Animating Life


Innovative technology paves way for aspiring animators to share their creations

Mae Yen Yap / Culture Editor


Animator Katie Frasier was working at a bakery. It was a job she didn't plan for after college.


For seven months, Frasier struggled for a job in her field. The competition within the animation industry was difficult, she said. But, she worked on independent projects on her off hours while applying for animation positions.

And then a phone call came.

South Park Studios asked Frasier to work as an animation generalist for the 20th season of the popular adult cartoon South Park.

“The hours were really long… so it was rough, but I learned so much in that short period of time,” Frasier said.

However, between working with talented people and producing new content every day, the experience was incredible, she said. Frasier has since left the job, but her art techniques and time management skills greatly improved due to her time at the studio.

When a person watches animated films or plays video games, they are often unaware of the amount of time, effort and technical skills poured into the product. It’s hard and competitive, but these creators bring life to the young and old.

Traditional animation:

Also known as cel animation. Each frame is hand-drawn to create an animation sequence, and the illusion of movement is created as you flip through sequential drawings.
Examples: Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The effort behind the magic

Animation programs are now more common in universities across the nation. Ohio University’s School of Media Arts and Studies’ games and animation program was recently announced as the second best animation program in Ohio, and one of the top 10 animation programs in the Midwest.


As of Fall Semester, the program has a total of 826 undergraduate and graduate students, said Judy Wilson, the administrative service assistant for the School of Media Arts and Studies, said. The school is also expanding its program, offering a new three-year MFA in communication media arts.

When Emelia Douglas began pursuing her bachelor’s degree in games and animation, “it was like a reality check.”

“Especially (when I was) starting out, it would take hours and hours to do just two or three seconds of work.” Emelia Douglas, an OU 2017 alumna

“It would take hours and hours to do just two or three seconds of work,” Douglas, a 2017 OU alumna, said. “I finally understood why it took cartoon studios and various TV shows so long to come out: because it takes forever to animate.”

Creating an animation is more than just drawing or making a 3-D model move as different types of animation require specific skill sets.

Stop-motion animators learn about lighting on sets, camera angles and how to make armatures for clay characters. 3-D animators need to know how to build and paint a virtual world from scratch while designing and animating, Tyler Ayres, an assistant professor in the school of media arts and studies at OU, said.

“It’s an enormous amount of work,” Ayres said. “That (amount) is even doubled or quadrupled when you’re talking about all the (work) that goes into (pre-production).”

Sometimes talent is not enough. Many young animators overcompensate their drawing by loading up on multiple projects, and eventually they face the problem of burnout.

Taylor Rohrig experienced that during her sophomore year. She broke down when the amount of time she was spending working on her animation began affecting her social life.

At that time, Rohrig, — now a senior studying games and animation, —reconsidered her path in the animation industry and questioned if creating art 24/7 was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

"If you're not OK, you gotta be OK to step back," Rohrig said.

Instead of animating, she now focuses on production as she has found she works better with people than on her own.

“Taking care of yourself is the most important thing in this industry,” Rohrig said. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to put a 100 percent into your work.”

2-D vector-based animation:

Similar to traditional animation, but utilizes computer generated animations in place of cels.
Examples: The Simpsons

Determination pays off

Ayres had always been interested in animation as a career, but animation programs were still uncommon when he began his undergraduate degree at Ohio State University back in 1994.

Becoming an animator seemed impossible when he was younger, he said. The animated TV shows and films he grew up watching were made by larger animation studios across the country. Even then, aspiring animators would have to compete with other artists for the same job at an animation studio.

Ayres continued to make short-animated films focusing on children’s entertainment in his spare time after graduating with a degree in graphic design. When a friend from OSU’s digital animation and interactive media program showed Ayres the work he was creating, he decided to quit his job and go back to graduate school.

“Really, all I wanted to do was to get my animation into a film festival,” Ayres said. “I wanted to be ‘the name,’ and if I could just try that, I just wanted to give it a shot.”

The leap paid off when Ayres’s graduate thesis film, RED & Blue, was screened at several film festivals and even shortlisted as a finalist at the Nicktoons Film Festivals.

“I was kind of taken back and also addicted from then on, because I knew I could do it,” he said.

After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, Frasier had a difficult time working as an animator. Even at South Park Studios, the job was demanding.

“Art can be so much tied to yourself," she said. "It’s not a job where you do it and then when you go home you can forget about it (and) it can be kind of challenging to progress."

3-D computer animation:

Very different from traditional animation. Also known as CGI, the images are generated using digital models that animators are able to move like puppets.
Examples: Disney’s Tangled

Advancements in technology

New innovations and animation programs are being created every day, and Aaron DiManna believes the quality of computer-generated animation is rapidly improving.

“(James Cameron’s) Avatar was amazing (when it came out) but now it’s not as impressive,” DiMana, a senior studying animation, said. “But if you show (the film) to the people who made King Kong, they’ll be amazed.”

It’s possible for animation to get “really close to reality” to the point where it’ll become tougher to discern between a computer generated image and reality, Ayres said.

“That level of what’s the most realistic game this year is probably much better than the most realistic game two years ago, four years ago or, God forbid, 10 years ago,” Ayres said.

The rapid progression of technology is not limited to computer programs. The accessibility of the internet has also allowed aspiring animators to reach out to others in the industry and give independent creators the chance to show off their work without being tied to a larger studio.

More than 10 of Polygon’s list of 2017’s video games to look forward to were produced by indie studios, some being part of the most highly anticipated independent games to come out this year.

The ability to self-publish content to the internet has allowed creators to tell a variety of stories and utilize different styles of animation, Frasier said. Although it can be difficult for an animator to stand out due to the overwhelming amount of content available on the internet, Frasier believes the internet has helped creators reach audiences across the globe.

“It’s a great thing that you can make something at your house and have it shown all over the world,” she said.

Motion graphics:

Unlike the other types of animation, motion graphics are usually not story driven or character-based. Used to create moving graphic elements or texts.
Examples: Film opening titles, animated logos

To aspiring animators

The animation industry can be stressful and may not provide a stable life to young animators, Frasier said.


“I do think if you choose animation you should be enjoying it,” she said. “You shouldn’t be so stressed out about trying to be technically perfect. … It should still be enjoyable.”


The internet is a “boundless resource” for aspiring animators, DiManna said.


Free animation programs, YouTube tutorials and forums are all available online for anyone who has access to a computer. With so many options, “there’s almost no reason to not be using them,” DiManna said.


Frasier said the most important thing for an animator is the determination to constantly improve oneself.


“It’s a cliché, but the more you draw, the better you will get,” she said. “Just make stuff and put it out there.”

Stop motion:

Similar to traditional animation but utilizes real life materials such as clay or puppets instead of drawings. Movement is created by taking a photo of an object, and moving its pose before taking the next sequential photo. When the photos are played back one after the other, they give the illusion of movement.
Examples: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


Definitions cited from Bloop Animation Studios

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Aaron DiManna’s name. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

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