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What does the average day look like for a 3D computer animator and/or advertiser?

I am currently an art student in high school, and I've always wanted to go into an artistic career. I was thinking about graphic designing, but I want to take it a step further and pursue a career where I animate, specifically advertisement commercials or even in movies or television shows. #art #graphic-design #career #design #animation

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Jarien’s Answer

First off that's great you're interested in art as a career! In a professional setting, the things you're asking about actually end up being a few different jobs or career paths. Graphic design is usually 2D. It's about how to place images and text on a page, how to pick colors to draw the viewer's attention where you want, how to make sure all the information is clear, etc.

3D animation in ads, movies, or TV shows is a lot of work, and there are usually different specialists doing different parts of it. In some smaller companies, there may be one person doing several of the steps. In bigger companies with tons of artists, it may be broken down even further so each person has a very distinct specialty. Here are the general steps. Each one is its own discipline! It's good to start out practicing each step of the whole process, just to understand it and get the hang of it. But it takes a long time to get good! Usually people will gravitate more towards one or a few of the steps, either because they like it or they're good at it, and then specialize in those areas.

1. Script: Before any animated action is created, someone writes out what happens and what the characters say. This may happen at the same time as step 2 concept art.
2. Concept art: This is basically 2D drawing. Designing characters, environments, props, vehicles, etc., for a 3D artist to create after you design it.
3. Storyboard / animatic: This is kind of like drawing a comic book, but the drawings aren't as detailed and it has more panels. This is to show all the action that will happen in the 3D production. Later on 3D animators follow this to determine how their animations should look.
3D modeling: This is basically like sculpting, but on a computer. You make the shape and volume of the character, environments, props, vehicles, etc.
4. Texturing & materials: This is kind of like painting a sculpture, but in a digital 3D space. In 3D, this step goes beyond just color. You pick different materials that have different properties. For example is this red leather, which is shiny and has this grain? Or is this red cloth, which is matte and has a fabric weave pattern?
5. Rigging: This is like setting up the armature of a puppet. Creating a virtual rig with a system of controls, that an animator will then use.
6. Animating: This is what it sounds like! Using the control rig to make the character, vehicles, etc. move.
7. Visual effects, aka VFX. This is stuff like magic swirls in fantasy movies, laser blasts in science fiction, and often realistic effects in movies are actually done on computer. There's a sort of sub-set of visual effects called particles or fluid dynamics. This is stuff like water or fire.
8. Lighting: This is very similar to lighting a movie set or a live theatre production. Lights in 3D mimic lights in the real world. Initially it may seem like all the storytelling happens with the animation, but lighting tells a story too. It sets a mood, an emotional tone. Bright sunlight with harsh shadows make people feel different than dim soft light with fuzzy shadows. The color of lights also has a big impact.
8. Cameras: I'm not actually sure the right term for this in animation - I mostly work in realtime stuff like video games. But someone is responsible for setting up the virtual shot. How close the camera is to the action, if the camera holds still or moves, how fast it moves, etc. This follows the storyboard from step 3. Virtual cameras mimic real-world cameras, so there are settings like shutter speed, aperture, depth of focus, etc.
9. Rendering: This can get pretty technical. It's basically the process of turning the 3D scene into a 2D image that gets played as a frame of a movie/show/ad. There are a lot of different technical settings to tell the computer how to do this. Movies typically run at 24 frames per second, so a 90-minute movie is about 130,000 frames! This is a ton of digital files to store, so there are often people whose jobs is to help with managing and storing these files.
10. Compositing: This is the process of adjusting the rendered output in 2D to things like editing the contrast, increasing brightness, shifting colors more towards a certain hue, blurring certain parts, editing specific visual effects, etc. Often different parts of each frame are rendered separately, and the compositor puts them together. For example there might be one render of the characters, another render of the background, another render of a vehicle, and another render of the exhaust from the vehicle. The compositor puts these togethers in layers and adjusts how they look. There are also what is referred to as different "render passes" that the compositor puts together. There might be one render that's just the shadows in a shot, another render that's just the reflections, and another render that's the main color. The compositor can adjust these relative to each other if for example they want the shadows darker or the reflections brighter.

