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Computer Animators

Images Brought To Life

Computer animation involves the manipulation of still images to create the illusion of movement. Using computer technology, a sequence of staggered images captured in related positions are made to appear as if they're really moving.

A computer-animated image can be two or three dimensional. South Park, the cartoon strip that looks as if it’s kooky characters that appear as they're made from flat, paper cut-outs appears to be 2D. Ted, the 3D, HBF bear is rendered (a technique where objects are created through the use of light, color, texture, shadow and transparency) to look like a real toy bear. Both are examples of 3D computer animation.

'Computer animation is about presenting ideas, images or objects that can't be presented in any other way and making them appear as life like as possible,' says David Rutherford, a computer animator at Double G Post Productions, the largest post producers of television commercials in WA.

Computer Animators at Work

Ted, the HBF bear is one of the projects David Rutherford has worked his computer animation magic on. First, he consulted a storyboard, a series of pictures usually hand drawn, which shows the flow of animation and maps out the important scenes and characters.

'My work is usually just a component of the overall ad. If an ad also features 'real talent' (actors), the actors are filmed separately. That footage and the computer animation is combined to form a composite.

'The actors have to pretend that the computer animated object is really there. I then slot in the object and make it appear as if it was there when the original shot was taken, matching the lighting and camera position. A trickier ad can take about six weeks to complete: four to do the computer animation, one for filming the live talent and about one to combine the whole product.'

Using laser equipment, computer animators scan images of real objects onto a computer and convert them to digital form. Usually the animator has to model the character or object in the computer, drawing curves, constructing surfaces and using primitive objects (such as spheres and cubes) to produce a wire frame model. Controls are then added to the model to allow it to be bent and posed. It becomes more like a digital puppet, moved into the key positions for an action and allowing the computer to work out the in-between positions for making a smooth action. From there, the object can be shaded with computer lights and rendered with a computer camera.

Whiz Digital Visual Effects Artist, Richard Turner says,

'If you plan to work in computer animation it's advantageous to understand photography, lighting and movement. You must be able to visualize how an object will look in three dimensions and have the know-how to make an inanimate object look real.'

Richard, who worked in photography before making the change to computer animation, is currently working on a computer animated television special called WildKat. He says Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will love it.

Before the advent of computer animation there was and still is conventional animation. The main difference between the two is that the animation in conventional animation is hand drawn including the in-between positions.

The starting salary in computer animation is about $25,000 with some local, more experienced computer animators earning in the vicinity of $55,000. Salaries can exceed this, especially for those working interstate.

According to an information technology industry spokesman, employment prospects are better further a field, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales, which boast computer game manufacturers and Fox Studio. Heading overseas also presents better opportunities.

An FTI WA spokesman says that although there are small numbers of computer animators working for the larger multimedia and video post production companies in Perth, there are a lot of self-employed animators developing projects in WA.

'Warner Bros Animation and Electronic Arts Publishing also have several productions under development, which may improve employment prospects. If given the go ahead, there could create approximately 60 positions for more experienced animators here in WA or interstate.'

In WA, most computer animators work in the multimedia industry doing web design or video post production.

Education requirements

Excellent drawing skills, an ability to visualize how animated objects should appear and a good understanding of conventional animation would be high on a potential employer's list of requirements. They would generally look for applicants who have completed some formal training in graphic art or multimedia, and request an artwork portfolio.

Naturally, a reasonable level of computer literacy is necessary in this occupation. More importantly though is a high level of confidence and the ability to learn quickly and apply new software programs. You can look forward to reading numerous software manuals to keep abreast of the constant technological change in this industry.

A number of institutions offer courses with computer animation components that will enable people interested in this field to develop the relevant skills.

Curtin University offers a three-year Bachelor of Arts degree in Multimedia Design, Edith Cowan University a three-year Bachelor of Communications degree in Multimedia Technologies and Murdoch University a three-year Bachelor of Multimedia degree. Please contact the relevant institution for further information.

The Advanced Diploma of Art and Design (Animation) is held at the Perth campus of TAFE. You will need to have completed the Diploma of Multimedia, or equivalent, to gain entry into the Advanced Diploma.

The Certificate IV in Multimedia is offered at various campuses of TAFE while the Diploma of Multimedia is offered at the East Perth and Joondalup campuses of TAFE.

computer animation, 3d computer animation, computer animators