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Animation F.A.Q.!

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions in the animation industry:

Do you have a question that isn't listed here? Write me an e-mail and I'll post it with an answer. (Just click on the MAILBAG link on the side bar.)

    What is the best advise that you would give to someone improving and/or learning CHARACTER DESIGN?

    Start by copying other drawings and think about the process of drawing, asking yourself, "Why
    did the artist draw this in this way?" Once you have copied the character in the same pose, start drawing that character doing different things, making sure the character still looks "on model". Try drawing the face showing different expressions, i.e. smiling, yelling, laughing, sad, suprised, etc. Keep drawing the same character until you feel really comfortable with them and can draw them doing anything. Find another character and do the same thing again. As soon as you feel like you can, design your own character and follow the same process.


    What is the best advise that you would give to someone learning ANIMATION?

    Learn to draw comfortably first. Both life drawing and cartoons. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to make something move if you can't even draw it the same way twice. Once you do know how to draw half decently, start with the basics, like the ball bounce or the pendulum. I remember when I was about 15, trying to animate Spider-man shooting his web. I had no idea as to what I was doing, either drawing the figure or trying to make him move.

    The best book available right now on animation is Richard Williams, The Animator's Survival Kit (that is until my book is finished next month). He is very arrogant and opinionated, but once you get past this, his principles are sound.


    Do you use a GRAPHIC TABLET to draw cartoons on the computer?

    I have a Wacom Drawing Slate, the nice big one but I have given up on using it to draw. There is nothing like a pencil on paper. Sure you still have to scan it in but for animation it's paper all the way.


    How do you get a job in animation?

    Before I answer this question, you must first answer a question - What do you want to do at an animation studio? There are lots of different departments to work in, depending on the studio size and the particular production they're working on. These are the artistic departments within an animation studio:

    • Conceptual design
    • Character development
    • Character design
    • Storyboarding
    • Location design
    • Prop design
    • Effects design
    • Layout
    • Animation posing
    • Animation - Senior Animator
    • Assistant Animator
    • Inbetweener
    • Color Stylist
    • Background - Senior Key Background artist
    • Background painter

    Once you've decided where you want to work the answer to this is- Put together a portfolio of:

    1. life drawings
    2. object drawing
    3. animal drawing
    4. some character drawings
    5. artwork that focuses on the area that you want to work in.

    For example: Background department - show examples of color work you have done in watercolors, gauche, markers, and airbrush if you have it.

    For the Layout department - show examples of line environmental drawings (rooms, exterior locations, both man made and natural), marker tonal renderings.
    For the Storyboarding department - show a sample of sequential story sketches for a short sequence, showing your understanding of shot and camera angle selection as well as your storytelling abilities.
    If you don't have a portfolio of work, you'll have to start drawing right now. A good entry level portfolio may take anywhere from 6 weeks to several years to put together. If you have no formal training, this may be a problem. You'll probably have to enroll in some night school courses or continuing education or find a college that offers a full time animation program. Pretty much all of these colleges will require a portfolio application, which puts you back to the top of this paragraph.
    It's very rare that a studio will hire someone with no formal animation education. The competition is just too fierce for the average "Joe" out there unless they have some God-gifted talent that puts them up there with someone who's been through a college level program.

    The next big step is to simply call the studio up and ask for an interview with the head of the department that you want to get into or speak to someone in the recruitment department.

    Yellow BUTTON

    What do you put in a portfolio?

    Your portfolio should include your best artwork. It should be made up of the following:1) Life drawings - About 15 - 25 drawings. - Gestural sketches 1 minute - 3 minute poses. - Sustained poses 5 minutes - 15 minutes. All drawings should show the hands and feet wherever possible. By leaving them off, it means you can't draw them and this will be a negative against you. 2) Object drawing - Around 15 - 20 sketches of everyday objects from around the house showing a strong sense of perspective and structure. 3) Animal drawing - Same as life drawings. 4) Some character drawings - Don't submit established characters that the studio has produced or any other characters like: Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse. Studios don't like this at all. Even if you can draw them just as good as the originals, avoid this like the plague. It will hurt you more than help you. Submit your own characters that you've developed. Show them doing different things and expressing different emotions. Be sure that if you're doing 4 or 5 drawings of the same character that they stay "on model", otherwise it'll look bad on you. 5) Artwork that focuses on the area that you want to work in: Conceptual design - rough and finished (color) conceptual drawings for characters, costumes, locations, props, etc.