Whew! There's a lot to it, and there are a few steps I skipped over or combined to keep this explanation from getting too complicated. As for your initial question, "what does the average day look like?" the main job is typically focusing a lot of time on one of the above steps.

Having other people review and approve your work is also a big part of it. When working on a big project, it's not just about what you like and what you think looks good, but what looks right for the project. For example a photoreal character may look impressive, but it will look out of place in a Pixar production that's heavily stylized. As artists work, there are usually different stages that they get feedback on their work, or sometimes regular time intervals when work is reviewed. Depending on the company, your direct supervisor may review your work, or it may be someone higher up like an Art Director. (There's a hierarchy of artists from Junior / Entry-level / Associate to Mid-level to Senior to Lead and on up to Art Director).

Another important part of the job is answering other artists' questions. For example a 3D modeler will probably ask the concept artist for some detailed information about what material something should be made of, or how cloth wraps around a character, if it's not quite clear in the concept art. The rigger or animator may ask the 3D modeler to make some revisions to the model so that it's easier for the rigger and animator to make it move. There's a lot of technical troubleshooting and collaboration.

This website has a nice introduction to some animation concepts, including 2D animation. It has a lot of links to more information (though some of the resources you have to pay for).

If you're really set on doing something in 3D animation as your career, check out:
This is where professionals hang out. Most of the articles on here get pretty complex and use industry jargon, so it may be hard to understand. But at least skimming this can give you an idea of the kind of things 3D professionals do. There's also a lot of news that's probably boring unless you're already in the industry, stuff like new computer parts that are more powerful for doing 3D work.

I hope this helps. Good luck and keep practicing art!
Thank you comment icon Omg! Thank you so much for all of the information. I much appreciate it. I'm currently writing a research paper and this helps more than you can imagine. Have a great day :D Gianna
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Jessica’s Answer

Wow! Jarien's answer is so thorough and covers a lot of the aspects related to animation and graphic design in a large company. I will say that, starting out, you may get some work in smaller companies/environments where you can do both. I did! And, honestly, learning motion graphics/kinetic typography is often seen as a plus to your skillset compared to other candidates you may interview against.

My first position as a graphic designer was for an architecture firm where the Global Head of Marketing usually let me know what they needed me to work on and who to collaborate with to ensure the work was completed to their direct specifications. I could create 2D prints with interior design/architecture idea boards, internal company newsletters, or email marketing blast campaigns. Or, I could also create motion graphics for advertising/commercials used at conventions, .gif web banner advertisements or as an award submission.

My second position was with a Marketing & Publicity office in an Air Force squadron. We often hosted acts from the USO or Armed Forces Entertainment (such as Empire, Magic!, Karmin and Three Days Grace). I got to create 2D designs for a monthly magazine for the Air Force Base (usually based around a monthly idea board the Marketing Director drafted that sets the theme, color scheme and fonts for the month), but had to keep much of the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment work true to its original/design branding. However, we would create animated advertisements for digital billboards around base, promotional videos for the special acts performing on base for social media and animated designs for the bands' digital backdrops for while they're performing on stage. It was a ton of fun. If you want more responsibility and variation in your work, you might get it more in a smaller company, but your pay and benefits may not be as impressive as what you could get from a larger company. Even at USAA as a presentation designer, I was able to incorporate motion graphic design into animations to help articulate process flow and teach employees about a new way of working they needed to follow. If you enjoy animation and it becomes a passion for you, it's not hard to find ways to incorporate it into your job as long as you're willing to bring these big ideas to the table, then follow through on your output.
Thank you comment icon Thank you !!! Thank you for all of the different perspectives and options I can research and look into. I really appreciate it. Thank you again, have a great day today :) Gianna