I Want Your Job: Animator

'Every day is a magical experience'
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The Independent Online

Andrew Chapman, 26, is an animator at Cosgrove Hall Films, currently working on the new animated Rupert Bear series.

What do you actually do?

I do stop-motion animation, which is the same kind of animation used in Wallace and Gromit. We use 3-D puppets made from rubber latex, with a jointed metal skeleton. Each time I adjust the puppet slightly, the camera takes a still picture. Taken together, these pictures look like the puppet is moving. Everything's got to be smooth and fluid, so I'll check the movements by scrolling through the frames on a computer, just like an old fashioned flip-book.

What's a typical day at work like?

I'm usually at the studio between 9.30am and 6pm, but sometimes you need to work longer to meet a deadline. We have a storyboard meeting with the director and the other animators, where we run through different story ideas and get a clear idea of where each episode is going, and what kind of performance the director wants. A lot of planning and preparation goes into each shot. I usually film about 13 seconds a day - that's about 600 individual frames.

What do you love most about animation?

This is what I used to dream of doing when I was a kid - it's what I did as a hobby, so getting paid to do it is a bonus. I grew up watching DangerMouse and Count Duckula, so it's a real privilege for me to work for Cosgrove Hall, which actually made those cartoons. You get to act and perform, since you have to act out all the movements the puppets make, and really pushing myself to be creative every day is a magical experience. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do.

What's tough about it?

One thing I don't like is that on set, you're working in a dark environment under extreme lights. It can get very hot in the summer, especially when the air conditioning isn't working. It's physically, mentally and emotionally draining - you're focusing intently on the screen and making tiny, precise movements, for up to four hours at a time. You lose track of where you are, because you put so much emotion into it.

What skills do you need to be a fantastic animator?

You've got to be interested in how things move. For instance, when a car stops, it doesn't just stop dead, it rolls to a halt. You need to be the kind of person who notices particular details. I find myself watching how I pick up a mug, or the way somebody walks or runs, so I can use it to recreate the movement later. You have to be very imaginative and creative to put your own twist on the way a puppet gestures. Also, understanding the anatomy of the body will show you why people move the way they do.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to be an animator?

It's a very competitive industry to get into, so you have to be extremely on the ball and determined. If your heart and soul's not in it, you won't make it. After graduating with a degree in animation, I worked for free for four months before getting a paid contract. Get some work experience at a studio, making brews and generally helping out. It's the best way of getting yourself known. You also need to be making short films and getting a show reel together - you'll need video footage to show your ability to get something moving on screen. It doesn't need to be elaborate. Get yourself a cheap film camera and computer, and a blob of plasticine, and start experimenting.

What's the salary and career path like?

You start out as a trainee animator, earning about £18-20,000 a year, then work your way up to becoming an animator, earning between £26-32,000 a year. Different studios have different salary brackets. You'd probably earn more in London than further north. You could produce adverts, direct, or move into doing feature films like Corpse Bride, or 3D computer games and animation.

'Rupert Bear Follow the Magic' debuts on Five's Milkshake on Wednesday 8 November at 7.30am.

For more information, go to the Sector Skills Council for the Audiovisual Industries' website, www.skillset.org/careers, or the British Film Institute website, www.bfi.org.uk.