Les métiers du cinéma d’animation

This scheme was modified with the emergence of a new technique of creation and digital entertainment: 3D or computer generated images. This technology has caused a new work division according to the following simplified segmentation: design, storyboarding, modelling, layout, rigging, animation, rendering, compositing.

The evolution and diversification of these new digital tools and their generalization led to further consequences:

  • Computerization of some segments of the traditional 2D chain, first of all the colour layout;
  • The development of subdivisions in each step of 3D, introducing new specializations;
  • The emergence of alternative creation / animation techniques (motion capture, procedural animation), generating their own definitions of skills;
  • Application to traditional 2D animation of tools, methods, procedures – and thus skills – initially deployed in the field of 3D. This phenomenon is not only a kind of digital transplant. It affects the traditional work division and offers a digital continuity where before the division of tasks prevailed.

As a matter of fact, there is no longer only one dominant production line today, involving a dozen of skills, but several, involving dozens of skills or functions and sometimes new interactions between them. Technological development is obviously continuous and more and more complex, in a way that makes representation more precise, creates more specific tools, and refines specializations. This has obviously consequences in terms of education and employment.

For decades, the production pipeline has experienced only few changes. Implemented in the middle of the 30s, it has formalized the main stages of production, and consequently the associated functions and professions.
This succession of tasks is still relevant concerning “traditional” animation and still provides an understandable grid for other techniques.
The graphics steps (except script and sound design) are schematically composed as follows:

  • Preproduction, including creation of models (characters, sets, props), storyboard, layout;
  • Production, which is the animation itself (usually key poses and intervals) and execution of the sets;
  • post-animation, including cleaning, colour layout, checking and shooting.

The production ends with the post-production phase (image and sound) and is often supported by a specialized service provider.

The generalization of more powerful digital tools in the pipeline could have caused – and still causes sometimes – confusion between the skills and the tools. Some could believe that software performance would decrease the share of human responsibility in the creation and therefore training should now focus on learning how to use those tools.

The tools’ training is at best inadequate, at worst a delusion:

  • First, because tools are essentially doomed to rapid obsolescence in a sector highly impregnated by technological development;
  • Then because tool is attached to a particular task and does not allow the understanding of the whole creative process of successive steps and the needed plurality of skills;
  • Finally, because tools can not create the artistic added value that the potential employers expect.

If training is just teaching where are the commands in software, students will not be able to understand or implement technological changes. This weakens proportionally their employability. It also locks them in a kind of functional myopia that ignores the sense of working together and loses the horizon of creation.

The trivialization of digital tools has also had a pernicious effect: using computer too frequently induces progress by trial / error instead of a clear technical and artistic consciousness of the aims and means. Training must awake and enrich this consciousness. This must be an additional argument to strengthen the artistic culture and general knowledge during the studies.

Good training activities have in common to form to profession. This assumed choice is part of their interest and value. What job(s) are we talking about? There are many, throughout the pipeline, and can be distinguished by the used animation techniques. However, they all are artistic professions requiring high technicality. This double determination identifies the priorities for an efficient training.

Another dimension of the “profession” should be highlighted: an animation programme results from the work of a team that brings together multiple skills throughout a complex pipeline. A professional should be able to locate himself accurately and efficiently in this process, to understand the skills implemented upstream, which determine his work, and those mobilized downstream, that his work determines.

This reality also underlies training: it has to promote a comprehensive understanding of the chain of creation and a particular knowledge of each step of production. Therefore, even if students are specialized at the end of their studies, they have to learn all the different stages of a production. This is the condition of the real control of their speciality. It also guarantees that their skills will not be devalued at every technological progress or economic upheaval.

In the studios’ actual practice, the demand for highly specialized or general profiles is directly linked to the production volumes that have to be processed: high volumes involve a highly work division.

The animation industry employs about 5 000 people in France.  Due to the particular working conditions in the animation sector: 80% are intermittent. Practically, this means that their relationship with their employers is regulated by a “usual” contract of limited duration (see Annex 8 of the unemployment insurance convention). To receive unemployment benefits, intermittent must justify a minimal number of hours in a given period of time, that is 507 hours in the last 304 days.