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Computer Animation Basics

Computer animation is defined as an art form created through the use of a computer where the images created are able to show movement. The first form of computer animation was developed in 1961 by a student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The student by the name of Ivan Sutherland was the first person to develop software that allowed a person to draw an image using a computer and a special form of pen. This software was named ‘Sketchpad’. From this point, computer animation would begin to expand and evolve until the release of a completely computer animated movie release in 1986. Computer animation is extremely popular because virtually anyone with the software is able to create their own designs and animated features. Traditional animation was very time consuming, requiring several people and expensive equipment. Today there are countless types of computer animation software and concepts but each of these have a foundation built on the basics of Sutherland’s design.

The process of computer animation begins with the use of computer animation software. There are various types and the software used is merely a matter of preference. Computer animators are artists that create their visions as on computers instead of on paper. A computer animator must have mathematical skills in addition to artistic ability to develop accurate measurements when drawing or modeling animations. They use light and colors in addition to structure, in strategic ways to give the appearances of movement. These visions ‘come to life’ with the use of complex tools found within animation software. Computer animation is used in various industries, most commonly television and movie production, though also in video game production and construction planning. For entertainment purposes, computer animation is less expensive and time consuming than other forms of animation. In other industries, computer animation is the most realistic form of modeling especially with construction as the actual dimensions are able to be accurately portrayed.

Those interested in pursuing a career as a computer animator should enroll in a program specifically designed for computer animation. These programs focus on both the technical and artistic aspects of animation. Computer animators can be employed by a number of industries including motion picture industries, advertising companies, computer design and software publishing companies. Income can vary from anywhere around $32,000 up to $100,000 per year based upon experience and the specific industry the computer animator is employed in. The demand for computer animators in the coming years is expected to increase by around sixteen percent, making it a very steady and upcoming industry. Before pursing a career in this field, it is a good idea to become familiarized with the basic history of computer animation, the language of the industry, the tools used and what it takes to have a career in the field.

Evolution of Computer Animation

Computer animation as it is today began taking shape in the 1980’s though many designs and ideals had to come into play to develop modern day computer animation. The basics of computer animation can be traced back to the beginnings of art. Art has always provided an entertainment value and the development of this idea lead to traditional animation. In 1887, Thomas Edison began working with the concept of motion pictures. The first animations were little more than a series of drawings with slight variations on each image. Thomas Edison discovered that by creating small differences in each picture, when the images were put together in the form of a ‘flipbook’, these images all together created the illusion of one moving image. This idea was used for all animated images until the 1960’s. Ivan Sutherland’s creation of ‘Sketchpad’, enabled artists and animators to apply this concept to computer images. The movie ‘Toy Story’ was the world’s first completely computer animated movie. Toy Story was created by a company of the name Pixar, a branch of Disney, and was first released in 1995. The world of computer animation is continually changing and developing new concepts.

  • History of Animation: The development of animation from ancient times to modern day computer animation is discussed. 

Computer Graphic and Animation Glossaries

Terms used within the world of computer animation are often difficult to comprehend. There are several versions of dictionaries and glossaries that focus solely on computer graphic and animation terms. Basic knowledge of these words is a necessity for working in this field and can be helpful even to beginners in understanding the process of computer animation. Often times the jargon of the industry will be included in one of the first lessons introduced in a school of animation.

  • Web Video Glossary: A guide and explanation of basic terms used within web video computer animation.
  • Animation: Basic animation terms are defined in great detail.

Computer Animation Tools Defined

As with traditional artists, computer animators have tools that make their jobs much easier and produce better quality. The most basic tool used in computer animation is a computer. Animators often use computers with large amounts of space and are designed specifically to display the most accurate colors and visual effects. Computer animators also use a variety of different software to create their visions on computers. There are large quantities of software that essentially create animated images, however some are 2D while others create 3D images. The software, computer and other tools used will be determined by the animator based upon what they are looking to create.

Computer Animation Careers and Applications

A career in the field of computer animation is not for everyone. Computer animation takes a very artistically, technologically and mathematically skilled person. A person of these talents can enroll in a school specializing in computer animation to further develop their skills. After completing proper training, a computer animator can be employed in a large variety of industries- mostly motion picture production and computer design. Computer animators are in high demand as it does take a very skilled person to create well developed designs. The growth expectancy for demand is expected to be double that of the majority of other careers in the coming years. 

Additional Information

Those wishing to pursue a career as a computer animator may wish to research the basics of what the job entails before enrolling in an educational program. Basic software can also be purchased to allow beginners to experiment with the artistic and technical aspects of computer animation before committing to a career path in the field. It is common for animators to have basic knowledge through experimentation before enrolling in a school of animation. Additional resources on animation schools as well as tips and tutorials on computer animating can be found below.

  • Computer Animation in the Classroom: A guide to learning the various aspects of computer animation, including classes required and how computer animation is changing the world of learning.

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