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What Does an Animator Do? Where Do Animators Work? ACR Takes a Look.
|Brigham Young University||Provo||Utah|
|California Institute of the Arts||Valencia||California|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|Gnomon School of Visual Effects||Los Angeles||California|
|Florida State University||Tallahasee||Florida|
|Massachusetts College of Art and Design||Boston||Massachusetts|
|Minneapolis College of Art and Design||Minneapolis||Minnesota|
|New York University||New York||New York|
|Rhode Island School of Design||Providence||Rhode Island|
|Ringling College of Art and Design||Sarasota||Florida|
|School of the Art Institute of Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|Texas A&M University||College Station||Texas|
|The New School's Parsons School of Design||New York||New York|
|The University of the Arts||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles||California|
|University of Texas at Dallas||Richardson||Texas|
|University of Washington||Seattle||Washington|
What Does an Animator Do?
Animators create animation and visual effects for everything from films and video games to television, mobile devices and other forms of media using illustrations and software programs. Animators also create graphics and develop storyboards, drawings, and illustrations. They create, plan, and script animated narrative sequences and assist with background design and production coordination.
Animators may also research upcoming projects to help create realistic designs or animation, they edit animation and effects on the basis of feedback from directors, other animators, game designers, or clients, and they meet with clients, other animators, games designers, directors, and other staff (which may include actors) to review deadlines and development timelines.
What Types of Software Do Animators Use?
Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere, Autodesk3ds Max, and Autodesk Maya are just a few leading software programs for animators.
Where Do Animators Work?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines multimedia artists and animators into one career group. According to the Bureau, “multimedia artists and animators often work in a specific medium. Some focus on creating animated movies or video games. Others create visual effects for movies and television shows. Creating computer-generated images (CGI) may include taking images of an actor’s movements, which are then animated into three-dimensional characters. Other animators design scenery or backgrounds for locations.”
The Bureau reports that multimedia artists and animators work primarily in the following industries:
- Motion Picture and Video Industries
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
- Software Publishers
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
- Other Information Services
The Bureau also notes that around 57% of animators were self-employed in 2012. This is the most current figure for self-employed animators. These professionals often work from home, contracting with film, animation or video game production studios, cartoon networks, advertising agencies, web design firms, graphic design firms, and mobile technology companies. Some self-employed animators may work in office settings.
Other Programs to Consider:
Selected Campus Locations:
Animation Career Review Rankings:
- Top 25 International Animation Training Programs (#25) - 2022
How Much Do Animators Make?
The median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators is $72,520. The lowest 10% earn less than $40,870 and the highest 10% earn more than $124,310. At $86,080, multimedia artists and animators working in the motion picture and video industries have the highest annual wage of the top five industries with the highest employment levels for animators.
It is important to note that salaries for multimedia artist and animators may vary by experience, type and size of company, and even geographic location. For example, Connecticut-based multimedia artists and animators average $102,630 per year—the nation’s highest average salary for this profession—while South Carolina-based artists average $36,270—the lowest salary for this profession.
In addition to Connecticut, the top five highest paying states for multimedia artists and animators are Washington ($90,700), District of Columbia ($89,210), California ($87,960), and New York ($86,490). And in California, animators living in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward and the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara average $91,840 and $91,850, respectively. Those living in the New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA metro area average $87,320.
Some of the lowest paying states are South Carolina ($36,270), South Dakota ($44,340), Montana ($48,900), Nebraska ($50,650) and Oklahoma ($53,640).
The top paying industries for animators are:
- Professional and Commercial Equipment and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers - $99,790
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing - $90,960
- Motion Picture and Video - $86,080
- Software Publishers - $85,270
- Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing - $83,050
Salaries for the top five industries with the highest levels of employment for animators are:
- Motion Picture and Video - $86,080
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services - $78,850
- Software Publishers - $85,270
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services - $73,780
- Other Information Services - $80,070
What is the Job Outlook for Animators?
Employment for this group is expected to grow 8% from 2016-2026. This is about as fast as average for all occupations. Projected employment growth for animators and multimedia artists will be the result of increased demand for animation and more realistic visual effects in video games, movies, and television. However, job growth may be slowed by companies hiring artists and animators who work overseas for lower wages. The increasing demand for computer graphics for mobile devices may counter slow growth by creating more job opportunities in the massive mobile industry.
