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Monday, September 18, 2000

These fellows can make dinosaur move
by Sumesh Raizada

THOSE who have seen movies like Jurassic Park, may have wondered how a dinosaur that got extinct millions of years ago, can appear virtually in motion or how could a mouse talk in Stuart Little. All this could be made possible through computer animation.

Computer animation is a process of creating and moving sequence of pictures, such as in cartoons, films, interactive games, multimedia CDs and Web pages. It involves a combination of both, art and science. It is a fast-growing field of creative art and technology, and has a wide application in entertainment industry, architecture, education, scientific research and engineering design.

The computer-generated graphics or sequences are used to create visualisation of real life environment and digital special effects. They are used in games, movies, TV commercials and music videos. The earlier used ordinary animation techniques began in early 20th century and later became popular as characters of cartoon films like Mickey, Donald, Dennis, Tom and Jerry.

In animation, drawings are photographed to create illusion of movement by exposing the film, frame by frame with a speed of several frames per second. Puppets and clay figures are also used for this purpose. In contrast, computer animations are faster and accurate in calculating the in between position and generating frames, say in case of a fast moving animal or a flying aircraft. Computers are used to develop software that handles calculations needed to workout colours, speed, sound, background and other parameters in each frame. With the latest software and hardware, computer animations can be used to create 3D models or images.


This has opened up several new avenues in technical and scientific areas, besides films or games. Professionals, involved in this complex yet interesting task of computer-aided animations, are called computer animators. Animators are required to work for studio, television, advertising, and software-development companies. There is also a demand for animators in the field of science, technology or even sports, creating computer models of various events. Last few years have seen exponential growth in this field and have created vast career potential for those having imaginative and artistic bend of mind. The designation may vary for different organisations, depending upon the area of application, qualification or experience. The salary earned by a computer animator has no limits and can go upto couple of lakhs per annum, depending upon the individualís capabilities.

A computer animator, irrespective of the purpose or application of work, usually performs the following sequential tasks:

Storyboarding: A visual script is drawn for the animation sequence, like a cartoon drawing, in multiple frames. The storyboard is mostly drawn on paper, instead of a computer and helps to show the flow of the animation as well as to map out important scenes and characters.

Modelling: In this, an animator converts real objects into animated ones. This helps in visualising and controlling the behaviour of animated objects. With the help of laser, a real object or model is scanned and converted into a digital form. After conversion, the object can be viewed and manipulated into three dimensions.

Scripting/movement control: An animator then manipulates the static images and creates the illusion of motion pictures. For example, if a moving object is of football player in action, then different paths will be assigned to each moving part of his body, like hands and legs.

Techniques employed for creating computer animations are:

Kinematics: With this an animator designs a model to move according to human patterns of movement.

Dynamics: Used by animators to design non-human objects as if they were real.

In-betweening: The computer animator, with the help of a computer, performs calculations to produce in-between frames and save a lot of tedious manual work.

Rendering: Rendering is the process of making an object appear lifelike by combination of light, colour and shadow.

To become a computer animator, an individual needs to possess creative and artistic skills, besides having a formal training in computer animation. He should be exposed to interactive video games, cartoons and comics, which help in building up the imagination and drawing skills for story writing and composition.

He should also be familiar with the latest authoring tools and user interface designs, software like 3D studio, MAX, Illustrator, besides others. A successful computer animator should have good communication skills and share ideas with others. The educational background may vary, ranging from arts, dramatics, engineering to computer science. Several courses are available in computer animations, both in India as well as abroad. These courses are mostly of duration of one to four years.

The fees charged for each semester is heavy, keeping into consideration the huge earning opportunities that exist after or during the course. These courses are in multimedia, graphic design, illustration, 3D or film animation. Institutes providing courses and training in computer animation are Arena Multimedia, C-DAC, besides some art colleges and graphic institutes. There are numerous colleges abroad that provide graduate and postgraduate courses in computer animation. NCCA (National Centre for Computer Animation) is one such institute, which carries out courses for animation, digital effects, visualisation and games. Some other foreign institutes are Compufield Institute of Digital Arts, Academy of Arts College, Ohio State University, George Mason University, to name a few.

Numerous Web sites and magazines provide information on education as well as employment opportunities for computer animators. These are animation world wide, Pixar and career connections. Besides, some organisation like Disney, MTV, Universal Studio and various advertising agencies, regularly update their Web sites for vacancy of computer animators for 3D effects, movies, games and commercials.

Some of the related job titles for computer animators, depending upon the nature of work, are storyboard artists, background / layout artist, studio background artist and graphic designer artist.

The computer animator is required not only in film studios or TV stations, but also in other areas. In manufacturing industry, they do product visualisation, design and refinement of product, shop floor assembly layout and preparation of manufacturing cycle. For product promotion and advertisement, they are required to create film trailers, TV commercials, and music videos while in films they provide special effects, or pre-visualisation of difficult scenes. In scientific research, astronomy, physics and medicine, computer animator provides simulation of real life modelling. They are also required for Web page designing and creating multimedia and games CDs. In architecture and construction, computer animator helps in structural engineering, construction planning and site determination. They are in demand, especially in Western countries, for solving criminal cases by trial enactment animations or image composing of suspected criminals. In the field of education, they provide visual aid in classrooms and help in research projects. Computer animators can also extend their expertise to sports persons by creating visual animated models enacting various technicalities of the game.

Career opportunities exist for a computer animator in almost every sphere of life. All that a person needs is to have skills and potential.