International animation day 2023

Every year on Oct. 28, the global community comes together to celebrate International Animation Day, a special occasion dedicated to honoring the creative minds, scientists, and skilled technicians who contribute to the world of animated art. It's a day when we pay tribute to all the facets of animation.

This unofficial holiday was established in 2002 by the International Animated Film Association (Association Internationale du Film d’Animation) to mark the historical significance of Oct. 28. On this day in 1892, animation made its first public appearance at the Grévin Museum in Paris, thanks to the pioneering work of Charles-Émile Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique, where he showcased his inaugural creation, "Pantomimes Lumineuses."

Animation, as an art form, comes to life when skilled artists breathe movement into drawings, bringing them to the realm of motion pictures. This captivating medium has been in use for over a century to craft cartoons and various forms of entertainment. Throughout the years, artists and technicians have continued to innovate, giving rise to diverse styles and techniques in the world of animation.

In recognition of International Animation Day, we spoke with Pipeworks art manager Ben Hopper to talk about his path to becoming an animator, his day-to-day work, his influences, and how he continues to grow and evolve in his role:

What initially sparked your passion for animation? Can you recall a specific moment or animated work that ignited your interest in the art?

Probably not one specific moment. As a kid growing up in Buffalo, New York, I devoured anything and everything animated. It probably started with "Sesame Street," which, back in the early 1980s had these great, really funny animated segments. Back then, not only were Saturday morning cartoons hitting their peak, but syndicated cartoons before and after school were also huge, and I watched them all. In Buffalo, Channel 29 was the home for all that stuff. And if there was an animated special on prime time, like "The California Raisins" by Will Vinton Studios or any of the animated holiday specials, I was there in front of the TV.

A lot of the American studios back then outsourced the animation to Japanese studios, and I remember gradually noticing how all my favorite shows were created in the US but animated in Japan. "The Real Ghostbusters," "G.I. Joe," "The Transformers" – all animated in Japan. Sometimes there would be an episode animated by a different studio, and I would notice how the animation wasn’t as good, and I’d be really disappointed. I even remember watching a "Strawberry Shortcake" cartoon that had really impressive animation – I think it was a pilot episode of a planned series – and of course, it was one of the Japanese animation studios in the credits.

Other shows like "Battle of The Planets," "Robotech" and "Voltron" were Japanese shows redubbed and re-edited for an American audience. They just had an entirely different look and feel than American cartoons. The animation was more exciting to me and shows like "Robotech" just had a more mature sensibility than something like, say "Super Friends" or" Scooby-Doo," which were goofy, but I watched them anyway.

So, the explosion of television animation that was used to sell toys in the ‘80s made a big impression on me. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning during the week just so I could watch the opening intro to "Bionic Six," which was seriously, stunningly good. "Thundercats" had an amazing intro, too. And they all had great original songs to go with those intros.

Of course, I took a particular interest in the artistic side of video games early on as well. As the game consoles advanced from the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Genesis and Super NES, I was fascinated how the visuals and animation in games were constantly evolving. And outside of the consoles, the fluid animation and minimal but super effective storytelling in "Karateka" on the Commodore 64 was mind blowing to me. And Don Bluth’s beautiful work on "Dragon’s Lair" and "Space Ace" in the arcades – I hated how hard and expensive those games were, but I would stand there in an arcade and just watch the demo/attract mode over and over because I couldn’t afford to keep plunking quarters into them.

So, I had a love and appreciation for animation from an early age, and I’d often think that’s what I wanted to do someday, even if I had no idea how to go about starting on that path.

Animation is a diverse field with various styles and techniques. Could you share your favorite animation genre or style, and explain why it resonates with you?

I don’t know if I have a favorite genre or style. As a working animator, you’ve got to be prepared to animate in whatever style the project demands. The work I do for a living is all in Maya these days, so I’m always trying to keep my 3D skills sharp, but I go back to working in 2D for personal projects all the time, and I’m always looking for ways to sneak that into my process at work whenever I can. I just think when you’re working in 2D you’re not constrained by a rig someone else made. You’re drawing it yourself, and often designing it yourself, so you can basically go wherever your imagination takes you. I love good pixel animation, and I do a lot of that for fun.

Many aspiring animators have role models or favorite animators who inspire them. Who are some of the animators or animation works that have influenced your creative journey?

Like many animators, I’ve got a lotta love for Hayao Miyazaki, though I’m not sure I’d ever want to work for him. The first film he directed, "The Castle of Cagliostro," might be my all-time favorite animated film. It’s just non-stop fun and action from beginning to end. I think "Princess Mononoke" is brilliant. I love the original "Ghost in the Shell," but the director of that movie, Mamoru Oshii, also directed "Patlabor" – an obscure ‘80s anime feature that I first watched in a Japanese film class in college – and I think that’s the best animated film no one knows about.

Transitioning from a fan of the animated craft to a career as an animator is a significant step. Can you describe your journey and the pivotal moments that led you to pursue animation as a profession?

Yeah, I mean, I didn’t go straight from high school into an animation career path. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was a cartoonist for my high school and college newspapers, so making art was always in me, but I didn’t know how to make a living at it. I ended up majoring in English and creative writing in college and worked at a small-town newspaper for over three years before deciding to go back to school to get a degree in animation. I was in my mid-20s at that point.

