What is Video Game Animation and How Does it Work?
In This Article
Video game animators are officially in high demand, and it’s plain to see why.
The global video game market is expected to skyrocket to an astonishing $268.8 billion by 2025. And as of 2023, there are now 3.03 billion gamers worldwide, a figure that has risen by 1 billion in just seven years.
What’s more, in Canada, the video game industry now supports approximately 55,300 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) of employment and will contribute a total of $5.5 billion to the Canadian economy in 2021.
But perhaps you’re already familiar with these stats.
In fact, chances are you’re reading this blog post because you’re already considering a career in this highly creative and increasingly lucrative profession. But before you embark on the video game animation journey, let’s make sure you can answer the following question:
- What exactly do video game animators do?
Having trouble answering? Fear not! We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you navigate the world of video game animation!
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What is Video Game Animation?
In simple terms, video game animation is the process of animating – bringing to life – the characters, objects, and environments in a video game. In other words, animators give life to all of a video game’s in-game assets, which are most often created separately by 2D and 3D artists.
Animators work alongside game designers, programmers, and other game development professionals to ensure that the visual elements of a game match both its overarching vision as well as its technical gameplay mechanics. Because of this, video game animation requires a balance of artistic ability and technical expertise.
How Does Video Game Animation Work?
Game animators utilize a variety of techniques and software programs to design and implement animations. These can range from early notebook sketches to the 3D modelling of virtual worlds using programs such as Autodesk and Blender.
In the broadest terms, video game animators work with both 2D and 3D models to create sequences of drawings and images that when blended generate movement and action. In the biz, this is referred to as additive animation.
In addition, it’s important to remember that video game animation is tied fundamentally to game engines – software frameworks that handle a game’s physics, which determine how characters and objects physically interact with one another. Some of the world’s leading game engines include Unreal Engine, Unity, and Godot.
The Basics of Video Game Animation
All game animators possess a combination of creativity and tech knowledge.
The animator’s toolkit primarily consists of software programs. Typically an animator will use one program for 2D animation, which involves more hand drawing, and another for 3D animation, which requires them to work with digital “rigs.”
Both 2D and 3D programs are designed to allow animators to create and manipulate the movement of characters, objects, and environments.
Some popular 2D animation programs include:
Some popular 3D animation programs include:
Knowing how to use complex software like Adobe Animate and Autodesk is essential if you want to be a game animator. However, on the soft-skill side of things, being highly creative and possessing strong artistic abilities is also a must.
Video game animators must have exceptional drawing and design abilities. In some cases – like on smaller indie productions – videogame animators are responsible for actually creating a game’s characters, objects, and environments, not just animating them. In this case, the animator must have the ability to conceptualize and draw visually engaging assets from scratch.
In other instances, if an animator is only responsible for bringing to life another artist’s assets, they must still possess a deep and creative understanding of physics; they’re typically tasked with creating movements that are either highly realistic or uniquely engaging.
Here are three design-focused areas you should focus on if you want to be a video game animator:
- Drawing: Most video game animators start out as gifted illustrators. So, start practicing the fundamentals of drawing.
- Colour theory: As an animator, you’ll be responsible for composing everything from simple objects to complex virtual worlds. Because of this, it’s important you understand the basics of colour theory and how colour can be used to create visually appealing assets.
- Human and animal anatomy: To be a strong animator, you’ll need a thorough understanding of how physical bodies move and are constructed from an anatomical perspective. In some cases, you might even need to develop true-to-life skeletons for your characters.
Types of Video Game Animation
For the most part, video game animation is separated into two distinct categories: 2D and 3D animation.
2D animators are responsible for animating (bringing to life) flat, two-dimensional game assets that use vectors rather than pixels. Because of this, 2D animators only need to consider the height and width of their images. In addition, 2D animators can work directly from hand drawings, which can be scanned and uploaded to programs like Adobe Animate and Synfig.
2D animation is most often used in mobile games, side-scrollers, and retro-inspired games. Animators specializing in this space use techniques such as skeletal animation, sprite sheets, and old-school frame-by-frame animation to enliven a game’s assets.
While the outputs generated via 2D animation differ greatly from that of 3D, the overarching goal between the two remains the same: to create the illusion of motion by manipulating digital characters, objects, and environments.
3D animators are responsible for animating (bringing to life) complex, three-dimensional game assets that use pixels instead of vectors. Unlike 2D animation, 3D software requires animators to be well-versed in rigging – an animation technique that involves developing three-dimensional skeletons of your characters, objects, and environments.
Animators create rigs by adapting the scale, position, and rotation of specific points on their digital assets. In many cases, rigging involves providing characters with a digital skeleton that actually mimics those of humans or animals. This process can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days, depending on the complexity of your project. For a quick demo, check out the video below:
Aside from rigging, 3D animators use techniques like motion capture, procedural animation, and keyframe animation to create complex three-dimensional assets.
How Do You Learn Video Game Animation?
Now that you have a solid understanding of what video game animation actually is, it’s time you start learning the trade.
Here are three steps you can take on your own to begin building a strong foundation for a career as a video game animator.
- Develop your artistic skills: Continuously put in the effort to grow as an artist and a creative. In particular, we recommend that you practice both hand drawing and digital art as these are the foundational artistic skills required for the job.
- Learn animation software: Familiarize yourself with some of the most popular animation software programs currently on the market. Dive into both 2D and 3D programs and make sure you are comfortable with other commonly used design tools like Photoshop and Illustrator.
- Study animation techniques: Don’t skip out on theory. Take the time to understand the principles of animation and movement, including inertia and momentum, blending and transitions, and mass and balance.
Finally, this blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that one of the most effective and efficient ways to launch a career as an animator is to enroll in a dedicated videogame animation course or program. Toronto Film School’s Video Game Design & Animation Diploma Program offers students the unique opportunity to refine their animation skills and build a job-ready portfolio while also networking with industry pros.