    Character development - a wide variety of concept sketches for characters showing a series of developmental drawings through to the final designs. Show both initial rough sketches and finished color renderings. Show a wide variety of design styles.

    Character design - present model sheets and character poses for a wide range of character types and styles.

    Storyboarding - show a sample of sequential story sketches for a short sequence, showing your understanding of shot and camera angle selection as well as your storytelling abilities.

    Location design - environmental sketches. Early concept roughs, developmental sketches and final location drawings. Show both interior and exterior locations. Display a wide variety of architectural design styles, geographical, and time eras. Structure and perspective very important.

    Prop design - similar to the object drawing outlined above, but show the objects from several different points of view as well as being used by a character. Structure and perspective very important.

    Effects design - observational drawings of water splashing, dripping, pouring, snow, smoke, fire, light, bubbles, leaves falling, rippling water, glass breaking, etc., etc. Analytical observation and artistic recording of these effects on paper.

    Layout - show examples of line, environmental drawings (rooms, exterior locations, both man made and natural), marker tonal renderings. Display a wide variety of architectural design styles, geographical, and time eras. Structure and perspective very important.

    Animation posing - character drawings showing a wide range of actions, attitudes and emotions. An animation demo reel is a huge asset (if not absolutely mandatory with most studios). Must display an understanding of the principles of animation:

    • anticipation - action - reaction
    • timing
    • overlapping action and follow through
    • squash and stretch
    • exaggeration
    • strong line of action
    • structure
    • proportions
    • volumes
    • weight
    • balance

    Animation - Senior Animator - has had experience animating for several years at a high level of quality. An animation demo reel is a must. Depending on the persons reputation within the animation field, a portfolio is optional (you probably wouldn't ask to see Glen Keane's portfolio for anything other than pure entertainment. This person must display an extremely high level of understanding and application of all the above mentioned principles of animation.

    Assistant Animator - same as the animation posing position.

    Inbetweener - same basic skills as the animation posing position but maybe at a slightly lower level.

    Color Stylist - show examples of color work you have done in watercolors, gauche, markers, and airbrush if you have it. Must have a strong sense of color values and color theory as it applies to the emotional and psychological aspects of the human mind.

    Background- show examples of color work you have done in watercolors, gauche, markers, and airbrush if you have it. Must have a strong sense of color values and color theory.

    Be sure your portfolio is neat and clean. This is an investment in your future. Don't cut back on the quality of the copies you're sending; get laser copies if the drawing is black and white or a color copy would be even better. Nothing smaller than 8 1/2" x 11" in a plastic sleeve booklet or no larger than a 2' x 2 1/2' portfolio. Anything larger becomes cumbersome for the viewer.

    Glue the drawings to the backing paper to avoid the dreaded "slipping art" syndrome where your drawings float around inside the plastic sleeve making your presentation look sloppy. A little dab of glue stick on the back of the drawing should be enough to fix it into place.

    Don't get the binder type portfolios with the one billion rings in them. The plastic sleeves tend to shrink over time and cause the binding rings to shred the sleeves whenever you turn a page. It gets messy after a while, I know, I have two of them... BIG mistake! Get the ones with 5 or 6 rings, they're much nicer and neater.

    Arrange your artwork in a pleasing way on the page so that there is a flow to your composition of drawings. Don't put too many drawings all on one page. It tends to clutter it up too much. Conversely, don't put just one drawing on the page unless it takes up the entire page and looks absolutely amazing. By putting this one drawing by itself you're saying, "Hey! Look at me, I'm all by myself so I must be something pretty hot... take a good long look."

