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An animator is an artist who produces a series of pictures, known as frames, that when shown in fast succession create the appearance of movement, which is referred to as animation. A number of areas, including cinema, television, and video games, are available to animators to pursue. In many ways, animation is similar to filmmaking, it is highly labor-intensive, requiring the cooperation of a large number of animators to create even the most important of works. The techniques used to create the pictures or frames for an animation piece are determined by the creative styles of the animators and the area in which they work.

In addition to animators, there are a variety of other artists that contribute to animated cartoons but are not animators themselves. These include layout designers, who create backdrops, lighting, and camera angles, storyboard artists, who sketch panels of action from scripts, and background artists (who paint the "scenery"). The majority of the film crew positions seen on a physical set are shared by animated films and live-action films. These positions include director, producer, sound engineer and editor. However, animation differs significantly from live-action films in that it has not required the majority of the crew positions seen on a physical set for the majority of its history.

In hand-drawn Japanese animation projects, such as those created by Hayao Miyazaki, the key animator is responsible for both the layout and the main animation of the film. The entire responsibility for their sequences is assumed by certain Japanese animators such as Mitsuo Iso, who becomes more than simply the main animator in the process.