Character Animator

The role, salary, software, and skills of a character animator

What does a character animator do?

A character animator is a specialization of a 3D animator. They breathe life into 3D characters, adding nuance and personality through their movements, gestures, facial expressions, and how they interact (and react) with their environment and other characters.   

The movements and trajectories created by an animator are inputted into relevant software as mathematical equations which are then rendered via a graphics processing unit that outputs the final animation in a 'playblast'. This is then reviewed by supervisors, directors, and clients for approval.

Character animator job description

A character animator's role is to produce believable, engaging, and relatable animations — taking rigged 3D characters and instilling  ‘humanity’ through expression, pose, body language, etc to evoke empathy in the audience or player. These can be humans, animals, machines (Cars), robots (WALL-E), insects (Bug’s Life), etc. 

This role requires a strong understanding of acting and human and animal anatomy to create believable, empathetic characters. Character animators often also use motion capture, or act out the scenes themselves to camera, to replicate human movement. Character animators can work on films, TV shows, advertising, and video games. 



Role & responsibilities of a character animator in film and games:

  • 'Breathing life' into 3D rigged character models
  • Researching visual style, genre, and technologies to produce each individual project
  • Applying motion capture to enhance performances
  • Identifying key scenes and sequences
  • Transforming storyboards into animated sequences
  • Managing files, animation libraries, and updating procedures documentation
  • Integrating sound and syncing dialogue

Skills required to become a character animator

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 a 3D animator, then narrow your focus once you've built up some experience and high-quality character animation work to show potential employers.

Film and game studios may look for the following skills in character animators:

  • Ability to visualize 3D iterations of two-dimensional storyboards and artwork
  • Great instinct for timing, movement, and editing cuts
  • Highly experienced working with 3D models and rigs (provided by 3d modelers and riggers, respectively)
  • Understanding of acting techniques, cinematography, and visual storytelling
  • Understanding of anatomy, how limbs move, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Knowledge of film and animation genres, and ability to work within these styles
  • Advanced concept of visual language - perspective, point of view, proportion, color, composition, framing, etc.
  • Working knowledge of the laws of physics - gravity, acceleration, and the laws of energy

What software and tools do character animators use?

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

Character animators may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

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

How much does a character animator make? 

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)



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