Do 3D Animators Need to Know How to Draw?


Updated 5/4/2020

The path to becoming a 3D animator can be vastly different from its 2D counterpart. In fact, you don’t even need to know how to draw to create 3D animation. The majority of your work will consist of using a computer to manipulate and control characters in the same way you would move a puppet. Drawing is only one of a few ways to “animate” or “bring to life” an object or character.

Do I Need to Know How to Draw to Be an Animator?

Do animators need to know how to draw?This is a question you may have heard many times before, and if you're new to animation, it's something you've probably asked your peers a few times as well. Drawing is always something that has been closely related to animation. 

In the early days of animation everything was 2D, so everything had to be hand drawn. Times have changed, and the majority of animated films are now created using 3D animation. However, the questions, "Do I need to know how to draw to be an animator?" and “Does 3D animation require drawing skills?” still loom.

Let’s take a closer look at these questions from a few different angles to better understand the importance, or lack thereof, of drawing ability in an animation career. Then, you can decide for yourself if you need to invest time into learning how to be a great artist. 

If you're a professional animator, or studying it through classes or our courses, you've probably heard this response a few times when you tell your friends or family you're an animator: "Wow, so you must be really good at drawing cartoons and stuff?" Instead of getting into the details of 3D and 2D animation, you might just nod and agree. As you already know, if you're animating in 3D you're really not drawing at all. Instead you're posing a puppet, in much the same way stop motion is done.

Does 3D Animation Require Drawing Skills

If you want to get into 3D animation, then the answer is very simple: You don't need to be a great artist to be a great animator. As mentioned above, in 3D animation you're posing a puppet. As long as you have a strong understanding of the 12 principles of animation, your animations are going to be excellent, regardless of whether or not you know how to draw. 

Why Not?

That is kind of the wonderful thing about 3D animation; while you may not be the best traditional artist, you can still create excellent animations. There are many professional 3D animators that can create amazing animations without drawing. Many of the pioneer animators stood by the belief that your animation always comes first, and knowing how to be a great draftsman came second. 

A good finished product is not about whether or not your drawing is pleasing to the eyes, but whether it's moving in a believable and entertaining way. Animation has always been about the movement and not the drawing. Amazing artists do not consistently make great animators, and vice versa.

Now, if you're wanting to learn 2D animation, then yes, knowing how to draw is going to be vital, but even then you need to have a strong understanding of the foundations of animation. You can have an excellent animation that is done with just stick figures, and it's still going to look good regardless of whether or not you spent hours on each drawing. For more info, download our handy PDF on the 12 Principles of Animation.

How Drawing Can Be Helpful

Even though knowing how to draw is not vital for being a great 3D animator, it can be a useful skill. Knowing how to draw and establish clean silhouettes can translate into your 3D animation and help you create better posing for your characters. Taking life drawing classes in addition to studying 3D animation can be beneficial for understanding weight and anatomy. It can also be very helpful in your planning stages, and working through your animation early on. Being able to experiment with different poses on paper is always faster than trying to pose out your character in the 3D application. 

If you are willing to invest some time developing your traditional art skills, then there’s no reason you shouldn't. As you learn, look for ways you may be able to apply those skills to 3D animation. As you observe living subjects, take note of the way their body changes as it moves. For example, a dancer uses certain muscle groups and body positions to create graceful movements. Understanding these details can help you create believable movement in 3D animations.

Drawing experience can also come in handy when understanding composition. You will have opportunities to practice and learn about the best angles to view a subject from. You will also develop an eye for where to place a subject within the frame and how to use empty space in an appealing way.

The best part, however, is that acquiring the above-mentioned skills will still not require you to have any actual drawing talent. So if you love the idea of becoming an animator, don’t let drawing ability get in your way.

Probably one of the biggest benefits to being a great traditional artist is that it can open up more opportunities for you. There are still many studios that animate in 2D, so showing that you have the ability to animate in both mediums can make you more appealing to recruiters.

What Other Skills Will Help Me?

Now that we’ve answered the question, “Does 3D animation require drawing?”, let’s explore a few other skills that may be helpful.

For starters, 3D animators need to pay close attention to detail. Bringing a subject to life in a way that is believable and relatable is not a simple process. It may also vary from project to project because each character has different traits.

It will also be helpful if you are patient, hard-working, and not afraid to make mistakes. 3D animation takes time and effort, and often you will throw out hundreds of attempts before you are satisfied.

Good communication skills are a must because you will be working with several team members to create the final product. You will need to discuss ideas and coordinate with directors and members of the special effects and lighting teams, just to name a few.

Finally, you will also need to learn specific computer skills, including programming and coding. You will need to be familiar with the processes and software used to manipulate subjects and learn to make creative adjustments when needed. In fact, computer skills may be the most important part of 3D animation.

What Should I Do?

In short, if you're not the best artist, there's no need to feel like you can't be a great animator, because that just isn't the case. Animation comes down to knowing how to create believable and appealing movement while bringing characters to life. Knowing how to draw will not have a direct effect on 3D animation. 

If you are ready to learn how to become a 3D animator, start by enrolling in a class that covers many foundational aspects. Get a broad understanding of the processes and skills that are involved in this type of animation and dive in deeper as you become more experienced. Learn to use animation software and become familiar with the process and the way the programs work. A college degree program is a great way to get started, but there are also certifications available if you choose to take a different route. 

Continue learning and looking for opportunities to gain real-life experience as you build a portfolio of your work and develop your skills. It can also be helpful to learn a specialized skill, such as animating fight scenes or animal movements. In the beginning, take whatever job you can get rather than waiting for your dream company to come to you. You will be able to build valuable experience that will make you more desirable in the future and help you land that dream job when the time is right. 

If you want to push your animations skills further, be sure to check out the in-depth animation tutorials at the Digital-Tutors library.