Discovering a passion for Animation

For many people, animation was a large part of their childhood and for others, it continued being part of their adulthood. Animation isn´t solely for children’s consumption there is animation work that specifically targets different age groups. According to statistics from Statista the worldwide value of the Animation Industry is valued to 259 billion USD as of 2018 with countries such as the United States, Japan, France, China, Korea, Germany, and Canada at the forefront.

With the animation industry being such a large market, contributing factors to the rapid growth is correlated with the advancement of technology. But who are the people that create the magic when putting an animation story together?

Putting an animated film or series together requires a network of people in order to produce what the common person later sees on the screen. Depending on your role within the project there are different skills needed in order to put a film or series together. The roles may differ when working in a small or large studio, generally, it can be said that there are those in charge of the business aspect of the project which is setting a budget and ensuring that it is maintained, finding investors/broadcasters and ensuring that a project maintains a schedule. The creative side of animation to mention a few have scriptwriters, storyboard artists, animators, voice over artists and so many more. They sprinkle the magic that is needed to create a storyline and characters that often leaves a lasting impression on the viewers

Speaking with Rodney Walukhaso a Swedish-Ugandan working as a Storyboard Revisionist in the UK, we discuss his profession and his thoughts on the animation industry.

What does a storyboard artist do?

A storyboard artist is responsible for sketching out animation shot by shot. It is at this stage that the script that is handed to them is turned into a story. They usually work in close relation to the scriptwriting team and the director to ensure that the narrative, action, and continuity of the story makes sense. I, on the other hand, work as a Storyboard revisionist. I revise storyboards that have already been created by storyboard artists. When a storyboard artist finishes a board, 99% of the time the board will need to be amended to better fit the productions budget, schedule & rules for the TV-show in question. That’s where revisionists come in. We enact the changes and in doing so provide the finishing touches before the storyboard can be approved.

How did you get into your profession?

It was actually by sheer coincidence that I ended up on this path. After finishing gymnasium I wasn’t sure of what my next step would be so I took time off from school and started working. During this time a friend of mine from gymnasium mentioned the possibility of taking an animation course which sounded rather intriguing. I ended up not taking the course that he told me about. Instead, I applied directly to the Staffordshire University for the bachelor programme in Animation.

Do you need to be skilled in drawing in order to work as an animator?

Not necessary! You can learn and build this skill through practice. When I started the bachelor’s programme, we were a group of students with a wide range of sketching skills.

Was it difficult finding work within your field after graduating?

Many students were not able to find work immediately after graduating. It took a year after graduating before I was able to get work. I came to discover after graduating that there was a gap between how good you are when you graduate and how good you need to be by the time you start working. During the year that I was unemployed after graduating, I spent a lot of time fixing that gap by reworking my portfolio and improving my technics and skills.  

How is the gender, age and ethnic representation within the field?

From my observation looking at my working place and bachelor programme, I would say that the gender representation is 50/50. It is a field with a lot of young people and it´s not uncommon that work is outsourced or that staff working for companies come in as consultants or freelancers. I would say that this is a field that is ethnically diverse as skills are sourced for from all over the world. But if you would like to narrow it down and look how many blacks/Africans there are within the field, I personally have not come across many. It is rare.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to venture into the same field?

Build a strong foundation by learning how to draw the basics from nature and anatomy example practice drawing people and animals with different body types, understand muscle structure, realistic proportions etc. Practice on a variety of environments using different perspectives like forests, cities, mountain ranges lakes. 

 Drawing is a skill you can always improve and not a talent you necessarily have to be born with, in order to succeed. With the development of technology and globalization, it is easy to source for materials which also mean that a lot of these skills can also be self-taught. Find communities of likeminded that share tips and constructive advice on each other’s work, use that as a stepping stone to grow and develop as an artist.  

If you will study the profession through school you learn how to use certain software but if you want to start on it by yourself there are free software’s out there for those that would like to learn how to use animations tools.

Read and get familiar with the 12 laws of animation. These are a set of rules to follow when creating animation. Although they were created over 70 years ago, they are still applicable to the computer animations standards of today. As an animator, it is important to learn and master these.  

What are your thoughts on the representation of animation characters that are black?

Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go when it comes to this and depending on where you live in the world obviously there will be more or less representation of black characters within animation. Representation is important just look at the impact Black Panther had and the records it broke. We were given black superheroes that were not serving as sidekicks rather they were the driving force in film. There is a market there and unfortunately there not many black animated characters with main roles.

With Princess and the frog being the only Disney film that I can mention with black characters in leading roles. What series or film with black characters in leading roles would you recommend?

To mention a few I would recommend you have a look at the following series: The Boondocks, Craig of the Creek, Legend of Korra, Static Shock, Black Dynamite and Afro Samurai.

To conclude if you do not have a natural skill for animation but you’re interested in working within the field, do your research. There are different types of animation and different roles within an animation studio that do not require drawing. If you dream about working with animation, explore your skills and interests as there are other skills you can perfect in order to work within an animation studio.