Creature Animator

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

What does a creature animator do?

A creature animator is a specialization of a 3D animator. They animate real-life creatures as well as imaginary or fantasy creatures for films, TV shows, and video games. They specialize in the movements of animals, reptiles, insects, birds, etc., recreating them in a virtual environment.

When developing fantasy characters they may draw on the traits of humans or animals, and may even integrate both to bring these original beings to life.

This can be the most inspired form of animation, as creature animators need to imagine creatures that don’t exist in the natural world. Imbuing such creatures with human qualities requires a keen eye and understanding of what connects us all.

Creature animator job description

Creature animators create animations of non-human characters. These could be from the natural world such as animals, reptiles, bugs, dinosaurs, etc., or they could be fantasy, myth, or alien creatures. While these creatures are not human they may sometimes need to be imbued with human traits, in these cases the creature animator must be able to give ‘personality’ to imagined beings while rendering their non-human physical characteristics. 

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

  • 'Breathing life' into 3D rigged creature 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 creature animator

This role is highly specialized and not usually an entry-level animation job. Consider taking a 3D 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.

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

  • Understanding of movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin, fur, feathers, scales, flesh
  • 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
  • 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 creature animators use?

Creature animators work with computer software. Some studios work with their own customized software, so animators must be fast learners. 

Creature 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 creature animator make? 

The average salary for a creature animator varies from USD $56,000 for an entry-level position to USD $111,000 for a senior position. Salaries depend on experience, location, and industry.
(Source: Glassdoor)



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