Study Computer Animation, Computer Animation Schools


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Are you thinking about studying computer animation at the undergraduate or graduate level?  Could you benefit from some additional information about the field and the people employed in it?  If so, you may find the following information quite useful.

What Is Computer Animation?

To animate means “to give life,” and an animator's job is to take a static image or object and literally bring it to life by giving it movement and personality. Naturally, the field of computer animation has come a long way since the early days of Walt Disney and other animation pioneers, as technology has grown immeasurably since the time.

Simply put, computer animation is a type of art form that involves bringing still images to life using computer technology. Animation in this form can apply to images on a computer or to those in film. When these techniques are used in movies, the technology is often referred to as computer-generated imagery (CGI).

To produce computer animation, a still or non-moving image is first displayed. With speed in mind, this image is then replaced with another image. The new image is very similar to the first, but has been changed in some minute way. Each subsequent image is also altered ever so slightly. This combination of rapid image replacement and slight alteration of images creates the illusion of movement.  Though computer technology is used for animation, the technique of creating the look of movement is basically the same as that used for television and movie animation.

To fully comprehend how movement is created with computer animation, we recommend you first consider a blank screen.  Now imagine a person or an animal of some kind drawn on the left side of the screen. Then imagine that the screen once again goes blank, and the next time you see the image of the person or animal it is positioned just a little to the right of its initial position. Once more, the screen is blanked, and the object is moved slightly again to the right. At high speed, this ever-so-slight movement of the image will result in the appearance of smooth movement to the right.

Without a doubt, speed is the key to the success of any computer animation or animator. To give the illusion of smooth movement, full images, often referred to as frames, must be shown at speeds of at least 12 images per second. At lower speeds, the human eye is able to detect a certain amount of jerkiness. Interestingly, however, there is no advantage to showing images at speeds of 70 frames per second or more, as there is no noticeable improvement in movement perception at speeds this high.

When animation is created using conventional hand-drawn methods, it is not uncommon to use 15 frames per second. This is done to economize on the amount of drawings necessary to create the animation. However, computer animation is often used to create more realistic looking images. As such, the use of more frames per second is typically necessary.

Students and practitioners of computer animation require, at minimum, a working computer and special animation software to ply their craft. There is a wide variety of animation software on the market today, with prices varying according to the intended use. In general, animation software intended for the novice to enjoy for fun or for simple animation is less costly. Software for more professional animation is not only more expensive, but also more comprehensive. However, it’s important to keep in mind that even the most basic animation programs are capable of creating some amazing animations and illusions.

Types of Computer Animation

There are two basic kinds of computer animation: computer-assisted animation and computer-generated animation.

Computer-assisted animation is typically two-dimensional (2-D), like the cartoons children enjoy on television.  The animator draws objects and characters either by hand or with a computer. Then he positions his creations in key frames, which form an outline of the most important movements.  Next, the computer uses mathematical algorithms to fill in the "in-between" frames. This process is called “tweening.”  Both key framing and tweening are traditional animation techniques that can be done by hand, but are accomplished much faster with a computer.

Computer-generated animation is a different ballgame altogether. For starters, this animation is three-dimensional (3-D), meaning that objects and characters are modeled on a plane with an X, Y and Z axis. This can't be done with pencil and paper. Key framing and tweening are still an important function of computer-generated animation, but there are other techniques that don't relate to traditional animation. Using mathematical algorithms, animators can program objects to adhere to (or break) physical laws like gravity, mass and force. Or create tremendous herds and flocks of creatures that appear to act independently, yet collectively. For example, with computer-generated animation, instead of animating each hair on a monster's head, the monster's fur is instead designed to wave gently in the wind and lie flat when wet.

There are many colleges and universities around the world that offer computer animation as a major course of study.  These programs can fall under one of two academic umbrellas:  fine arts and technology usually a combination of the two).  Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate level, spanning four to six years in duration, respectively, and leading to Bachelor of Arts and Master’s of Art degrees.

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