is Helen Piercy's Animation Studio, which you can buy for £10 at Amazon. It comes with cut-out characters, and a set, to get kids' imaginations firing.

6. Download Maya, and Study Free Maya Tutorials
There are lots of free tutorials out there for students who have good tech skills and can handle Autodesk Maya, the industry standard software. You can download a free student license for Maya here.

One great place to start is Mike Hermes' videos at YouTube, which offer excellent short videos on pretty much every aspect of the Maya pipeline. They are short, easy to follow, and free of unnecessary information.  The playlists are well organised and it's all completely free.

To find Mike Hermes' YouTube Playlist, follow this link.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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