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My First Job in Film: What is an animated feature film?

What is an animation?

Once reserved for the Saturday matinee for children, animation has pervaded all areas of the industry, from features to commercials, music videos, video games, documentaries, intros and credits, broadcast, short films and VFX. What classes a project as an animation is the method of its creation. Animations, whether stop motion or CGI, are created frame by frame in both 2D and 3D. Viewed at normal speed, or 24fps, a continuous illusion of movement is created. There are various forms of animation such as:

  • Stop motion. There are three separate types of stop-motion animation, the process of setting up the image is the same, but it’s the form of the subject which defines them. The kind of stop motion we associate with Wallace and Gromit or The Fantastic Mr Fox also known as Claymation. Pixilation, which uses humans as the subject and puppet animation, using marionettes or puppets.

  • CGI. This is a broad term for any animation created via computer generation, either scanned into the computer or created entirely digitally.

  • Cut out animation. Using materials such as paper, fabric or cardboard, cut out animation is a very straightforward and effective branch of animation. South Park started life this way, but for production to speed up the materials were scanned into the computer for a quicker process.

  • Drawn by hand animation. The classic Disney films, before they all became CGI, were drawn by hand. The process of layering images on a plastic cell, replicated hundreds of time to create motion was a timely and intricate process. In the film Loving Vincent, 12 oil paintings are used per second in the world’s first fully painted feature film. The process of the traditional hand-drawn animation technique has been applied, but in this instance, they are oil on canvas rather than plastic cells.  

  • Applied to film animation. Going back to the Lumiere Brothers, applying paint or drawing directly onto film stock is one form of animation.

A feature film animation goes through the same production process as a live action drama. The script is developed, and green lit, pre-production, production and post-production are still observed. The project time, however, can be very different. Animation requires time, as animator's focus on the absolute minutiae of a characters movement. In stop-motion, rooms of model makers can be seen at workstations creating characters and scenery out of clay, while the animators working in studio spaces move characters limbs millimetres before clicking the button on the camera. Working with computers is not a speedy process either as rendering and image manipulation takes an equal amount of thought and planning.  

Who makes animated feature films in the UK?

Animation is a specialised area of the film industry so production companies will be focused on this one form of output. UK Bristol-based Aardman Animations output an array of stop motion animation. Films such as the Wallace and Gromit series, to The Pirates! In an Adventures with Scientist! Which blended stop-motion with CG elements. They also output children's programmes such as Timmy Time. There is a host of other animation companies in the UK, working all over the country in all disciplines of the animation genre.  

How much does an animated feature cost?

Disney’s Frozen reportedly cost $150 million to produce and market, while Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit had a production cost of $30 million. Budgets vary greatly as it depends on the manpower and methods of production.

How long does it take to make an animated feature?

Toy Story took four years to make in the 1990’s with the equivalent time spent on 2016’s Finding Dory. Despite the ever advancing nature of technology around four years is the benchmark for an animated feature film.

What crew are involved with an animated feature?

Dependent on the type of production (stop motion, CGI, etc.) there are many roles available in animation. As with all features, animated or otherwise, directors, producers and screenwriters are involved in the initial stages of development. The core development team will be:

  • Producer

  • Director and/or animation director

  • Script producer

  • Writers

  • Art director/visual development director

  • Technical director

  • Legal Department

  • Production assistant

  • IT specialist 

Pre production
  • Production manager 
  • Production co-ordinator 
  • Production assistant 
  • Production secretary 
  • Studio supervisor 
  • Script producer 
  • Script writers 
  • Script co-ordinator 
  • Storyboard artist 
  • Animation director 
  • Reference animator 
  • Art director
  • Animators 
  • Character, set and prop designers 
  • Background painters 
  • Colour stylists 
  • Voice talent 
  • Lip sync specialist 
  • Recording director 
  • Recording technicians 
  • Sound reader 
  • Sound engineer
2D production
  • All of the above production staff plus : 
  • Head of compositing 
  • Compositors 
  • Camera operators
3D production
  • Production team listed above plus: 
  • Sound team listed above 
  • Lead modeller 
  • Modellers 
  • Lead animator 
  • Animators 
  • Technical director(s) 
  • Lead texture artist 
  • Texture artists 
  • Lead special effects artist 
  • Render wrangler 
  • Motion capture team 
  • Network administrator
Post production
  • Producer 
  • Director 
  • Animation director 
  • Post production supervisor 
  • Editor 
  • Compositor 
  • Sound editor 
  • Music editor 
  • Sound supervisor/designer

who hires the crew?

Production managers will be involved with the hiring of the crew led by the HoDs. Keep an eye on the creative companies, VFX and corporate communications companies as well as the animations companies. Animations for the web have become increasingly popular so do your research and use all your resources to find opportunities. 

Where do I find these jobs

If you want to work in animated features, keep an eye on IMDB, The Knowledge, UK Production News to see what is going into production alongside opportunities listed on MFJF. Research the smaller companies that offer animation services and the larger animation companies in the UK. It is a small industry, so you’re going to have to work very hard to get your CV noticed and foot in the door.

what experience do I need to work in animation?

A degree course in animation will stand you in good stead when looking to produce a website with a portfolio of work. If you don’t have a degree but a passion for animation, generate example work in your own time to show to potential employers. At stage one of your plan, you can be looking for runner, or assistant work at animation studios, or work experience if your portfolio and CV need some filling out. The feature animations sector in the UK is very small, so you are going to need all resources available to you to help in your career. Animation skills can be transferable over into other areas of the business such as VFX, so look into all aspects of the industry as you approach your career plan.