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Studies & Degrees in Computer Animation

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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.

Job positions for Computer Animation:

Video Game Designer

A Video Game Designers design game play, plan and conceptualize the structures and regulations of a game. They produce or generate the detailed or elaborated design documents. A design document comprises of descriptions of entire features of an electronic game such as artwork, flow charts, plot, mission, rules, sound and special features. The design document is utilized by computer programmers, sound designers and graphic artists to make a software program or system for video game. Video Game Designer works with a team that comprises of a marketing staff, computer programmers or coders. The coders supply the rough draft of the game and different kinds of designs that will be utilized in the game. They are also expected to design graphics, which are used for websites that advertise or market the game. Most of the time a Game Designer’s day is spent in the computer and assembling or meetings. Having experience and enthusiasm are certain pluses or advantage for a game designer.

The video game industry is still arising; therefore there is an opportunity for new Game Designers to obtain a great job and compensation as well. For those who perform or work hard, the industry also provides some rewards and fringe benefits. Some of the companies that employ Video Game Designers include animation, cell phone, digital entertainment, educational game, motion capture companies and console gaming industries.

Making a video game requires program, music, art, and writing abilities. In order to begin in this stimulating profession, you must know a great deal about the game industry and take a look at the several industry magazines so you will be able to adjust your skill to a fast changing market. Also, try to improve your knowledge in design, storyboard and computer software application. Other qualifications needed to become a successful in this kind of career include patience, teamwork, artistry, project management skills and problem solving abilities.

Video Game Designers are mostly holding a bachelor’s degree in Art, English, computer science, computer engineering and other related fields. Colleges and universities are currently providing a certificate and complete or entire degree programs in this particular field. Some of the potential courses for video game designer are graphics programming, object-oriented programming (3-D modeling C++ or Java, etc.), animation theory, artificial intelligence and sound tool courses.

Salary of a Video Game Designer in the United States particularly in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Washington ranges from $40,000 to $70,000 per year. But it also depends on experience, training and education, job description, location and the gaming industry.

Some of the well-known Video game designers who designed computer games, arcade games, console games include Michel Ancel (King Kong and Beyond Good & Evil), Cameron Davis (Game Boy Advance), Rieko Kodama (Sega - Phantasy Star), Toshihiro Nishikado (Space Invaders), Alexey Pajitnov (Tetris), Satoshi Tajiri (Pokémon games), Tōru Iwatani (Namco - Pac-Man) and Ted Price (Insomniac Games).

Multimedia Designer

Multimedia Designers are usually expert or knowledgeable in operating images and demonstrating data in the form of video, soundtracks, text, animation, still images, physical objects, digital data, and audio.
The interactive Multimedia Designer works on web design, interactive CDs or DVDs and kiosks, while the non interactive Multimedia Designer works on non interactive production for instance the Internet and television.

Multimedia Designers typical responsibilities include but not limited to the following:

• Form the ideas, designs and try out or sample layout derived from the layout principles and artistic design concepts.

• Make sketches, drawings or plans and scale models that will be evaluated by the production manager or director.

• Design and develop marketing and promotion matters as per requirements. They may also design the props, costumes and set.

• Notify the technical production such as sound and lighting to check the production sets.

• Utilize and comprehend computer software application to create artwork such as visual images, illustrations and others.

• Discuss and recommend with regards to the development or enhancement of artwork. If needed, they also make animated graphics.

• Follow up and organize with external marketing agencies on the progress of promotional resources.

• Responsible in editing, recording and carrying out audio into applications.

• They operate hardware connected with multimedia development like video camera, digital camera, CD duplicator, etc.

The software applications that are usually used by Multimedia Designers are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Flash, Adobe Premier, Macromedia Director and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Professions that are available to a multimedia design degree holder are web designer, web developer, scriptwriter, or multimedia producer. There are several entry-level work opportunities with organizations, government agencies, corporations, educational institutions, advertising, and entertainment industries, which include television stations, video production houses, film studios, and live productions (concerts and theater).

Nowadays, professions in this kind of field are quickly increasing because of the advancement in technology. Multimedia design is used in games, training, entertainment, and the newest application is in cellular phone. Multimedia Designer must be highly artistic and a good conversationalist in order to convey the ideas orally. They must put into operation the animation methods and visual sensitivity, visually understandable in scripts and storyboards. The capability to work or perform as a team player is necessity for success. Several jobs demand extra time to meet the deadlines.

Salary of a Multimedia Designer in United States particularly in South Dakota, South Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, California and Hawaii ranges from $45,000 to $70,000 per year. The average salary per hour is around $29.00. It also depends on experience, training and education, job, location and size of the company.

The required education for a Multimedia Designer is Associates Degree in Art/ Graphic Design or any related field. To engage in this kind of profession, it is significant to possess a degree in multimedia design. This provides knowledge or expertise and education which are needed in a multimedia designing career. Universities and colleges offer courses and program designed for this kind of degree. Training is also important because most employers are looking for designers who are skilled and can adjust well to altering trends.