by Steven Zozula

Computer animation has become a mainstay in the entertainment industry, and sometimes you wouldn’t even realize that something you are watching is computer animation. From character animations in Pixar films, to creating realistic massive crowd replications in big budget blockbusters to designing virtual reality worlds for new technology like the Oculus Rift, computer animation or CGI (computer-generated imagery) animation is the process used for generating animated images by using computer graphics. [i] Thanks to its growing popularity, the job market for computer animators has been increasing!

There are two types of computer animation commonly used in the field:

Computer-assisted animation is usually classed as two-dimensional (2D) animation. Creators drawings either hand drawn (pencil to paper) or interactively drawn(drawn on the computer) using different assisting appliances and are positioned into specific software packages. Within the software package the creator will place drawings into different key frames which fundamentally create an outline of the most important movements. The computer will then fill in all the ” in-between frames”, commonly known as Tweening. Computer-assisted animation is basically using new technologies to cut down the time scale that traditional animation could take, but still having the elements of traditional drawings of characters or objects.[i] Two examples of films using computer-assisted animation are Beauty and the Beast and Antz.


Computer-generated animation is known as 3-dimensional (3D) animation. Creators will design an object or character with an X,Y and Z axis. Unlike the traditional way of animation no pencil to paper drawings create the way computer generated animation works. The object or character created will then be taken into a software, key framing and tweening are also carried out in computer generated animation but are also a lot of techniques used that do not relate to traditional animation. Animators can break physical laws by using mathematical algorithms to cheat, mass, force and gravity rulings. Fundamentally, time scale and quality could be said to be a preferred way to produce animation as they are two major things that are enhanced by using computer generated animation. Another great aspect of CGA is the fact you can create a flock of creatures to act independently when created as a group. An animal’s fur can be programmed to wave in the wind and lie flat when it rains instead of programming each strand of hair separately.[i] A few examples of computer-generated animation movies are Toy Story, Frozen, Inside Out, Shrek, and Finding Nemo.

Check out this behind the scenes videos of the Making of Pixar Animation Monsters University:


Example of a 3D Model with Motion Capture

The type of computer science and S.T.E.A.M. skills needed in computer animation can include drawing, 3D modeling, virtual reality, photography for stop motion animation, motion capture, graphic design, and computer programming. There are many colleges and universities that now offer degrees in computer animation, where the focus is generally on the more creative and artistic side of the field, but also teaching the latest high-end software needed to perform many tasks. The most popular animation software out there now includes Autodesk Maya, Adobe After Effects and Animate, Toon Boom Harmony, Cinema 4DDragonFrame for stop motion animation, Pixologic, and several from The Foundry.

Those interested in a career in animation might find employment in a production or animation studios for TV and film, but also in advertising, web design, and video game fields. Some of the most well known animation studios are Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Animation, Blue Sky Studios, Nickelodeon Studios, and Sony Pictures Animation. Many of these studios have high-profiled internships where students can get their foot in the door. Here are just a few …

Check out this video of what it is like to be a part of the DreamWorks Animation Team:



Want to give animation a try? Pixar has teamed up with Khan Academy to demonstrate how math, science, engineering, and the arts are vital part of the magic and wonder of the Pixar filmmaking process with Pixar in a Box. Learn more here!


Have a Computer Science career that you’re interested in knowing more about or one that you would like to share with us? If so, send us an email at and we may choose it for a future blog!

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