Insights for Non Artists:
Non-Artist Software Knowledge for Success
Most everyone seems to know Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel,
and Microsoft Outlook these days because business in today's
world demands it. Animation is no exception. Memos are still
drafted, schedules and expense reports still constructed, meetings
are tracked on electronic calendars, and e-mail is the preferred
way to get all the above sent quickly and efficiently to anyone
involved in the production anywhere on the planet. However, other
programs are used in the animation industry -- and I'm not just
talking about CGI software used by the artists. Outside of Microsoft
Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Outlook, there exist additional
specialty software packages that I feel a non-artist should familiarize
him or herself with to be competitive.
Filemaker Pro appears at many studios, customized to the specific
studio. If you're not familiar with Filemaker Pro, it's essentially
a database program with a high degree of customization. Everywhere
I've worked, plus other major studios large and small, uses this
program to track the creation of the layout, props, and character
models for the episodes. Definitely go out of your way to learn
it, and if you can learn Filemaker Pro programming and design,
it might not hurt to do so. Personally, I haven't mastered these
aspects yet and definitely think I should.
The two art-based computer programs that I believe a non-artist
must become familiar with are Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.
Knowing a competing program that does the same functions is definitely
helpful, but many people may not recognize the competitor's names
on your resume. At home, I own JASC Paint Shop Pro, which performs
a lot of the same things as Illustrator but I've found cumbersome
for some tasks; Since I'm not an illustrator, but needed to work
with art to mild degrees at home, this fits my needs. Adobe,
as an industry leader, shows up practically everywhere and in
hindsight might have been better to have gotten Photoshop despite
my lack of artist capabilities. However, I do have Adobe Photoshop
on my resume because I've used it at Nickelodeon and also took
a course in it during my BA studies. On some productions now,
some or all of the original rough backgrounds are being sent
overseas and cleaned up there, then the cleaned-up versions scanned
and sent via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) back to the American
studio for approval. The image sizes may need to be manipulated
slightly to fit on a printer page, as they will be cel-sized
cleanups, which do not match paper standards.
FTP definitely must be learned, especially with the interaction
of multiple studios in this global environment. Not only are
backgrounds exchanged as above, but on some shows I've worked
on, all the computer colored models get sent directly by FTP
to the overseas studio doing the animation; no more printed reams
of glossy paper to send by international courier.
Whether you plan to write, creatively produce, or just work as
part of the production personnel, I also recommend familiarity
with the screenwriting software. Even if you don't use it yourself,
you'll develop an understanding for how the scripts are constructed
on which all your efforts are based. Final Draft still remains
the one most commonly used by studios, with Movie Magic Screenwriter
in second (at least based on my experience). Another competitor,
Scriptware, I still encounter but not as frequently. If someone
mentions ScriptThing to you, that program merged with Movie Magic
Screenwriter in 2000, but also had a very loyal following and
Now, if you're really ambitious -- and especially if you ultimately
plan to be a line or creative producer -- Movie Magic Budgeting
software may be worth learning. There's even special templates
now customized to budgeting an animation project. However, be
advised that the software is expensive to own and classes only
seem to be taught in the major metros such as Los Angeles and
New York. Unless you expect to be budgeting your own projects
at some point, you're probably best just spending the money on
a one or two day primer course. I took one at UCLA Extension
taught by Bob Koster, but there may be other locations as well.
This program, however, should be a lower priority over the others
packages listed above.
Bear in mind that my emphasis on certain programs comes from
either studios where I've worked or what I know about where others
work. It's very possible there are up-and-coming programs in
these areas I do not know about yet, but I feel this gives a
good groundwork for getting started. If you've already got knowledge
of these programs on your resume, and can back it up with intimate
knowledge of how the software titles work, it can only help you
get an edge in this very competitive industry.
here to discuss this column in the dFX
Shannon Muir is known in the animation industry for her work
as a production coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She
also served as a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters
and a Production Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series.
In 2003, Shannon joined the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers'
Guild of America, west, following the sale of several scripts
to a Japanese company. Muir is an accomplished writer and often
participates on panels or as a guest speaker at conventions like
Comic Con International. Muir moved to Los Angeles in 1996 from
Cheney, WA (population approximately 8,000), knowing she wanted
to be part of the animation business. Since then, she continues
to that dream reality, whether it be actively writing or working
on a production, or writing articles about the industry.
You can email
Shannon Muir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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