It was pretty clear to me in 2001 that newspapers were heading into tough times. I knew I had to find something else to do, and DigiPen in Redmond, Washington, ticked all the boxes for me at the time. I started pursuing an associate degree there in 2002, and after my first year I landed a summer art internship at Nintendo Software Technology. So that kind of sealed the deal as to whether or not I made the right choice. It was totally surreal – the summer prior I was working in the newsroom of The Gleaner in Henderson, Kentucky, and a year later, I’ve got a paid internship at Nintendo in the beautiful Pacific Northwest? I mean, come on. It doesn’t get much better than that when you’re looking for validation in a career change.

The process of creating animation can be intricate and require significant time commitments. What aspects of the animation process do you find most rewarding?​

I’m having the most fun when I’m creating something new or using my skills to help someone visualize the ideas they have in their head. Creating a sequence or performance out of thin air is always my favorite thing to do. The whole process – from gathering references to creating thumbnails of the main keyframes to blocking out the animation – it’s very fulfilling when you take it from nothing to a finished piece of animation.

And the concept of “show early and show often” is pretty important. Putting your work out there for feedback can sometimes feel like you’re standing naked in front your peers, which just to be clear, would be as mortifying to me as it would be for most, but doing that always results in a better finished product.

Animation often involves storytelling — or at the very least conveying emotion. You recently contributed several new emotes to Pipeworks' Prominence Poker. Can you explain how you went about creating the expressions conveyed through some of these emotes what was the process like?

Yeah, that was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had on a project in recent years. I’m not a poker player and not into the casino scene at all, but doing those emotes was a lot fun and really what I wish I could be doing all the time as an animator. Getting paid to record yourself acting like a fool to create a performance through animation – I mean, it’s hard to call that work.

Sometimes I had to animate something that I couldn’t do myself – like some of the chip tricks or spinning a gun around my finger – so I had to do some research on YouTube to animate that accurately. But in the end, it was as simple as starting with a character in a t-pose and making him or her come alive at the poker table. I’m not sure how successful I was – I feel like I wish I would have had the time to give everything another polish pass – but that’s how it goes sometimes.

The animation industry is constantly evolving with new technologies and trends. How do you stay up-to-date and continue to grow as an animator? Do you have any advice for aspiring animators who wish to follow in your footsteps?

I definitely try to keep growing as an animator. I mean, if you don’t do that, you’re dead in the water. I approach every new animation task as if it’s a referendum on how good I really am. I look at every new task as an opportunity to apply everything I’ve learned up to that point. I feel like you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done, and I still feel my best work is ahead of me.

I’ve never been an early technology adopter, so I’m not one to jump into whatever the next hot thing is, even when it comes to my craft. I still don’t like using AnimBot, for instance. A lot of animators in my field use it, but personally, I feel like it inserts itself into Maya in ways I don’t like, and there are always licensing issues with it, and then uninstalling it is such a chore when it’s not working. So, I’m still keyframing in Maya the old-school way, and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what’s possible there. I’m very much a pose-to-pose animator, and I’m always trying to improve my posing and timing, which for me, are really at the heart of any good piece of animation.

When I started learning how to use 3DStudio Max and Maya back in 2002, the barrier to entry in terms of getting access to that software and learning how to use them was high. Remember, this was still in the days of the CRT monitor, and PCs weren’t nearly as good as they are now. You needed a PC that could run high-end 3D software, and there weren’t a million how-to videos and tutorials on YouTube like there are now.

These days, you can download Blender, Unity, and Unreal Engine for free, and there’s a student version of Maya that’s free, so you can totally train yourself how to author an animation and get it into a game engine by watching tutorials on YouTube or using the Unity or Epic help forums. So, with a little self-discipline, it’s kind of easier than ever to learn the tools and the art form. The downside of that is it’s now more competitive than ever, so you’ve got to be prepared to go up against a lot of really good animators when you’re looking for work.

I would say to any aspiring animator – watch a lot of good animation and really study it frame by frame. There’s no shame in just flat-out copying what others have already done so long as you acknowledge that in your work. It’s a great way to learn and break down the barriers, because sometimes great animation can look like magic, and that can be intimidating to a beginner.

There are also many great resources online for serious training, like AnimSquad, iAnimate, and Animation Mentor. I took Animation Mentor’s Advanced Body Mechanics course a few years ago, and I think that’s an essential course for any serious animator. It always helps to be around other animators as well. Look all around for people you can learn from.

Apart from all of that, becoming an animator requires a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and extreme persistence. You’re going to face a lot of rejection and criticism along the way, so you can’t be easily discouraged. I’ve had many points in my career where my self-confidence was about as low as it could get, but I was able to suffer through that and pick myself back up to try again. Having that kind of intestinal fortitude can make up for any lack of natural talent. Just keep going. Don’t let anything stop you.
Prominence Poker holds a place among the array of games found in the revered Pipeworks library, a cherished fixture in our gaming legacy. Want to learn more about the game? Visit the Prominence Poker website to read more about the world's most immersive free-to-play poker game!