Even if you were to watch hundreds of Youtube videos on how to create animations, nothing beats hands-on practice: if you want to be an animator, just animate!
But getting into an exercise routine can be overwhelming. Maybe you don't know where to start or you're just too scattered to keep yourself consistent, or you don't feel very inspired by the exercises you found online. Experienced animators have all been there at some point, so don't sweat it: in this blog post, we give you short mindset tips to build your own exercise routine and help you level up your animation skills.
By the end of this article, you'll have a solid plan to follow.
Learn by Doing
Animation is a tacit skill: it can't be easily taught through words, you just have to do it! An exercise routine is particularly interesting to get yourself compounding results over time without feeling overwhelmed. Practice for 30 minutes every day―whether it's during lunch break, before bed time, or after school―and you'll improve by leaps and bounds in no time.
But mindless repetition won't get you far―you need to ramp up difficulty. This is why instead of giving you homework in the form of a purposeless checklist of exercises, we want to give you a general roadmap to come up with your own workout plan! Understanding the principles of animation and focusing on applying them purposefully in each exercise by setting clear intentions for what you want to achieve is key to make consistent progress.
Last but not least, exercise routines are not only essential for improving your skills, but also to keep your portfolio fresh and attractive to animation studios.
Now you get the gig, let's dive straight into it.
1. Create Your Own Projects
First of all, you need just enough emotional attachment to keep you hooked. While learning how to animate a bouncing ball is important, it can also be pretty boring!
Go wild instead―by working on your own projects!
Taking on challenges that align with your interests and long-term goals is much better to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios and foster a deeper understanding of the animation process. We humans are emotional animals: we learn faster when we enjoy it!
For instance, you can write a short 5-second script and try to animate it. Use your surroundings to find inspiration, and keep a notebook handy to record your thoughts when it strikes.
If you find yourself stuck, ask ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas with you: "Hey, AI overlord. I want to learn to animate foxes. Give me short animation ideas please?"
2. Work with Others
Join forces with fellow animators, artists, or even writers. Working in a team is the heart of all animation studios. It'll expose you to different perspectives, challenge you to adapt to various art styles, and enhance your problem-solving skills.
Even though collaboration is far from easy―conflicts are bound to happen one day or another―it's absolutely crucial to learn from others too because you can't gauge your progress without feedback!
And the best part is you don't need be in art school or work in a studio to find collaborators. You can find them all over the Internet: on Discord, Reddit, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, or even on Twitter / X. Just go out there and ask.
(we run a Discord server for animation experts by the way, feel free to join us!)
On particularly-busy days, schedule some time to create short storyboards!
Storyboarding is an essential skill for animators to plan and visualize the sequence of images before diving into the detailed work. It's perfect when you don't want to go all the way to render a full blown animation, but it'll help you learn to quickly figure out how to frame, pace, and compose scenes.
To become a professional implies learning to draw fast while getting the details right: character positions, design, and movement flow. A storyboard allows you to experiment with that, and all you need are a notebook and a pencil.
4. Context Matters
Remember it's not just about what you animate but why: conveying emotions by telling a story. You need to understand and add context to your animation to give it depth.
Imagine a character sitting alone at a park bench. She starts with a neutral expression, then slowly breaks into a warm, genuine smile. The animation isn't just about the mechanical movement of lips and cheeks to form a smile―it's about conveying the emotion of happiness and contentment.
Part of your exercise routine could sometimes integrate scene breakdowns including notes on character acting (how the character reacts to various emotional triggers like joy, sadness, anger) and character interactions (movements involving two or more characters) but also more abstract animations to visualize emotions through shapes, colors, materials, and techniques.
5. Animation-Specific Exercises
When you try to find animation exercices online, you'll read lists like "animate a character walking in different styles", "animate a swinging pendulum", or "create an explosion effect". But life is made up of hundreds of thousands of micro-interactions and you'll never have enough years to do them all, let alone all the possibilities offered to your imagination.
Instead, you need to view animations like puzzles to solve in your mind first:
- Choose your favorite classic animation clips on YouTube, or real-life footages of a movement you want to reproduce, and watch them in slow speed mode.
- Break down each movement, keyframe by keyframe.
- Start with the first keyframe and draw the important parts. If you animate an opening hand for example, you need to get the fingers and the palm right.
- Repeat until completing a basic storyboard.
Getting a sense of the flow and what elements to pay attention to is what matters most in animation-specific exercices, but the learning process is always similar.
As you gain more experience, breaking down movements will become second nature and you'll be able to animate anything you want.
6. Camera Movement
In filmmaking, the position and movement of the camera is another important aspect of storytelling. Animations are no different.
Experiment with camera animations like pans, zooms, tilts... whatever you find interesting while binge-watching Netflix or going to the theater!
7. Share Your Art
Last but not least, putting yourself out there is a crucial step in your journey as an animator.
As we previously mentionned, mindless repetition won't get you far: sharing your work not only allows you to showcase your skills but also opens the door to valuable feedback that can propel your growth.
Consider platforms with existing animation communities: Instagram, Youtube, Tiktok, etc. You can also join CGWire's Discord to meet like-minded animators.
Then, build a portfolio―a website showcasing your best work, giving potential collaborators and employers a comprehensive view of your skills. It's important you own your own platform as well.
Don't shy away from seeking feedback on your animations from people who aren't necessarily animation experts. Join online communities, forums, or social media groups dedicated to animation. Channels like Reddit's r/animation are great places to share your work and receive constructive feedback.
Animation exercises are great to diversify your skill set and challenge yourself to grow as an animator. But it's essential to keep in mind that the goal is not to complete a checklist of exercises but to learn to apply the principles of animation to real-world scenarios.
The core principle emphasized throughout is the importance of learning by doing but with intentional progression. 30 minutes of daily practice compound to 15 hours over a month. 180 hours over a year. If you think of creative ways to integrate these exercises into your quotidian rituals, you won’t even feel a thing! The best moment to start is now.
Make sure to join us on Discord if you need additional help with exercise routine or just want to hang out with 1000+ animation experts from all over the world!