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Tips to become a Successful Digital Animator – An Interview with Alex Safavinia

Who is a digital animator? 

There are two ways to produce animation – the traditional way where it requires the artist to draw by hand on light box (think early Disney programs), and there’s a new way to do so using computer software where digital animators create moving illustrations for TV, games or commercials.

Traditional Animator vs Digital Animator

Traditional animation was the dominant form of animation until digital animation was invented. If you have watched Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry while growing up, those are the animations created by traditional animators. Each frame was drawn by hand on paper in a slightly different way than the one before and the one after it to create the illusion of movement when everything is put onto film.

With the advent of digital animation software, this process is simplified, even though it is still a tedious process. Digital animators make illustrations come to life using computer software, and they can be 2D or 3D animators. Apart from having good artistic talent, animators have to master the different software that they use. This depends on the types of animation (or explainer video) that they are specialized in.

Interview with Alex Safavinia 

To give you more insights in the career of a digital animator, and how to become a successful one, we interviewed Alex Safavinia, the CEO and Creative Director of Kasra Design who happens to be an award-winning animator as well.

Questions: 

  • You started as an animator. What was your motivation to go for this job?

Growing up watching different cartoons, I had always wondered how the cartoons were created. I can say it was my childhood dream to make animations. I went on to study Creative Multimedia in my tertiary education. I think animation is a best medium to express yourself as the possibilities are unlimited. It is such a powerful communication tool that appeals to not only children, but adults as well.

  • You mentioned that you studied creative multimedia. What were the challenges during your studies? 

At my university, we had good lecturers who understood the principles of animation but technically, they were not good animators. So it was a challenge to learn new technologies and software. Thankfully, the Internet was available, and I could access a lot of information and tutorials to constantly improve myself to stay ahead of the classes.

  • Do you have a favorite animation software? Give our readers some tips about software and where to start from.

Before we go into the software, let me be clear that no software can make you a successful animator. The knowledge that an artist possesses makes him or her a good animator. So, one should start with learning the basic principles and accept criticisms as one grows. In this field, you will need to have an open mind and follow successful references constantly to improve and to become better in every aspect. 

The main software that many animators use now is Adobe After Effects. It still remains my most favorite software in the field of digital animation. Even If you are into 3D animation, you can’t ignore After Effects. You will still need it for compositing, motion graphics, tracking and post production in general. There are some alternatives but in my opinion nothing comes close to this amazing software.

There is also Toon Boom for cel animation which is definitely a good choice. Many successful projects were done using this software.

  • What 3D software is your ultimate choice? 

I would say Cinema 4D. It has many advantages over other 3D software hence its popularity. First, it is easier to learn and the UI is brilliant. You don’t get lost in the software so it speeds up your learning curve. Besides, there are tons of strong plugins made for this software. So, I’d highly recommend learning Cinema 4D if you want to be a modern digital animator or motion graphic artist. Maya is another strong software but the complexity of it can be discouraging for beginners especially.

  • What about simulations and particles? Any recommendation? 

X-Particles would be my first choice. One reason is that it works within Cinema 4D, so you don’t need to bring your work out and then import into Cinema 4D. Everything happens in one place. On the other hand, the software is extremely powerful. 

Of course, there is an alternative such as Houdini, but it is quite a difficult software to learn and requires coding which most creatives lack. We creatives think from the right side of our brain, right?

  • You started as a freelancer. What are the challenges of being a freelance animator? How to be a successful one?

You will need to wear multiple hats. You have to be good in developing concepts and execute the ideas the way your clients are expecting. Apart from technicalities, you will need to be good in communication and servicing clients. In a company, there are account managers who handle the client part, so animators do not need to spend time doing this. But when you are a freelancer, you realize this part can be time consuming, so it requires time management. 

You have to make sure that the clients are happy and being treated well. Identify the projects are right and those that are not right for you. 

Oh, one more thing, you will need to handle your finances and taxes too.

When you are a freelancer, the income is not guaranteed. There are times that there will be no client. Yes, it does happen. So having regular, satisfied clients is a key to surviving this industry so this makes client servicing a very important part of the job. A positive attitude goes a long way.

  • You hired and worked with many animators throughout your career. What kind of qualities are needed for Digital Animator?

Having a good artistic taste is the key. In addition, it is important that an animator must always be ahead of the industry trends and constantly checking new developments and techniques.  Apart from these, I’d say an animator must have adequate drawing skills. It comes handy for storyboarding and concept development. Generally, those with good drawing skills climb the ladder faster. 

  • Is there a university or animation school that you’d like to recommend to aspiring animators? 

In my opinion, Vancouver Film School is one of the best out there. If online education is your choice, Motion Design School and Domestika are highly recommended. 

For 3D animators, Gnomon School would be a good place to explore.

As mentioned earlier, no university or school can make you a great animator unless you put up hard work and practice tirelessly. But fret not, passion will drive you there.

  • What do you think about the future of digital animation industry?

This industry is always evolving so I foresee a great future for those who want to pursue a career in digital animation. Businesses become more open to including digital animation in their marketing tools, so the opportunities are ample. Technologies like VR and Hologram further adds more possibilities to digital animations. These will eventually become a thing in the future as businesses adopt them in their marketing strategies.

The Takeaway

We appreciate the time taken by Alex to share these insights into the world of digital animations. As concluded in the interview, it seems that digital animation will be relevant in the years to come. So for those who are interested in a career in this industry, they can feel more assure that the job opportunities and demand will continue to grow.