Monday, 30 September 2019

How to Get Started in Animation

Animation Studio by Helen Piercy
One question I get asked often is this "My kid loves animation - what subject should they study at school?".

And also - "how can I teach my child animation?".

Parents tell me that their 13-year old is really into animation, but doesn't know what they should do to realise that goal.

Today, animation is a mix of art and technology.  So, art subjects, such as Art GCSE or Art A level, will help, as will tech subjects, such as IT or computer studies.

I see lots of great portfolios from students who have done BTECs, such as the one in Computer animation.  BTECs can be a great choice for a student who knows what they want to do, as they focus  mainly on learning useful technology and not so much on purely academic ideas. 
free 3D software - yours to try for free

Art & Technology
Animation is a mix of art and technology.  The perfect animator has both traditional art skills (painting, drawing, design) and also good tech skills, especially the ability and willingness to learn new software.

Art GCSE and Art A Level
Art GCSE and Art A Level are both a good place to start for most kids. The only danger here is that the subject has drifted in recent years towards a less practical and a more academic approach, where grades are awarded for writing rather than for practical skills. For an animator, practical skills are what is needed.

Summer Schools
Free Blender Tutorial at YouTube
There are a few summer schools in the UK that offer computer animation classes for kids. One of the best is 3Dami. Escape Studios, where I teach, runs free summer schools in August, such as this one here. Keep an eye out for summer 2020 events.

Learn Blender
For older kids with good tech skills, it's a good idea to try out some 3D software.  A great place to start is with the 3D software Blender - the software itself is completely free, and there are many free tutorials out there to get you started.

To begin, go to the Blender homepage at and download their free software. It's easy to do, and quick to install on your laptop.

Next, go to YouTube and search for Basic Blender Tutorials.  What you want are the most basic tutorials available, that teach you the really simple stuff, assuming absolutely no prior knowledge of the programme. Below is one we like, which teaches you how to model a coffee cup. To do this tutorial you will need a PC (it's not so good on a Mac) and a three button mouse (or Wacom tablet).

If you're running a Mac, you might try this Mac-friendly tutorial below instead. The author gives instructions for both platforms (Blender is slightly different on a Mac vs a PC), so if you are on a Mac you are more likely to be able to follow the tutorial without running into problems.

If you can follow one or both of these tutorials without giving up in despair and wanting to chuck the computer out of the window - a career in animation might be for you.

Animation Studio by Helen Piercy
For kids - Stop Frame Animation
One of the best ways to get started for younger animators is stop frame animation. You could try making a short film with lego bricks. All you need is the lego, your iPhone, and a tripod, and one of the many apps (such as the "Stop Motion" app for the iPhone) which allow you to play around.

You will need a tripod to stabilise the phone/camera. The best tripod we recommend for filming with an iPhone (or other phone) is this one here; it costs just £15 at amazon, and works really well.

Animation Studio
There are also some inexpensive animation kits you can buy to get started. One that I like a lot is Helen Piercy's Animation Studio, which you can buy for £10 at Amazon. It comes with cut-out characters, and a set, to get kids' imaginations firing.

Lego Animation Studio
Another good starter kit is the Lego Animation Studio, aimed at kids 8-12 years old, which you can buy here. Father Christmas gave my six year old daughter one for Christmas, and we did this short stop-motion animation below on Boxing Day.


We also needed some kit that didn't come with the Lego pack - an iPhone, a tripod (we used this one here), and the app "I can Animate" which cost $3 to download from the App Store. 

Free Maya Tutorials
There are lots of free tutorials out there for students who have good tech skills and can handle Autodesk Maya, the industry standard software. You can download a free student license for Maya here.

One great place to start is Mike Hermes' videos at YouTube, which offer excellent short videos on pretty much every aspect of the Maya pipeline. They are short, easy to follow, and free of unnecessary information.  The playlists are well organised and it's all completely free.

To find Mike Hermes' YouTube Playlist, follow this link.

Making 3D Animation by Blue Zoo
The video below explains the animation process in simple terms, and is aimed at parents and kids hoping to understand how animation works.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link.

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