    You must understand that the assessor will probably spend no more than 5 seconds on a page (if that) and only longer if they see something that catches their eye, both good and bad. By having the single drawing on a page is only inviting closer scrutiny. So, if the drawing is good, do it. If it's not so good, don''t do it.

    Arrange your drawings by department, meaning - keep all your life drawing together, all your object drawing together, etc., etc.

    Only send copies of your work, never send an original! Only send the original if the studio specifically asks for it.

    Try to have your portfolio start off strong and end it off very strong with your best pieces of work.


    Do studios only hire people who have been to an animation school?

    Almost always. An extremely high percentage of people are hired out of the college or university level programs. This is simply due to the fact that these people have entry level training and can begin working immediately without the studio having to train them for several months.


    Where are the animation schools?

    Pretty much everywhere. Well not really, although sort of.
    There are 4 kinds of schools:

    1. Continuing Education
    2. College/Universities
    3. Independent schools
    4. Internet/Correspondence school training

      Here is a link to Animation World Network and their database listing of over 440 animation schools around the world.


    What are the entry requirements for animation schools?

    Most post secondary schools require that you have at least a grade 12 level education. After that they usually have some sort of a portfolio submission that you must make. Some schools are very specific and have an exact number of drawings that they will review. These can usually be gotten by contacting the respective registrar's office.

    The portfolios usually contain life drawings, some perspective examples of both objects and environments, and some of your own personal work.

    Most programs usually don't like to see "Tattoo Art", meaning: flaming skull heads, big-breasted, scantily clad women copied from Victoria's Secret catalogs or other types of magazines, comic book art, copies of established characters such as Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse, cute kitty cats, unicorns, or gross nose picking, farting, disembowelment joke art. They also don't like oversized artwork or sculptures.


    I would like to know if I have a chance in the working world after I graduate? Will it matter that my education was from St. Clair rather than Sheridan or Seneca? Or, does it basically come down to my portfolio reel?

    That's a complicated question that has 4 factors associated with it:

    1) School reputation
    2) Faculty abilities
    3) Curriculum
    4) Your drive and ability

    These each interweave with each other.

    1) School reputation
    Much of this is through the school's own track record of student placement after graduation. It can also be something that is generated by a publicity department within the school. The student placement can be misleading and in some cases false. When a school boasts of 100% student placement after, say 6 months, the students may not all be in the jobs that they were actually educated for. Some of them may be working for Pizza Pizza for all you know.

    If the school has a good reputation based on the number of students who have gone on to do well in the industry, it's a good chance that most of the work to do well was done by the student themselves a few years after graduating as opposed to the school actually having a direct hand in helping them win that Oscar. It's true, the student probably knew next to nothing about animation when they came into the program and learned all the basics at the school but excelling in the industry 6 years later has very little to do with the school itself.

    On the other hand, a school with a good reputation will draw more studio representatives to take a look at the new crop of students as opposed to the "Hickville Animation School for Gifted Students".

    2) Faculty abilities
    I personally think this and #4 are the most important things to consider. The instructors need to have at the very minimum, 10 years of working experience in an animation studio, not just their own studio but a larger production house. Request to see the faculties resumes either on their website or in print. If the school is reluctant to show this information, this could be a sign to beware.

    Also, I have found that just because someone has lots of experience, this doesn't mean that they know how to teach. It's quite possible that the instructor just can't find any work and has no option but to teach. I realize that I'm painting myself into a corner here. The old saying goes: "Those that can, do... those that can't, teach". While this may be true in some cases, it's not in the majority. Teaching is tough. It may be more stable but it pays a lot less and the aggravation is equal in studio or in class. It takes a very special type of person to be able to teach and do at the same time.

    3) Curriculum
    This is pretty much standardized as far as the basics go. My observations have been that the differences lie in the number of assignments and the intensity of the grading in each individual course within each semester.

