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Animation is one of the most exciting career fields in the art and design industry. It also offers one of the highest salaries. Animators earned a median annual wage of $63,970 in 2015, with top earners averaging more than $113,600. Certain industries, specialized areas or high-level positions could pay even more than the median. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists software publishers and other information services among the top five highest paying industries for animators. Average earnings are $76,920 and $82,940, respectively. Specialized areas and high-level positions that often command higher salaries include:
- Mathematical Modeler
- Medical Animator
- Senior Animator
- Animation Art Director
- 3D Modeler
Mathematical modeling is one of the most specialized branches of the animation industry. Mathematical modelers use mathematical models to illustrate processes or solve complex problems. Using mathematical modeling skills and software technology, mathematical modelers create and animate 3D representations of processes. Professionals in this field typically hold an advanced degree in mathematics or related area, along with a degree in animation. The average salary for mathematical modelers (mathematicians) is $111,110 per year. High performers could earn up to $167,250 per year.
Medical animation is a highly specialized field that requires skills beyond animating for television and films. Because medical animators must translate complex science into medical media, many hold an advanced degree in a science, medical, or a technology-related field in addition to a degree in animation. Medical animators create interactive medical productions, medical animations, interactive science apps, and medical illustrations for biotech companies, museums, ad agencies, educational institutions, medical device companies, and broadcast media.
With just 2,000 medical animators/illustrators across North America, medical animators are in high demand and salaries are competitive. They could earn up to $100,000 per year, with creative director and other supervisory positions commanding up to $175,000 per year.
According to Full Sail University, “the senior animator works closely with the lead animator and art director to establish the overall aesthetic of a video game, as well as defining the methods and techniques to be used by animators within the department. Senior animators also support the pre-production development of the video game through collaboration with the lead animator and game designers.” Many senior animators train and manage junior animation staff.
Glassdoor reports that the national average salary for senior animators is $96,520. Salaries are higher at major studios such as DreamWorks Animation ($124,777), Zynga ($101,170), and Blizzard Entertainment ($104,004), and in entertainment hotspots such as California.
Animation Art Director
Animation art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in film and television productions, games, advertising, and dozens of other areas. Most creative staff report directly to the art director and he has the final say on what makes the final cut. Art directors also train junior staff and manage budgets.
Salaries for art directors depend on the scale of the project, the studio or company they work for, and many other factors. According to the BLS, art directors in the motion picture and video industries average $106,630 per year. Those in specialized design services average $93,300. Advertising and public relations art directors average $94,840. The median wage is $89,670, with an average $172,900 per year for high performers.
3D modelers work with industry-grade animation tools such as Maya, 3DS Max, and Blender to bring fully rendered models and environments to life. 3D modelers work in film, video games, advertising, engineering, manufacturing, architecture, and many other industries. A 3D modeler working at a major studio such as Pixar or Disney can earn as much as $100,000 per year.
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