Career Profile: Computer Animator

Career Profile: Computer Animator

The San Francisco area hosts some of the most successful and enduring computer animation and visual effects studios and schools in the world. The success of James Cameron's blockbuster film Avatar, and the seemingly unstoppable blockbuster run of Disney/ Pixar, has elevated the status of computer animation and visual effects to an entirely new level. With the aid of computers, it is now truly possible to visually recreate the incessant depths of the human imagination.

The Work of Computer Animation and Visual Effects

Computer Animation is the art of creating moving images through the use of powerful computers and is generally regarded as a sub field of computer graphics, visual effects, and animation. A computer-animated film commonly refers to movies that have been computer-animated to appear three dimensional on a movie screen. While traditional 2D animated films are now done primarily with the help of computers, the technique to render realistic 3D computer graphics (CG), or 3D Computer-generated imagery (CGI), continues to remain unique to computers.

CGI short films have been produced as independent animation since 1976, though the popularity of computer animation (especially in the field of special effects) skyrocketed during the modern era of U.S. animation. The first completely computer-generated television series was ReBoot, and the first completely computer-generated animated movie was Pixar's Toy Story.

Pixar, located in nearby Emeryville, is one of the most critically acclaimed film studios of all time (and according to Rotten Tomatoes, perhaps the most critically acclaimed film studio of all time). To date, Pixar has earned 24 Academy Awards and its films has grossed over $5.5 billion worldwide. Began in 1979 as the Graphics Group (part of Lucasfilm), it was acquired by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 1986. Most recently, it was purchased by their longtime collaborator The Walt Disney Company (2006). Pixar has produced eleven feature films and all have met with critical acclaim and success. Pixar's twelfth film, Cars 2, is scheduled for release in 2011.

Visual effects (Visual F/X or VFX)often involve the integration of live-action footage and computer generated imagery (CGI) in order to create environments which look realistic. Most often creating these environments would be dangerous, costly, or simply impossible to capture on film. Visual F/X have become increasingly common in big-budget films, and have also recently become accessible to amateur filmmakers with the introduction of affordable animation and compositing software.

Best known for producing the Star Wars films, Lucasfilm is a film production company founded by George Lucas in 1971, and based in San Francisco, California. George Lucas created Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to produce all of the groundbreaking visual effects for the film. Since then, ILM has become an Academy Award-winning motion picture visual effects company that has received 16 Best Visual Effects Oscars and 23 additional nominations. ILM has also received 20 Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in recognition of ILM's critical role in the advancement of filmmaking technology.

Recently formed KernerFX (Kerner), is a motion picture visual effects company and motion picture studio based in San Rafael that was previously part of Industrial Light & Magic. In the three years since leaving the LucasFilm family, Kerner has continued to provide practical special effects to major movie productions and has also continued several years of significant research and development in the areas of 3D camera rigs and consumer products.

Computer Animation Degree Programs

Animation has evolved into a lucrative career path and earning your art degree can go a long way toward helping you succeed in your chosen career. Most animators start out as assistants on their way towards a successful career in computer animation. Other entry-level positions may include digital artist, special effects artist, texture mapper, or storyboard artist.

Computer animation schools train students to work in film animation or specifically in the digital field with computer animation and visual effects. The best computer animation schools offer a variety of 2-D and 3-D animation courses, which will allow students to find work as an illustrator in many different types of media. Schools for animation in San Francisco are available for students with all levels of experience, so be sure to explore your options.

Computer Animation school graduates can choose to focus on classical animation, film animation, digital animation, or specialize in a specific area of computer animation. Some arts and animation programs are offered online and these courses can be a great option for students that are self-motivated and are able to manage their time and make course work a priority in their lives.

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