Video game animators, like cartoon animators, are responsible for portraying movement and behavior. They bring to life characters and creatures, and apply their skills to objects, scenery, and environmental effects. Whether the game is as stylized as Batman: Arkham Asylum or a photorealistic stunner such as Modern Warfare, animators must create emotionally believable characters that allow the player to interact with the game in a realistic way. The way a tank traverses the terrain or Harley Quinn climbs the stairs must precisely mimic movement in real life.


In video game animation there are two methods for bringing virtual characters to life: motion capture and hand keying. With motion capture, the animator uses data collected by the motion capture artist as a framework on which to lay the character design. The animator imports information from the motion sequences into a 3D modeling program like Maya or 3ds Max. He or she then applies the character model by mapping recorded motion data onto the corresponding points of the 3D figure to be animated. This technique allows the animator to give his or her character motion that is lifelike and fluid.

In hand keying, the animator takes the figure built by the character rigger and physically manipulates each motion through the use of software animation and action editing tools. The animator sets keys, or movement instructions, to individual bones and joints. The keys describe the orientation of the bone: its location, rotation, and size. Motion capture animation relies on the movement of the actor in the suit to determine the action of the animated character; hand keying allows the animator to freely direct the character to any movement imaginable.

Skills & Education

It is typical for game studios to require a four-year degree. Coursework in game development and design will give you the hands-on experience working with industry-standard 3D animation software. Traditional art instruction and computer animation classes will develop your drafting skills. Animators need a strong understanding of anatomy, psychology, and principles of movement such as staging, squash and stretch, timing, anticipation, follow-through, exaggeration, and arcs. Creative writing courses are also helpful to hone your storytelling abilities. College experience is a great way to develop a portfolio of work and gain industry-relevant experience.

What to Expect

Large game companies with multiple properties in development often require at least two years of experience for animators on AAA titles. Smaller brands can offer entry-level talent a great situation for expanding your abilities and your professional network. After you have proven yourself a skilled and talented animator, you can advance to larger companies and games, then eventually grow into the roles of lead animator and animation director. To have a successful career in this field you must have a passion for gaming and animation, work well in a team environment, and take great personal pride in your work. Your characters are your best calling card. 


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