Despite average employment growth, competition for job opportunities in animation will remain strong. The Bureau says, “opportunities should be best for those who have a wide range of skills or who specialize in a highly specific type of animation or effect.” Still, the U.S. is home to an impressive population of 73,700 multimedia artists and animators, making it the third largest career field in the world of art and design.
Job opportunities for animators and multimedia artists can be found all over the U.S. However, five states have the highest employment levels. California has the highest, followed by Texas, New York, Georgia, and Florida.
How Do You Become an Animator?
Today’s employers prefer to hire animators with at least a bachelor’s degree. Just a few options include a BA, BFA or BS in Animation, Animation/Illustration, Animation & Digital Arts, Media Arts & Animation, Computer Animation, Computer Graphics, Media Arts & Science, Fine Art, and even Computer Science (with an Emphasis in Animation). Courses common to these degree paths and other related programs include Drawing, 2-D Animation Production, 3-D Animation Production, and Stop Motion. Animators also study anatomy to study how animals and humans move in order to make character movements more realistic.
In addition to a 4-year degree, many employers look for at least two years’ experience in the industry, and advanced technology skills. Entry-level positions may require only a degree and experience through an internship or other support position. Senior level positions may require at least five to seven years’ professional experience in the industry and possibly an advanced degree. In fact, more schools than ever before now offer MA or MFA degrees in Animation, Animation & Visual Effects, Animation & Digital Arts, and more.
Some schools in the U.S., and many in Europe and Asia, even offer PhD programs in Digital Arts & Animation, Multimedia & Animation, Computer Science with an Animation Emphasis and many others. The Bureau reports that in addition to years of experience and/or advanced degree, animators who show strong teamwork and time-management skills can advance to supervisory positions, where they are responsible for one aspect of a visual effects team. Some artists might advance to leadership or directorial positions, such as an art director, producer, or director.
Which programs are offered at some of the top animation schools?
- Brigham Young University - The College of Fine Arts and Communications, Department of Design offers a BFA in Animation and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Department of Computer Science offers a BS in Computer Science with an Animation Emphasis.
- California Institute of the Arts - The School of Film/Video offers a BFA in Character Animation, as well as BFA and MFA degrees in Experimental Animation.
- Carnegie Mellon - The College of Fine Art, School of Art offers a BFA in Electronic and Time-Based Media with a Focus in Animation and a BFA in Integrative Design, Arts & Technology (IDeATe) with a Concentration in Animation & Special Effects.
- Massachusetts College of Art and Design - The Animation Department offers a BFA in Animation
- New York University (Tisch School of Arts) - Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television houses the Department of Animation and Digital Arts, which offers a BFA in Film and Television with an Animation Core in Production and an MFA in Animation and New Media. The two-year MFA is also offered at Tisch Asia.
- Rhode Island School of Design - The school’s Film/Animation/Video Department (FAV) offers a BFA in in FAV.
- Ringling College of Art and Design - BFA in Computer Animation
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago - The Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department (FVNMA) offers a BFA and MFA in Studio with a Concentration Animation. A Certificate in Studio is also available.
- Texas A&M - The College of Architecture, which broadly defines animation within “Visualization,” offers BS, MS, and MFA degrees in Visualization.
- University of Southern California - The John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts (Hench DADA) of the School of Cinematic Arts (USC Cinematic Arts) offer a BA in Animation and Digital Arts. A BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production with Animation and Interactive Media electives is offered through the Division of Film and Television Production, USC Cinematic Arts. Graduate offerings include MFA degrees in Animation and Digital Arts and Interactive Media with heavy Animation electives. Minors in Animation & Digital Arts and Game Animation are also available.
Awesome Animation Fact: Animation has been around for a lot longer than you think. According to Computer Science for Fun (published by Queen Mary, University of London), a 5,200-year old bowl found in Iran features an early precursor of animation. Along the bowl's side are five drawings that, when viewed in a sequence, depict a wild goat leaping up to eat leaves off a tree.