Character Animator

Learn about the role, salary, software and skills needed to become a Character Animator

Character Animator Job Description

A Character Animator is a specialist in character creation. They breathe life into characters, by giving moving images the illusion of thought, emotion and personality. This is created through gesture, facial expression and reaction, with animators sometimes using motion capture to replicate human movement.  

Character Animators can work on films, TV shows and video games, and require a strong understanding of acting and directing in order to create believable, empathetic characters.

The gaming industry is employing the use of complex characters to connect with gamers and produce a more heightened experience. As the sophistication and demand for 3D animation increases so does the demand for good Character Animators.

The first step in the animation process is storyboarding, that is, visualizing the story (see Storyboard Artist). Here, each scene is sketched out and the action is mapped over a sequence of panels. This serves as a guide for the production process. 

The characters and backgrounds are then modeled in three-dimensional forms using virtual rigs which are then textured to produce an outer layer.

Their movements and trajectories are then inputted into the software as mathematical equations which are then rendered via a graphics processing unit which outputs the final animation.  

Role and Responsibilities

Character Animators are specialist animators who work solely on character creation and development. Their role is to produce believable, engaging and relatable animations, they breathe personality into images and bring them to life.

There is a special talent required to become a Character Animator. They possess an ability to give ‘humanity’ to an animated character through expression, pose, body language, etc to evoke empathy in the audience/player. 

The responsibilities of the Character Animator may include:

  • Working from a brief from the Lead Animator regarding the characters to be animated
  • Researching styles, genre and specifics of the project
  • Creating 3D animations from sketches provided by designers
  • Working from storyboards to create sequences
  • Developing look and feel of character movements
  • Ensuring character consistency 
  • Reviewing and maintaining animation standards
  • Revising sketches and animatics as per feedback from Lead Animators
  • Animating character mood, emotion, facial expressions, movement and behavior
  • Producing animatics of scenes and sequences, providing options of character movement and behavior
  • Working to a tight schedule and delivering amendments to deadline
  • Collaborating and creating improved workflows and procedures
  • Integrating characters into animated scenes and background environments
  • Animating to dialogue track
  • Syncing animation to dialogue, sound effects, soundtrack, foley, etc
  • Brainstorming with colleagues on the best creative solutions for the production
  • Applying motion capture to animation

Software and Other Tools

Character Animators work exclusively with computer software. Some film and game studios work with their own customized software, so animators must be fast learners.

They may need to have a working knowledge of some or all of the following tools:

  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • LightWave
  • Flash Professional
  • MotionBuilder
  • Unreal Engine
  • Substance Designer/Painter

Skills Required

Character Animators have a special affinity for giving personality, idiosyncratic movement and a psychology to animated characters. These can be human, animal, mechanical (Cars), robots (WALL-E), insects (Bug’s Life), etc. 

Employers may look for the following skills when hiring Character Animators:

  • Artistic talent, with an affinity for drawing character
  • Trained in the basics of visual language - perspective, point of view, proportion, color, composition, framing, etc
  • Visual storyteller 
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Knowledge of acting styles and techniques
  • Solid understanding of anatomy
  • Understanding of movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Ability to recreate animal and human movements 
  • Adept at working well within a team as well as independently
  • Able to take direction and deliver amendments within deadline
  • Training in animation, character drawing and fine art
  • Familiarity with rigging, modeling and texturing 
  • Experience with task management and scheduling
  • Some knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies
  • Awareness of interactivity and user experience principles 
  • Working knowledge of the laws of physics - gravity, acceleration and the laws of energy

Average Salary

The average salary for a Character Animator for film and games varies from USD $56,000 to USD $111,000. Salaries depend on experience, location, and industry. (Source: Glassdoor)

This role is highly specialized and not usually an entry-level animation job. Consider taking an animation course to learn the skills you need to get started as an Animator, then narrow your focus once you've built up some experience and high quality character animation work to show potential employers.

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Animation?


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