    How long should the course be? 2, 3 or 4 years? Most college level programs are 3 years long. The battle cry of the graduating students was always, "After 2nd year, leave!" You get the bulk of your education in the first two years. In many cases, 3rd year is finishing school to put together a final film for portfolio. In my experience, very low percentage of students actually use this time wisely or fruitfully.

    Any program that is 4 years long is trying to get more money out of you.

    My feeling is that a 2 year program is probably the best with a 3rd year of specialization in something like computer animation.

    4) Your drive and ability
    This is probably the most important element of all. You're the one with the gift of being able to draw. If you're like most of us in animation, the statement, "Ever since I was a little kid, I've wanted to draw." rings pretty true. If this is something that you would probably shrivel up and die without, then your own determination and drive should get you through... with the proper training.

    I've had several students with lots of talent and no drive bomb out of the course and I've also seen lots of students with a little talent and tons of drive do very well and go on to successful careers.

    So, as you can see, all of these things do interact with each other, it's not just one thing or the other.

    What it really comes down to is, what do you do with your pencil when you get an assignment. How much research, thought, effort, and guts do you put into it. The end result will always be your portfolio. If it's better than the other person who is applying at the same time you are, you'll most likely get the job.

    BLUE BUTTONWhat does "The Claw" from Inspector Gadget look like?

    I get asked this all the time. During the actual production from January 1983 - June1983 we worked on 64 shows. Myself and Charlie Bonafacio were the only two character designers working on the production. I handled the bulk of the designing working on all the incidental characters in each show. This included the guest M.A..D. agents that the Claw employed to get rid of Gadget, the young friends that Penny made from time to time, any scientists that were kidnapped by the M.A.D. agents, and the animals that made the odd appearance here and there. I also did the odd M.A.D. vehicles like submarines and stuff. The primary characters were already designed, like: Gadget, Penny, Brain, Inspector Quimby, The Claw and Mad Cat.

    The schedule was so hectic, one show every 2 - 3 days that we simply didn't have any time to do any joke drawings. As a matter of fact, I don't recall once the topic of what The Claw looked like ever coming up.

    I do have my own theory on The Claw though. Here's how I see it: We all know that Inspector Gadget is a robot, here's how I think he came into being. The real live Inspector Gadget was caught in the middle of some police force conspiracy and was set up to "take the fall". In the ensuing explosion that was meant to kill him he was actually horribly disfigured and crawled away a la the Phantom of the Opera. The police force, in order to cover up the mishap secretly created the new robotic Inspector Gadget to take the real Gadget's place. The real Inspector Gadget sunk into a terrible psychotically maddened state sought to destroy his artificial replacement and it has since become an obsession. The voice is a result of the explosion effecting his vocal cords.

    Of course there are many holes in this theory that still need to be worked out. We'll see what Disney and Matthew Broderick do with it in the upcoming live action film.


    What's it like working in an animation studio?

    Working in an animation studio can be a lot of fun, you just have to remember one thing: an animation studio is supposed to make animated cartoons; it must produce a product. Your sole function as an employee is to provide a function that helps to produce that product. Whether you have fun or not is not the responsibility of the studio or any of their supervisory staff. If you're in the storyboard department, you're getting paid to produce quality storyboards to a standard that is acceptable by your supervisor. If you can't perform this function, the studio will find someone who can to take your place.

    "But", you say, "Isn't animation an art form? How can you place a price or pass a judgement on art?" Practically speaking, you have to place a price on art and pass judgement. If you didn't place a price on it, you wouldn't get paid for your work. If you want to get paid for it, you must have someone who is willing to shell out some cash for what you want to do. I think that if it was you paying for the art, you'd be passing judgement on whether or not it was worth paying for it. As in any field you are paid according to your talent level and output capabilities.

    As an artist within the studio system, and for that matter, the entire animation industry, you are gauged by your talent level, attitude, and ability to get along with others. Nobody wants to work with someone who is constantly griping and complaining or someone who criticizes others behind their backs. Nor does anyone particularly enjoy working with someone who is incapable of fulfilling their artistic responsibilities


    What do you get paid in animation?

    Salaries can vary quite dramatically from studio to studio and job to job. The difficult thing is charging the proper amount for the job to cover your artistic work, physical time spent on the job, and materials used. You don't want to over charge and loose any future work or get into a haggling situation with the employer with the standard comment of, "Well, I could get my nephew to do it for nothing." You also don't want to under charge and end up getting paid less than minimum wage.

    For freelance work, it depends on your talent level which is reflected in your portfolio. The better you are and the higher quality your work is the more you can charge. This rate can be anything from $15.00 per hour to $150.00 per hour. Usually a job is paid for on a flat rate basis which requires a bit of thought and a well worked out budget. Resist the request from your potential employer to give them a ballpark figure for the job. You will invariably quote too low and burn yourself when you present the final budget. Tell them you can't give a ballpark figure as it requires a fully worked out budget.

    Within an animation studio your wages are usually standardized either by the studio or by the union. There are usually 3 levels of payment:

    1. Apprentice
    2. Junior
    3. Senior.

    These categories are dependant on your work experience, both type of positions you have experience in and the number of years you've done it for. This is ultimately shown through the quality of work presented in your portfolio.

    There is also that special upper eschelon category for those few artists who are deemed inexpendable by the studio. These are the ones that get the baseball figure salaries. These people are one in every 10,000. It is highly unlikely (though not unattainable) that you will ever be this person. It takes an incredible amount of talent to be one of these people.

    The average starting wage is around $30,000.00 and can go up to $60,000.00. Upper echelon people such as Animation Directors or Show Directors can get up to $150,000.00 depending on the production quality, budget and studio. Don't forget that these productions can last anywhere from 6 months to 3 or 4 years. Sometimes there are extended layoffs between productions which will require you to look for temporary work as a freelance illustrator or pizza delivery person.


    How can I learn to animate?

    The simple answer to this is to find a good college or university level animation program. Here is a link to Animation World Network and their database listing of over 440 animation schools around the world.

    (Just be sure to come back here some time again, o.k.?)


    What kind of equipment do you use?

    I normally draw at a large table that I got at Ikea. It's 2' x 4' and usually I have a sheet of frosted plexiglass set up on an incline supported by a Luxo Lamp underneath. This acts as a makeshift light table. I can tape a portable animation pegbar to it with masking tape. I also have a portable animation table made of particle board with a 16 1/2" hole cut into it to hold my Chromacolor 12 fld animation disk.

    I have a Panasonic Auto Stop electric pencil sharpener. (Actually, I have 3 of them, I bought them all back in 1981 and they all work great!) I highly recommend this pencil sharpener if you can find it.


    When you draw characters, do you draw all the structural lines and center lines?

    Yes, I still draw all these lines. It's become such an ingrained habit that it just becomes second nature to draw them. Without these lines I'd feel like I'm just guessing and I'd end up making structural mistakes.


    What can I do to get better?

    As they say, "Practice makes perfect." Draw, draw, draw. Draw every day. However, don't just draw anything. Pick things that are around your house, objects that can easily be drawn fully within 1/2 an hour, like a stapler, can opener, video remote control, etc. There's no point in drawing a '57 Chevy.


    What part of the layout should I start with?

    You don't worry about the border of the picture at all to start off with. You can adjust this later after the drawing is roughed out.

    The first line is the horizon line to establish your (or the viewers) eye level. If you draw most of the environment above the horizon line, you are low to the ground showing an up shot. If you draw most of the environment below the horizon line, you're up high and it's a down shot.

    You need to know the dimensions of the environment as well; is the room 8 feet high? The relationship of the lines you draw for the floor and ceiling in relation to the horizon line will determine the viewers point of view. Also, the smaller you draw this wall on the page will determine how far away from it you are (the depth).

    Pretend you're just drawing a box from the inside. Look at the little thumbnails at the end of the Layout Examples book that show the different perspective setups.