What Your Animation Students Need to Know by the Time They Graduate

Graduation is obviously an extremely important day for your animation students, they are about to begin sending out their demo reels, contacting recruiters and trying to get their foot in the door. The animation industry is extremely competitive and there are certain things that your animation students should know by the time they graduate, whether it's understanding the industry or skills they should have. In this article, we are going to outline the things that all your animation students need to know by the time they graduate, so they can be as prepared for the industry as possible.

Understand the 12 Principles

When it comes to character animation, it is far less about the programs, and more about the student's ability to create believable and appealing movements through the understanding of timing, spacing, and how we move in the real world. The 12 principles are truly the key to creating great animations, and the more your students understand these key principles the better they will be. It's not uncommon to get caught up in the 3D application, and learning the ins and outs of the program, but character animators have a specific set of skills that can really be accomplished in any program as long as they have the ability to set a keyframe. Making sure your animation students truly understand the 12 principles of animation can be their key to success.

Open to Critiques

Critiques are a very real part of the industry, typically the animation department will go through a meeting called dailies where their work will be displayed to the rest of the department as well as the director so everyone can make sure what the animator is working on is moving in the right direction. Your students should be very comfortable with not only receiving critiques from their colleagues, but also giving critiques. A critique is not meant to be a time to back someone into a corner, although, to students it can seem that way. It’s really just a time to give insightful feedback, and provide those extra set of eyes for an animator.

The ability to give informative critiques to other animators is extremely helpful and will also help them to more easily see the mistakes in their own animations. A critique is about making sure that an animation is the best that it can be, and often times an animator can get tunnel vision, and any problems with their animations can go completely unnoticed if they’re the only ones looking at it. Knowing how to give and receive critiques early on will only get them even more prepared for the industry.

Body Mechanics

One of the most important things your students need to understand is body mechanics, how people and creatures move. No matter what animation they’re doing, even a subtle acting shot, there is going to be a lot of body mechanics. Even if they have great acting choices, it still comes down to knowing body mechanics to bring it to life in a believable and appealing way.

Your students should be able to animate everything from a character picking up an extremely heavy object, to walking and coming to a stop. When they understand body mechanics they will naturally be able to animate acting shots much easier and they can focus on creating great character performances rather than the technical aspects of the animation, like how the hips should rotate, or the spacing on a character raising their hand.


Just like body mechanics, acting is a skill that every animator should have. In order to create convincing animations that make the audience believe that these are living and breathing creatures, and not just computer-generated characters your students should study acting. After all, when they are creating an animation it is their ideas that are eventually going to end up on screen.

Have them practice shooting video reference and acting out the scenes they are going to be animating, the more they get comfortable with this the more prepared they will be for the industry, as this is something that every animator will have to do.

Pixar Isn’t the Only Place to Work

Every animation student probably wants to work at Pixar, or a studio of equal prowess, it’s the dream job for many artists. While it’s important to have aspirations, to have something to work for, a studio like Pixar is extremely competitive, every animator wants to work there, which means its exceptionally hard to stand out among the crowd. Your animation students should know that any experience is good experience, and Pixar is not the only place to work as an animator. They should be open to animating anywhere, whether for games, films, or commercials. The more experience they get, the more appealing they will be to the larger studios, but they have to understand that they need to start somewhere.

Graduation Is Just the Beginning

When it comes to animation, the time when the students really start learning is when they get their first job in the industry. Your teaching and guidance has been able to lead them in the right direction, and give them the skills they need to get their foot in the door, but it’s up to them to have the drive to really continue learning. As any professional animator will tell you, animators never stop learning, it’s an ongoing thing, and that’s something your students should have engrained in them, the need to always push their skills further.

They should be ready to soak up all the information they can once they get into the industry, this can mean learning as much from their peers who have several years experience to even studying how other departments work within the pipeline like modeling and rigging and how that fits within animation department.

They Animate for Someone Else

Shifting from student to professional can actually be a very strange thing, and means the difference between animating for themselves and someone else, which is a separate experience altogether. As a student they are really animating for themselves, sure, you may give them specific shots to tackle, but when it comes down to it they are coming up with the actions and ultimately have final say as to what the finished product is. In a professional environment, this is very different, and is something every student should understand by the time they leave the classroom.

This can mean shifting an idea for a shot to cater to what the director or animation supervisor had in mind for the animation, even if they know it’s not the best choice. This doesn’t mean they should never give their artistic input, but at the end of the day it’s not their money on the line, so this can often mean biting the bullet and going with what their supervisor or director wants. Hopefully they can influence a directors decision to go with what they feel is the correct choice for the animation, but that isn’t always the case. Animation supervisors and directors not only want talented animators, but they want animators that can bring their vision to life.

Be sure to take these things into account when you’re guiding your animation students toward their career in the industry.