Career In Animation – Everything You Need to Know

With a career in animation, you can bring life into an object or character using animations, special effects, and other visual images using electronic tools and/or computers for commercials, crime scene recreations, movies, inventions, website graphics, website tours, and more.

Possible Jobs in Animation

Jobs in animation can include:

  • 2D animator
  • 3D animator
  • Background artist
  • Character animator
  • Clean-up artist
  • Digital ink and paint artist
  • Image editor
  • Key frame animator
  • Layout artist
  • Lighting artist
  • Modeler
  • Rendering artist
  • Rigging artist
  • Storyboard artist
  • Texture artist

What Does an Animator Do?

Everyday Tasks in an Animation Career

Common tasks animators perform in various fields include:

  • Creating frames
  • Designing an animated environment with backgrounds, objects, and sets
  • Designing characters
  • Drawing storyboards and creating realistic models
  • Using computer software
  • Using photographs of an actor’s movement to animate as a 3D character
  • Working with clients
  • Working with a team that may include actors, directors, and/or game designers
  • Working out movement timing to ensure they meet script/soundtrack requirements

Characteristics of a Successful Animator: Aptitude, Education, and Skills

Education Required

Although some employers accept an associate degree or certificate for entry-level positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers will generally want an animator to at least hold a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. You may choose to further hone aspects of your craft by pursuing a master’s degree.

Concentrations Available to Animation Majors

You’ll want to choose an area of focus, thinking about your skills and which field you wish to enter. Examples include:

  • Advertising
  • Character animation
  • Computer animation
  • Fine arts
  • Mobile game development
  • Modeling
  • Special and visual effects

Experience Required

Employers usually want the animators they hire to have some experience, in addition to the theoretical knowledge a degree provides. You can create a portfolio and gain experience by pursuing internships and apprenticeships.

Essential Skills for a Career in Animation:

Successful animators possess the following skills:

  • Ability to express ideas as drawings
  • Appreciation of aesthetics
  • Artistic skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Color sense
  • Computer skills
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge of CAD
  • Visual imagination

Of course, you must also have skills in animation. Learning programs like 3DS Max and Maya is also important to further your career.

Animation Skills in Demand

The following skills are most sought-after by employers:

  • 3D modeling
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Cinema 4D
  • Interaction design
  • Maya
  • Motion graphics
  • Prototyping
  • Social media
  • Typesetting
  • UX wireframes

Licensure and Certification

Though licensure and certification aren’t generally required of animators, you must be able to use the latest software. Software vendors offer ways to certify your skills, including certification in Adobe Animate and After Effects.

Careers in Animation: What Can You Do With an Animation Degree?

Your level of education will determine the types of careers open to you.

Associate Degree in Animation

You won’t usually find associate degrees in animation, but you can pursue this degree in areas such as graphic arts or fine arts as a path to further education. You may work in related fields as a production assistant or web developer.

Bachelor’s Degree in Animation

With a bachelor’s degree, you will be qualified for jobs such as:

Master’s Degree in Animation

These programs teach an advanced skill set. You will have access to senior roles such as:

  • Animation director
  • Character animator
  • Effects animator
  • Key animator
  • Stop motion animator

Jobs in Animation

The film and television industries employ animators. You may also find jobs in fields such as education, print media, and sales. Animators may also find freelance work.

Art Director

This is a high-level position on an animating team. Most creative staff will report to the art director. A career path will usually require you to move up from junior roles. Salary: The average range is $70,000 to $80,000, but this depends on project scale.

Stop-Motion Animator

You’ll need skill, attention to detail, and a lot of patience in this role. Stop-motion animators must set up physical rigs before using special software. Most stop-motion animators are self-taught, honing skills through freelance work. Salary: Most people in this role earn around $60,000 per year.

3D Modeler

You’ll work with industry-grade tools to create models and bring environments to life. Many attend 3D animation school before getting internships. Salary: Most work is on a freelance basis, but a contracted modeler can earn up to $100,000 at a big studio.

Flash Animator

Combining graphic design, composition, and illustration skills, you’ll work with the Adobe suite. This typically involves self-taught knowledge and freelance work. Salary: Flash animators are usually self-employed, with a median salary of around $60,000.

Compositing Artist

This position includes a lot of responsibility over the final appearance of animations. You’ll usually work up from the junior animator or SFX level. Salary: You’ll earn around $50,000 to $75,000 per year.

Storyboard Artist

Though this is not strictly animation, storyboard artists work along with animation and filmmaking teams. A good portfolio and connections help you progress in this field. Salary: Storyboard artists can earn $80,000 to $100,000, but standard salaries can be much less in locations other than Los Angeles.

Mathematical Modeler

This is one of the most specialized branches of animation and requires using complex formulae and models. You’ll likely need education in math or engineering as well as animation experience. Salary: A mathematical modeler typically earns $80,000 per year and more.

Forensic Animator

These animators help investigators recreate crime scenes and collect evidence. You’ll need 3D and 2D experience as well as Terragen software. Experienced animators sometimes make the transfer to this field. Salary: This position is usually freelance; you can charge between $20 and $100 per hour.

Render Wrangler

Also known as a data wrangler, these positions require rendering animation down to a format for public consumption. You’ll need computer science skills to progress in this job. Salary: Render wranglers usually earn around $15 per hour.

Texture Artist

You’ll work on the finish of models and terrain to create a realistic appearance. Texture artists usually have a graphic design school background. Salary: Standard average is $60,000, though this can range to around $80,000 depending on location.

Animation Industry: Where Can You Work With an Animation Degree?


Geographic location can have a significant impact – most jobs are in California, although New York and Texas also offer lots of job opportunities.


Most animators look for a career in the film and motion picture industry. Still, you’ll find lucrative career options in industries like software publishing and advertising as well.

Skills Gained in an Animation Program

You may choose to attend an animation program to gain skills such as:

  • Applied math
  • Artistic talent
  • Communication
  • Computer software
  • Teamwork

Why Pursue a Career in Animation?

This career path offers ongoing opportunities for employment and growth. As projected by the BLS, jobs for animators and multimedia artists are expected to grow by 8% between 2016 and 2026.

How Do You Find a Job as an Animation Graduate?

The BLS also projects that positions for multimedia artists and animators will grow from 73,700 to 79,900 during this period. You can advance your skills, and by extension, your marketability by pursuing certifications for industry software. You can also join organizations like:

Professional Resources for Animation Majors

Are You Ready to Start Your Animation Career?

Be prepared to work long hours and stick to strict deadlines as an animator. If this works for you, you’ll love bringing images to life. You can learn more about film and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute.