View Full Version : What's a Normal Day for an Animator/Modeler

01-17-2014, 11:49 PM
This may sound irrelevant, but I am currently a student in High School and I was asked to find out about the field I'm interested in, which is the field of Animations and 3d. I want to find out what is a normal work day for anyone working at a studio or is freelancing. What are the jobs skills required. What kind of education is needed. I know most of these things first-hand, but would like people to comment on how they do their jobs.

You could reply below in under the thread, or Private Message me if you do decide to reply.

Thank you for reading.

01-18-2014, 12:00 AM
Freelancing (read: running my own business), which is what I've done since leaving the engineering world of big corporate years ago, requires significant amounts of tenacity, insight, ingenuity and courage. Long hours; far more than ever required for a day job. But, it's worth it on many other levels.

My "day" is often 42+ hours. Yes, an entire day job work week plus 2 hours in one stint being awake. Do I like it? Completely. Do I wish I had benefits, as in those normally received as part of a day job? Yes. Do I wish that those like us were not looked down upon as being "bad risks" because we don't have day jobs, as if a person in a day job cannot get fired tomorrow? Yes. Have I considered going to work for certain well known VFX companies? Yes. There is always the greener grass. Trade-offs abound. Still, I find that the things that I/we create are of essential benefit. Had I stopped and returned to working for a company again, many of these creations would not exist. I cannot escape that fact and that is what keeps me flying. Some things are important.

As for a "normal day as an animator/modeler", well it's a lot of trial and error, a lot of efficiency learned from experience, a lot of experience gained from previous failings, a fair amount of "I can't believe I'm not in bed already—this should not have taken this long", combined with a significant mount of "I can't wait to see what comes next".

When it is all said and done, I wouldn't give it up for anything. This, using to the fullest all of my many abilities and disciplines combined, are what I was put here for. I/we have created some glorious things. Sometimes, when I step out of myself and look at them as if I had no prior knowledge, I am amazed. The thought comes: "I did this!?"

To have done any less would be disrespectful.

01-18-2014, 12:58 AM
Do you remember your first freelance gig? Did you already have a crazy portfolio and epic demo reel or Take them from work projects? Sorry. Lot of questions.

01-18-2014, 04:23 PM
First gigs are relative and a bit difficult to separate which came first. One of the first big ones came after I had pounded the New York City pavement taking my 8"x10" transparency portfolio to appointments for a week. Phone call came in wanting me to do an illustration for the U.S. Tennis Open. Back to NYC to meet. During the meetings, something was apparent that indicated that this wasn't the whole story. They were asking questions that didn't quite fit. I returned to the studio, produced, they were delighted and I got another call. This time to do a cover illustration for James A. Michener's SPACE. The U.S. Open job was a test.

Another came at about the same time, when I made a pilgrimage to NASA Headquarters that led me to becoming a member of four Shuttle ground crews; two launches, two landings, and two paintings in the Smithsonian.

As for pure portfolio pieces or work completed; a little bit of both. When I struck out on my own, source books were the norm. Large format, thick full color publications that are distributed to art directors at agencies and corporations. The first edition I bought expensive pages in was a two page spread of portfolio images, all separated with white between them. Fine, but when I received my copy and put myself in the position of an art director flipping through the pages, when I got to mine I wasn't drawn in.

Stepping back, I realized that I'm advertising to advertisers. My spread needs to be designed as an ad; not as a portfolio. It needs to evoke a targeted response. So, the next edition, and all editions thereafter, I designed the spread from the ground up and created the major image specifically to that design. Smaller high profile portfolio images were mortised into that overall image, as displaying a good track record is still important. Portfolio pieces that have no connection to a client don't mean as much.

Additionally, my goal was to be remembered long after the source book had been leafed through and put on the shelf. Months later, when the account executive dropped a problem on the art director's desk, I wanted to be the solution that would immediately come to mind.

The response was stunning, to say the least. These, of course, are work done entirely by hand in acrylic pigment on linen illustration board. No Photoshop, no LightWave, no undo, no save as; no making changes, hitting the button, sitting back and waiting, repeat. Working in this way carries a whole lot more responsibility and level of difficulty in that one must plan far ahead, so that you don't find that you made a wrong decision way back and now can't fix it. Or, worse, an approach comes to mind while you are working that would be way better but there's no way to get there from here.

01-19-2014, 11:48 AM
Good stuff thank you.

01-19-2014, 12:54 PM
I'm not sure there is such a thing as a 'normal' work day for animators but here's my typical schedule.

In general, when I am freelancing, I like to keep my work time down to 40 hours a week but that's not always possible in the entertainment industry. When it's 'crunchtime' (typically the last couple of weeks before the deadline,) a workday can become very long, so be sure you will be getting overtime pay for it. This schedule was more or less my schedule when I was on staff at Rhythm & Hues too, except nowadays I don't have that 2+ hour RT commute, which leaves me more time for other things.

The other things:

I also spend time on projects for Little Green Dog, a private studio owned by my wife and me. Right now we're building a body of little 'indie' films to establish ourselves in the industry, and we try treat our projects like any other studio production with a fixed budget and schedule. The scheduling part has been difficult because I don't get to spend as much time on these projects as I'd like to. (Not possible when working full-time for other people and raising a family,) but I do put in as much time as I reasonably can. Typically, I use my lunch break, a few hours after dark, and Saturday mornings at a public library working on a laptop computer. Naturally, our long-term goal is to push LGD into becoming a full-time independent animation studio. For now, an immediate benefit in creating these 'indie' projects is that the experience expands my skill set, making me more marketable as a freelance artist, so it all sort of works together.

Of course, it's extremely important to make time for play and for family and friends too. Otherwise, you'll go nuts. :)

Good luck with whichever path you decide to take!


01-19-2014, 11:54 PM
For studio work there are a few factors in play whether it is for feature film, TV, or Video Games. Also it depends if you are working for a small studio vs a large studio. For a smaller studio you will need to be a jack of all trades. Modeling, Animating, Rigging, Texturing, etc. Where as a large studio will hire entire departments of modelers who just model and departments of animators who just animate. From what I've seen the workflow is kind of similar.

Starting out as a modeler at a large studio for feature film work you will probably be modeling BG crap. Such as trash cans, lamp posts, mail boxes, or whatever stuff they need to fill the shot. So you will be given the assignment by your lead. Once you get to a point where you feel the model looks good you can take it up to the lead show him and he/she may give notes on it for you to fix or change. So you go back fix whatever they noted bring it back they like it and they send it to dailies. Dailies the supervisors and leads gather and check out the work and either note it or approve it. If it's noted it get's sent back and you make the changes. It seems to be the same for the animators as well. But instead of modeling BG crap you will be animating characters or stuff in the BG.

Starting out as a modeler at a smaller studio doing TV work you will need to be able to do more stuff within a shorter time frame. I visited Pixomondo in Burbank, they did alot of the stuff for that short lived show, Terra Nova. This was before they moved to a larger studio in the same city, but it was literally a small warehouse type thing in the middle of an industrial district. Basically it was just one large room with a bunch of tables and computers and everyone seemed to work in the same space. Anyways instead of just modeling it and shipping it off to the texture department, you'd be modeling, UVing, texturing, etc. So you would be handling multiple tasks and usually working on whole shots with maybe 1 or 2 other guys. Whereas the large studio a single shot could have 25+ people working on it depending what all was needed. Same thing for compositing, usually in compositing for larger studios you have roto artists, matchmove artists, & the compositor. In a small studio you are the roto artist, matchmove artist, and the compositor.

Freelancing is scary and hard to get into. Freelancing you really do need to be a jack of ALL trades. Very few times will you get a gig to just model something and send them an .obj file. Usually it's something like I want to put a scary monster in this shot can you do that? Then you model it, UV it, texture it, rig it, matchmove the camera, animate it, light it, render, composite the whole dealio. If a shot fails or is late it is all on you, you wont have a middle man there between you and the client like you would in a studio. You have to be extremely smart in your time management and quotes you give. What at first seems like an easy shot 2 day turn around can quickly become a nightmare week long shot and your client is pissed. Also you have to deal with no guaranteed payday. If you can't find a client you are SOL and have no income being generated sitting around. You could go weeks or months without a client. The good thing is, once you start putting out good work and build a relationship with the clients you have it can become a bit more steady pay wise. Personally I would never suggest anyone try to be a freelance artist without some solid studio work under their belt. Then of course you get to deal with clients who just want to screw you. Which is why any work I do for freelance I always get half the cash up front as a deposit before I start anything. I also have all the terms of the job carefully spelled out in the contract we sign and agree to. Such as how many revisions can they request before they start being charged more, estimated time of delivery, total costs, what happens if they decide to back out, what happens if they decide not to use the work I did. Some clients will try and do anything to get outta paying you. Luckily most people I've worked with have been very honest and easy to work with.

