Lead Animator

  • Lead Animator

The lead animator at a game development studio is a mentor to the junior staff who guides and tutors the artists in evolving and developing their talent. This person is also the right hand of the animation director in supervising the staff toward completion of animation assets in a timely, efficient manner.


Duties

While animators are cast to specific characters with attention to personality and specific ability, the lead animator is typically assigned the hero character of the game, or one of the central playable figures. In addition to the lead animator’s responsibility to deliver on his or her own art assignments, this person also has creative input on the development of the game during pre-production and will monitor junior staff through the execution of animation for additional characters and creatures. Within the workflow and deadlines established by the animation director, the lead animator checks in regularly with the department staff to ensure that milestones are met, to advise on technique, and to offer critique of work for revision. The lead is the first step up the chain of command, and as such will vet a number of questions and concerns; this includes identifying efficiency roadblocks in the animation production process, troubleshooting technical issues, dealing with personnel conflicts, and approving basic requests within the department.

On a regular basis, the lead animator will meet with the animation director, lead designers, and lead programmers to discuss completion of assets and their delivery through the pipeline. There, the lead presents finished work and sequences in progress to hear feedback and report to the other animators. This person is the primary liaison between his or her department’s staff and the larger studio. As such, the lead must be fluent in programmer lingo and have a thorough knowledge of the interdependencies of each segment of the studio.

Skills & Education

A college degree in computer animation, game art, or a related field is strongly encouraged. A formal education is not uniformly required, but increased competition in the industry demands new candidates be better equipped with training and relevant skills than the previous generation. Coursework in fine art is recommended, as animators are expected to be talented traditional artists with a demonstrated understanding of classic technique. An animator who can draw with paper and pen can be trained to use software. Having said that, a lead animator should be intimately familiar with 3-D art tools like Maya, 3ds Max, and Motion Builder. Your experience should also include character rigging, modeling, texturing, and lighting. Some knowledge of scripting and physics simulation is also helpful.

What to Expect

At least three years of animation experience in game development, film, or television is necessary, and you must have a firm grasp of the production processes common to game development. The standard path toward work as a lead animator is through promotion at a single game studio. Of course, employment as a junior animator with at least one shipped title under your belt can get your foot in the door with any competing company if the prospects for advancement at the current studio seem bleak.  Animation jobs are available for entry-level talent with education, but you may also consider taking another art-related position such as environment artist or character artist. With experience and at least three shipped titles to your credit, you may have the opportunity to advance to the role of animation director, or consider moving into game design.

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