If one takes great satisfaction from building something from scratch, animation production will be a profession to consider. Animation starts with an idea or a storyboard; animators then turn the initial idea into the wonderful digital effects we see in films and commercials.
For Clement Cheng, an animation director with Centro Digital Pictures Limited, the job is like making the impossible possible by hard work, daring and keeping an open mind.
All the effort pays off if the final product is a success says Leung Wai-Kit, another animation director of the company, who recalls his first professional experience in making the Hong Kong film The Stormriders. At the time, he was new to film production. "We used techniques we had not even thought about before," he says. But it was worth the effort because, in the end, the work was widely recognised.
Mr Cheng explains: "If you don't try, you won't know whether something is feasible or not."
So, what exactly does an animator do? Once given the job details, the production company assesses the manpower and budgetary concerns according to the clients' requirements. Calculating the production time is crucial, because preparation work such as deciding the colour and design is time-consuming. Animators are responsible for the modelling of design, finding the appropriate texture and lighting and applying the finished sample to live footage.
"Animators should love to have fun and be outgoing and active. They can bring joy and happiness to the working environment"
New recruits who start as junior animators will participate in every task to learn the entire production process, Mr Leung says. Preparation is never easy because animators need to look for references. A mere facial expression, posture or body movement may require considerable research. "Take the movement of a tiger as an example. You'll need to know how it runs and what texture should be used for the animal," Mr Cheng explains.
Mr Leung says they are involved in both commercials and films, and their workload depends on the company's schedule. Digital effects for films take more time while commercials are usually short-term projects. "A 30-second commercial takes about one month to produce," he says.
Time schedules are usually tight and irregular working hours plus overtime work are part of an animator's life. But a flexible schedule can be appealing to energetic young people who look for something different from a nine-to-five job, Mr Leung says.
Both Mr Cheng and Mr Leung say they work in an easy-going and pleasant environment. They emphasise team spirit because animation production is teamwork. This also explains why they prefer someone who is sincere and hardworking. But, in this field, artistic talent seems to be more important than people skills.
It is difficult for those who have no relevant experience to join the industry. "I did not get paid while working as a trainee for my former company. They only offered HK$1,000 as a travel allowance," Mr Cheng says. At that time, he was looking for opportunities rather than financial benefits and his gamble paid off: he was offered the job after a three-month training period.
Relevant courses are offered by local institutions but, presently, not many job openings are available. Mr Leung says that the entertainment industry, including commercials and films, has been affected by the economic downturn.
Mr Cheng says animators should continuously upgrade and improve themselves, because there is no such thing as the 'best' or 'ideal' production but only better and better productions. He also advises that clients' requirements should always be satisfied even though they may change their mind at the final stage.
And the willingness to learn helps animators grow, Mr Leung says. "Animators should love to have fun, be outgoing and active. They can bring joy and happiness to the working environment. Even working overtime can become something positive."
Mr Cheng says there are job opportunities in mainland China for animators because the industry is developing across the border. Some films and cartoons have started applying animation effects. Animation production companies on the mainland are mostly run with local capital and some Hong Kong companies are also setting up branches there.
He thinks Hong Kong candidates have an advantage over their mainland counterparts because they could help manage newly set up companies.