Education, an actual degree is not needed to get into a studio. It's all about the quality of work you can do and who you know. I would say it's somewhere in the range of 40% quality of work, 60% who you know. So going to a school that has ties with studios or has a lot of graduates working at studios can be beneficial, but the degree you earned really won't be worth much. Alot of schools tend to WAY over charge for their programs. Full Sails Bachelors Animation course costs approx 80,000 and that's not even factoring in your personal expenses while attending. You will need a proper computer, software, external hard drive, thumb disc, etc. Also their "bachelors" is really less than 2 years so it's more like an associates without all the general education courses most colleges have. Basically if you goto a visual effects school for whatever you want to learn, you're basically going so in the end you will have connections to get you a job.

As far as the day to day it can be a real grind. With a month or two of 40 hour 5 day work weeks then a month or three of crunch mode where you are doing 80+ hours a week and sleeping under your desk. It can be stressful, mind numbing, & soul crushing work. When you step back though and realize what you are doing or see your work at the theaters and remember you are making these beautiful looking movies it can be extremely rewarding.

01-20-2014, 11:27 AM
Oh, yes, that's an important distinction that I didn't make clear in my post.

When I was with R&H, I was a member of The Box, which had a generalist pipeline as opposed to a specialist one. During my time there I did get to work on the specialist side and it is quite a different experience--in that situation, all I did was animate all day and I wasn't expected to do anything else. In the Box, I was a generalist and pretty much did everything and anything needed to finish a job. The latter is what I do right now and it is my preferred situation, but I know many artists who prefer to be focused on only a single task.


01-20-2014, 12:38 PM
Learn a trade that can't be done by a computer instead. You will have a far better return on income for the the years of learning.
Flexible working hours but usually not at your choice.
When deadlines approach chronically long hours which is shocking for your health let alone everything else.
Have at least a year of cash to fall back onto when things are quiet.
You must learn to become an excellent saver once you finally get a job.
Administration, tax, time wasted collecting owed money & looking for work, advertising all of which is at least 3/4 of your work. Actual model making will only be a small percentage.
If working for yourself, running, managing & purchasing computer hardware, updating software on a continual basis & managing your network plus proper backup of your system. Work closely with a small computer supplier who will build computers that you need & supplies all your equipment.
Able to focus totally on the task & totally get away from your work or you will go mental.
Not being offended & standing your ground by clients who want the impossible done yesterday for less than slave wages.
learn as many skills as possible & learn new stuff every year as everything changes all the time. If one part of the industry is quiet you can do other work.
Everything about 3d work is administration & thorough organisation. The part which is enjoyable is when the job has left the door & the client gives you a cheque on time.
Have a good fitness routine every hour, day & week & eat healthy food. Stay away from coffee.

01-21-2014, 02:29 PM
For me there is no typical day. I became a freelancer nearly 10 years ago when I was fired my a regular job by a guy who really didn't know his butt from a rat hole. Sorry to be crude, but it's true.

I left a job I hated and when my unemployment ran out I just decided to go it alone, thinking no one can ruin my career faster than me. :)

The one piece of advice I wish someone would have given me then was don't undersell yourself. Place a value on your work and stick to it. Don't offer a discount because you're just starting out and need to pad a portfolio. That's the $2 sandwich theory. Remember, the money you receive pays for your software, hardware, utilities, insurance, retirement, and maybe a salary if anything is left.

The myth, as others have stated, is you can choose your own hours. Sure, as long as it's 24x7. It's a ridiculous amount of work being a freelancer since only one person is responsible for not only doing the work, but finding it and billing for it. If you're lucky enough to not be the only breadwinner, life will be easier, but still a crazy amount of work.

It is fulfilling, as it's already been said. I love being able to choose the work I do. In the beginning, of course, it was pretty much any paying gig, but after a while I learned some things just aren't worth the effort and I became better at spotting deadbeat clients.

Contracts are also important. It's so worth the money to have a lawyer develop a contract for you to use with every single project. This is important for both parties. It spells everything out -- the details of the job, payment schedules, deadlines, deliverables, assets given to you by the client, etc. This is important so there are no misunderstandings later. Just be sure to include some language in the contract that the client is liable for all legal costs should you be involved in anything. Learned that one the hard way. It may be different in your area, but for me it was a requirement. My policy is: no contract, no work. When a client doesn't want to sign a contract it's a flag there could be trouble. I've discovered people really don't like them, so to warm them up, explain how it spells everything out and you need to know what's expected of you to make sure they get what they want on time.

It's also a good idea to communicate via email to create a permanent trail. If the client wants to change something in the contract, you'll have it in writing and that can be amended to the original contract. Just be sure to have clear policies about changes and how you bill for them.