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How can I become an animator and what classes should I take?

I'm a high school student and I wanna become an animator. I like to draw and i wanna become better and I wanna have this affect my future. So, I wanna know what I am capable of and how long it would take me. #animator

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David’s Answer

You remind me of me. I had the same thoughts during my teenage years. I loved animation and drew anything and everything around me prior to high school. Unfortunately, when it came to honing my skills as an artist I did not focus as much as I could have. If you will indulge me for a moment, I will share a bit of my own story during this stretch of my life as it might prove helpful in your thought process.

My parents were great people but I think they were overly concerned that art as a career choice would prove to be less than lucrative. They made the decision I should attend a boarding school that was very lacking in the creative arts. In fact, the only time I nurtured my artistic talents was by mimicking the artwork of one of the older students at the school. His name was (and is) Robert Rodriguez, and to this day he continues to be a fantastic artist (and movie director), and even as a high school student his work was so engaging and original. I couldn't help but try to match his creativity with my own. Robert would often draw our high school mascot in various battle scenes with the opposing team's mascot and his artwork was so captivating (and popular) that I continued to carry on this school spirit "tradition" long after he graduated.

By my senior year of high school, I started to figure things out and even received a small college art scholarship to Southwestern University. While I made some great friends at this school, I did not research the art department as much as I should have. Animation (or commercial art for that matter) was not available for study (during the time frame) and so after my sophomore year, I transferred to The University of North Texas. (I graduated with a B.A.A.S degree) but I still felt a little rudderless when it came to a career choice. While I had a lot of fun working in various summer jobs during and after college I realized that I was not getting any closer to pursuing a career doing something I really loved. I decided to go back to school and pursue my first love–animation. Even though I had a bachelor's degree I still decided to borrow the money and attend the Art Institute of Dallas to get an associate's degree in Computer Animation & Multimedia (CAMM). I worked hard on my demo reel and eventually landed a job with DNA Productions and worked as an animator and layout artist on the Academy Award-nominated feature film "Jimmy Neutron-Boy Genius" and the subsequent Annie award-winning TV series, not to mention "Olive, the Other Reindeer," "The Ant Bully," and "Jingaroo."

The moral of this story is to hold on to what you love to do and pursue it hard. I wish someone had given me this advice and pushed me harder when I was younger. I might have figured it all out a lot sooner and made some different choices earlier on. Don't get me wrong, I was not (and am not) unhappy and very much enjoyed my youth (and my life now) but I do often wonder what I might have achieved had I insisted on bettering my skills early on and pursued my artistic talents without hesitation.
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Thomas’s Answer

"1. Take animation 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. Of course, what animation program you choose should depend on your individual career goals, prior education, and existing skills.

Your options include associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs as well as non-degree programs like certificate and diploma programs. Degree programs usually provide a broader education, moving from foundational to advanced courses, while non-degree programs narrow in on specific specialties and may require existing skills or prior knowledge of certain areas.

Either way, 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. Dedicate yourself to developing your skills.
No matter how good your animation program is, your instructors can only teach you so much about how to become an animator. They can push you to achieve your best, but ultimately you have to put in the hard work.

On top of building foundational art skills and learning animation and editing software, you’ll also want to develop acting and observation skills. Doing so can help you understand body language and movements, so that you can recreate specific emotions and qualities in your characters. Teamwork is another big one. Animation projects require collaboration, and you’ll need practice being a good group member and managing feedback and critiques.

3. Create a stellar portfolio and demo reel.
Ask any industry professional how to become an animator, and they’ll tell you that having a standout portfolio is key. At The Art Institutes system of schools, building portfolio pieces is an essential part of the curriculum in our Media Arts & Animation programs.

For animators, it’s best to host your portfolio online, where you can have a section for a short demo reel and an area for longer work samples. Each piece you share should include a recap of the work you did and your project goals. Only share your best work, updating your portfolio and reel as you create new and stronger pieces. Don’t forget to include a contact section on your site as well as your resume and a brief overview of your background and interests.

For portfolio ideas, you can review online portfolios of other animators, or, if you’re in school, ask your Career Services team and instructors for feedback and advice.

4. Get a variety of work experience.
Secure internships and freelance jobs while you’re in school to gain experience outside the classroom. (Your Career Services team or your instructors may be able to help you connect with current industry professionals.)

Even after you graduate and find a full-time role, you’re more likely to start out in an entry level position than in a lead animator job. As you work to advance your career, you may still want to do select freelance work or volunteer for organizations you really care about. All of this experience can help you network with other professionals, build your skills, and continue to expand your portfolio. Remember, a large part of how to become an animator is putting in the time and effort to your own development and success!"
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