Common questions about animation careers asked by our readers:
Employers typically require a bachelor’s degree in animation, computer animation, computer graphics, fine art or other related area. Employer’s look for workers who have a good portfolio and strong technical skills as well as strong teamwork and time-management skills. Communication and computer skills are required as well.
Besides a bachelor’s degree in animation or a related area, aspiring animators can get their foot in the door through an internship. Most programs at top animation schools offer one or more internship opportunities during the degree program. Many students who complete an internship are eventually hired by the company.
While a small number of exceptionally talented animators have managed to break into the animation industry without any formal training, most animators have a degree in animation or a related field. Some may have a certificate or diploma.
Animators create two- and three-dimensional models, images that appear to move, and visual effects for television, movies, video games, and other forms of media. Animators work in teams to develop a movie, a visual effect, or an electronic game. Each animator works on a portion of the project, and then the pieces are put together to create one cohesive animation. Animators may also research upcoming projects to help create realistic designs or animation, edit animation and effects on the basis of feedback from directors, other animators, game designers, or clients, and meet with clients, other animators, games designers, directors, and other staff (which may include actors) to review deadlines and development timelines.
Most animators work a regular schedule, typically a minimum of 40 hours a week. However, when deadlines are approaching, they may work overtime—including nights and weekends.
Thanks to an increased demand for animation, visual effects, and computer graphics in video games, movies, television and mobile devices, animation graduates can find employment in the film and video industries, television, game design, and mobile technology. They can also find positions in advertising, public relations and related services. The industries with the highest levels of employment for animators are (in order): motion picture and video, computer systems design and related services, software publishers (this includes games), advertising, public relations and related services, and other information services.
Animators may wear many different hats, especially if they are just starting out. Examples of job titles for animators include 3D animator, computer animator, stop option animator, cartoonist, concept artist, character rigger, effects animator, forensic animator, digital painter, storyboard artist, color key artist, background painter, key animator, inbetweener, compositing artist, art director, and director.
The median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $72,520 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,310.
The average salary for freelance animators was $76,060 (mean) in 2018. However, individual salaries vary greatly based on a number of factors from location to experience to industry. Some freelance animators may earn hundreds of thousands per year, while others (along with their empires) are worth millions to even billions. Some of the world’s richest living animators are Trey Parker and Matt Stone ($800 million), Matt Groening ($500 million), Tim Burton ($80 million), Mike Judge ($75 million), and Seth MacFarlane ($55 million).
Start-ups come in all shapes and sizes. Many are carefully planned right down to the tiniest details, while others seem to pop up overnight. In other words, a right or wrong way to start an animation company might not exist. However, you’ll find no shortage of advice out there about what you can do if you need a little direction. We have a few takeaways. You begin by identifying the types of services you would like to offer. Would you like to create short films? Create feature-length films? Animate for the advertising industry? Next, create a working name, goals, and business plan. You will also need to build a team—especially if you are planning to target the film and video industry. You will need to appoint an editor, director, designer and producer—to start. If you have multiple skill sets, you might be just enough to start out on your own.
Many aspiring animators hope to create their own animated films someday, so animation positions at major animation studios such as Pixar and Disney are competitive. They also pay well. With experience, animators at major studios can earn six figures. Other top jobs in the animation industry include art director, 3D modeler, compositing artist, character rigger, texture artist, technical artist, character technical director, and scientific visualization developer.
Besides talent and creativity, animators must have excellent drawing skills and a good understanding of color, texture, and light. They must also have excellent communication and presentation skills, time-management skills, and attention to detail. Computer literacy and a firm grasp of industry software are also crucial.
Salaried animators typically work in production studios or offices. Self-employed animators may work from home or a rented or shared studio space.
The top five industries with the highest employment levels for animators are (1) motion picture and video, (2) computer systems design and related services, (3) software publishers, (4) advertising, public relations, and related services, and (5) other information services
While the motion picture and video industries have the highest employment levels for animators, surprisingly, they don’t offer the highest salaries. Animators working in the film industry average around $86,080 annually. At nearly $100,000 annually, those working in the “professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers” industry are the highest paid animators, followed by those working in aerospace ($90,960 annually).
Employment of multimedia artists and animators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected growth will be due to increased demand for animation and visual effects in video games, movies, and television. Further, an increased demand for computer graphics for mobile devices, such as smart phones, will lead to more job opportunities. Those working in advertising can expect a 10 percent growth rate, which is faster than average for all occupations.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that despite positive job growth in the animation industry, there will be competition for job openings because many recent graduates will be interested in entering the occupation. Further, intense competition for positions at top studios such as Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks is the norm. However, in addition to having a robust portfolio, those who specialize in a specific type of animation or in a specific skill, such as drawing or computer programming, should have the best opportunities.
Ten metropolitan areas have the highest employment levels for animators. They are (in order), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA; New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA; Austin-Round Rock, TX; Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA; Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX; Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI; Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA, and Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH.
The states with the highest employment levels for animators are (in order), California, Texas, New York, Georgia, and Florida.
The following are the top paying metro areas for animators (in order), Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT - $115,070; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA - $91,850; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA - $91,840; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA - $91,010; New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA - $87,320; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA - $86,240; Savannah, GA - $82,880; Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA - $80,230; Raleigh, NC - $79,070, and North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL - $78,980.
The top paying states for animators are (in order), Connecticut - $102,630, Washington State - $90,700, District of Columbia - $89,210, California - $87,960, and New York - $86,490.