Computer Animation

So you want to do Computer Animation?

A FAQ for those interested in getting into the field of Computer Animation...

Question: How can I get into Computer Animation

My question to you is: are you an ART type or a COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS) type?

If you are interested in the artistic aspects of Computer Animation and not Computer Science, then you want to be talking to someone else. Try this article from Ask the Headhunter, or the following:

Now, if you are still with me, that means you must be a CS type. My advice to you is to:

Question: What kind of jobs are there in the entertainment industry for CS types?

By 'entertainment', I'm referring to feature length film companies and companies which do TV commercials. The jobs vary from company to company, but there are basically 3 types of jobs:

  1. R & D: developing underlying infrastructure and general utilities. Some of this software falls into the category of what every company needs; some are production tools that can be used in a variety of projects for manipulating images and graphical objects.
  2. Production Support: writing ad hoc scripts and programs for doing things specific to a production
  3. Technical Director: The person(s) responsible for getting the technical aspect of the production, or a scene of the production, completed. Might have one or more programmers to direct.
Jobs in #2 and #3 are production jobs - they are under the gun as far as deadlines for a given production is concerned. Crunch time can demand 80 hour weeks at times. The big players in entertainment include: ILM, Pixar, PDI, Digital Domain, Disney, Rythm and Hues, Imageworks, Dreamworks. But these days there are lots of small players plus companies which do nitche work such as motion capture and modeling.

Question: What other kinds of jobs are there besides in the feature length film and commercial animation houses?

Closely related to the jobs above are those in the gaming industry (e.g. Electronic Arts) By their nature, the gaming companies (same as the feature film companies) are always trying to outdo each other. As a result, they need CS types to push the state-of-the-art.

Other industries are also getting involved in animation. The end users in these industries will use off-the-shelf software who don't have to be CS types. But there are still companies which develop software for these industries as well as companies which do custom animation work for the industries. Both of these need CS types for the programming.

The application areas include:

Question: As a CS-type, do I need artistic skills?

No - not necessarily. Although you probably should have some artistic sense. Some companies look for CS types with some type of aesthetic interests such as photography, film, sculpture, stop-motion animation, etc. However, sometimes you will find companies that are just looking for good CS types to develop their infrastructure (.e.g, database systems, GUI programming).

Question: What other skills are good to have?

As a foundation, you should know the rendering pipeline well. Various other technical skills are useful: being able to write Renderman shaders, modeling skills, a good background in math and physics, a knowledge of numerical methods, etc. See my resource page on Computer Animation.

For most jobs, you need to work with artists. You need people skills - the ability to listen to and respond to what the artists want. You also need to present and defend ideas, and be able to shoot down bad ideas with reasoned arguements.

Question: What other information is available about computer animation from a technical viewpoint?

Funny you should ask. I've written a book on it. Also, see my resource page on Computer Animation.

Question: What do I need to apply for a job?

A resume and a portfolio. Highlight anything you've done with respect to images and animation. Include a cover sheet explaining the techniques you used, what you programmed yourself (v. off-the-shelf software). Including a critical critique of your work is a good idea. In short: convince them that you've got something to offer.

Question: What do I need to be employable?

There are *tons* of people who 'want to get into animation'. How are you going to stand out from the crowd? Do you have artistic and technical talent? An honors thesis project or a Master's Thesis are good ways to do a serious project in animation. Take graphics classes - learn the display pipeline. Do some computer animation. Do stop-motion animation. Just do it.

Question: What's a TD?

It stands for Technical Director. What it means varies from company to company but usually it means the technical person responsible for the technical support necessary to get a scene completed.

Question: What schools are there for CS types which will help me get into Computer Animation?

Among the best schools for combining CS Computer Animation with artistic objectives are:

Question: What does CSE at OSU have to offer?

What CSE doesn't do (but which ACCAD does) is:

Question: What software do you use in CSE?

Basically we don't use any - we teach how to program the algorithms, not use off-the-shelf software.

The animation we produce here is not the polished kind that you see from PDI or Pixar. We worry about the algorithms used to control or specify the motion of objects - and leave the aesthetics to the artists such as those at ACCAD (see below).

We do end up using such packages as Maya, Houdini, Renderman, and Steve May's AL to facilitate building models and rendering images, but only because it's convenient for us to do so. We don't teach these; students are expected to pick them up on their own or over at ACCAD.

Question: What does ACCAD have to offer?

Funny you should ask. See ACCAD Information for CSE Students.

ACCAD is in the process of reorganizing some of their courses and giving permanent numbers to them. There are 694s which are currently offered, but the new numbers and titles, listed under the Arts College will be:

Question: What should I study to prepare myself for computer animation?

Here are some ideas:

Some simple projects to code up might be to:
Rick Parent (domain:; url: domain/~parent
My computer animation resource page
Last updated July 2005