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January 12, 2015

Cool Computer Science Careers: How to Introduce Your Students to Jobs in Animation

We’ve talked about the importance of integrating computer science into the classroom to meet the needs of 21st-century learning and careers. This week, we will take a look at one of the many careers you can get your students excited about as they develop their computer science skills: 3D animation.

Not only is 3D animation a great example of a meaningful job in computer science, but it’s also something that most students are already interested in. What kid doesn’t have a favorite Pixar or Dreamworks film? Animation is not just drawing, writing, and voice acting. It’s a complex process that requires many different skill sets.

Below you will find descriptions of some of the technical artists who work together to make a 3D animated film and tips to introduce your students to these cool, computer science careers.


What do modelers do?

One of the first steps when creating an animated film is to build 3D models of the characters and sets. Modelers use knowledge of anatomy, geometry, 3D modeling programs, and 3D printing to create the most lifelike models possible to guide the animator’s work.

How can you introduce the job of modeler to your students?

With the cost of 3D printers dropping to around $500, 3D printing is becoming more and more popular in schools. If you happen to have a 3D printer in your school, ask your students to create their own models with these 3D modeling and printing programs: SketchupTinkercad, and 3DTin.

If you don’t have access to a 3D printer, have no fear! This excellent article from Kids, Code, and Computer Science will teach you everything you need to know about 3D printing without your own printer.


What do animators do?

Once the models are created, animators can get to work!

  • Animators bring 3D models of characters to life by using math and computer science skills to pose and move the models in virtual space.
  • Animators rely on storyboards – a comic strip of key frames drawn by the story artists – to inform characters’ movements. Storyboards are essential for animation, but also make a great tool in the classroom for teaching creative and informational writing.
  • Animators spend significant time collecting references for their characters’ movements, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Since animation involves exaggerated movement of characters, animators often show a flair for acting.
  • Animators also need to have a good grasp of physics and spatial awareness, as well as an understanding of anatomy to make characters’ movements seem natural.

How can you introduce the job of an animator to your students?

  • For younger students, download Animate Me! This free app will show kids a fun, simplistic view of an animator’s job.
  • Older more advanced students will enjoy professional-grade programs like HoudiniBlender (free, open-source), and Maya 3D (available free to educators and students).


What do lighters do?

Once the models have been created and the animators have worked their magic, lighters (i.e., lighting artists) give the 3D models and animations their lifelike look. Hundreds of lights must be precisely placed at certain angles in virtual sets to give the footage a realistic finish.

How can you introduce the job of lighter to your students?

While lighters use sophisticated computer programs, you can help your students understand the impact of lighting with the following activity:

1. Photograph a simple object (e.g., a bowl of fruit).

2. Once you assess the base lighting (sunlight, overhead lights, etc.), have students hold flashlights as spotlights at different angles and in various combinations, while snapping pictures.

3. Ask students to observe the differences between shots and identify different light sources against the finished pictures.

Animation as a career can appeal to all of your students, whether they have a flair for art, math, science, acting, or storytelling. To delve even deeper into animation and learn more about integrating it into your classroom, check out Pixar in a Box from Khan Academy.


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