Animation Layout Artist
In computer-aided animation, a layout artist serves a similar function to a cinematographer; this person is responsible for determining the shot’s frame, camera angle, camera path, and lighting of each key animation scene. While the camera is virtual, and an artist, instead of a gaffer, fills in the lighting, the principle is essentially the same.
Whether animating a feature length film, television show, or even a video game cinematic, the role of the animation layout artist is basically the same. In close collaboration with the director, teams of layout artists translate storyboards and animatics into polished frames. This crew choreographs the character models in the animated environment and manipulates the virtual camera, essentially the point-of-view of the audience to dictate what is seen on screen, to capture the important emotion and plot of the scene. Layout artists position and pose the characters according to the action and dialogue in the script, giving the animators a starting point from which to fully flesh out the characters’ movements and expressions. Like a live-action production, several takes or versions of each scene will be laid out in order to give the director and editorial team options when cutting together the final product. Instead of actors, Panavision cameras, and fresnels, the tools of the layout artist are software applications like Renderman, which is used by Disney/Pixar.
Skills & Education
Those aspiring to become animation layout artists must have excellent traditional art skills, with talents in both drawing and painting. Additionally, these artists must be proficient in the use of computer animation and modeling software like Maya, Renderman, and others. Experience with editing packages like Avid, Final Cut, and software like After Effects is beneficial in practicing and understanding the film editing process. A college degree in computer animation, fine art, or film and television production is invaluable to this career. Coursework should include classes in cinematography, photography, and the study of film and animation history. The position demands someone who understands the techniques of cinematography and lighting, blocking, characterization, acting, and animation. Most importantly, the layout artist must have a vivid imagination and be uniquely creative.
What to Expect
Animation layout artists typically work as full-time employees of an animation production studio, like Pixar or Blue Sky, but may find freelance opportunities as a member of the production team of a television series or feature film. Similar positions exist within game development studios, working specifically on the cinematics or cut scenes that are interlaced with the gameplay. As with all areas of production and post-production, hours may be highly irregular, requiring at times much more than a typical 8-hour day. Studios hiring layout artists generally prefer a candidate with exceptional artistic ability that is competent with software applications, but they will train the right applicant. Most important is a trained eye for laying out an attractive scene that accurately conveys the mood and plot. Candidates are hired based on animated reels and portfolios. Previous experience in one or more areas of animation or visual effects is necessary. Opportunities do exist for entry-level work in the art department of animation studios, through which an employee can seek advancement to the role of layout artist.
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