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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Non-Artist Software Knowledge for Success
by Shannon Muir

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 strong reputation.

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.


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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 shanemuir@aol.com.

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