Computer animators create 3D motion graphics and visual effects.
These creative professionals design visually stunning animations for a range of mediums, including film, television, video games, mobile apps and websites. As the title suggests, computer animators use computer software and hardware to ply their trade (as opposed to the hand-drawn designs of traditional animators). Recent advances in animation technology, along with the increased popularity and diversity of devices used to access entertainment have made computer animator one of the most exciting and lucrative career paths for technically-inclined artists. This career path is also ideal for those who want to be their own boss; 57% of multimedia animators are self-employed, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Specializing in one of the aforementioned mediums – or better yet a specific skill set within that medium – is one of the best ways to advance your career in computer animation. For example, an animator who works solely on video game animation (and concentrates on the software and techniques used therein) can raise his or her proficiency faster than one who works across multiple platforms, and by focusing on 3D level design in video games he will improve and advance even quicker – and find himself that much closer to reaping the rewards that come with being a true expert in his niche. Discovering your ideal niche (where your passion and talent meet industry demand) will likely occur during the computer animation training process, or at least upon joining the workforce and gaining exposure to different types of animation.
Accredited colleges and private design schools offer a range of training programs that will prepare you for a career in computer animation. Compare some of the top-reviewed computer animation courses and degrees online and in your area.
a.k.a. Motion Graphics Designer | Multimedia Animator | Visual Effects Supervisor
Computer Animator Salary
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Skills & Responsibilities
Computer animators need a range of creative, technical and communication skills to perform effectively in this role. Here are some common day-to-day duties and marketable computer animation skill sets. Computer animators:
- Are proficient in the leading animation software, such as Autodesk Maya, Mari, and a variety of
programs from Adobe’s Creative Suite (notably Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator and After Effects).
- Wield cutting-edge digital animation techniques, such as motion capture, character rigging, 3D
modeling and texture development, to make their on-screen creations come to life.
- Benefit from a working knowledge of physics and anatomy, as a deeper understanding of how
and why things move will help you develop the most realistic animations.
- Usually work as part of a team to create large-scale effects and productions. This team setting is
another reason why career-minded animators should focus on a computer animation specialty.
- Utilize storyboarding to plan complex scenes and visualize sustained animation sequences.
- May be called upon to collaborate with talent in the entertainment industry, e.g., actors and directors.
- Possess strong knowledge of traditional art concepts, such as color, shading, composition and perspective.
- Can work 50+ hours per week and even pull all-nighters when deadlines are approaching or work is past due.
Computer Animator Salary
- The average salary for computer animators in the U.S. is $70,000.
Salaries for popular job roles similar to computer animation:
- Computer Animation Instructor: $55,000
- Motion Graphics Designer: $58,000
- Flash Animator: $61,000
- Maya Animator: $62,000
- Advertising Animator: $66,000
- Web Animator: $68,000
- Computer Animator: $70,000
- Mobile Animator: $75,000
- Video Game Animator: $80,000
- Computer Animation Manager: $84,000
Highest paying American cities for computer animators:
- Los Angeles, CA: $ 92,730
- San Francisco, CA: $86,440
- San Jose, CA: $78,480
- Seattle, WA: $77,210
- NYC Metro Area: $77,430
- St. Louis, MO: $70,420
Sources: Indeed.com | United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
Positions in this space typically require applicants with a Bachelor’s degree in computer animation, multimedia design, fine arts, graphic design, or a related field of study. As is the case with many creative design positions, your demo reel and portfolio will have a huge impact on your job prospects and starting salary in computer animation. You should start building a reel as soon as possible and continue to grow it with your best work throughout the training process and your career. I've hired dozens of animators and design pros over the years, and can attest that a brilliant portfolio speaks volumes when comparing candidates, much more so than your educational background.
Sought-after creative and technical skills to look for in a computer animation degree program include popular animation programs (such as Maya, 3ds Max and Mari) as well as fluency in relevant Adobe programs (such as Flash, Photoshop and After Effects), graphic/multimedia design, motion capture, character rigging, 3D modeling, storyboarding, creative writing, physics, mathematics, and knowledge of fine arts concepts like color, composition, life drawing, texture and lighting. You also want a program that will teach you how to assemble and promote a professional demo reel/portfolio.
Marketable communication skills (a.k.a. soft skills) for computer animators include time management, effective verbal/written communication, active listening, and creative problem solving.
Computer animation training works very well in distance learning formats. Compare online training programs that align with computer animators' education requirements.
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Your training and experience in computer animation may qualify you for a range of positions, including:
- Computer Animator jobs
- 3D Animation jobs
- Multimedia Designer jobs
- Production Artist jobs
- Flash Developer jobs
- Motion Graphics jobs
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 8% job growth for computer animators from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the 7% average for all occupations. Despite increases in overall animation production and the diversity of delivery methods for animated content, e.g., such as web apps and mobile devices, domestic job growth in this area will be tempered by fierce global competition -- a great deal of the animation we consume is produced overseas, due to the lower costs of manpower and infrastructure.
Animators with an adventurous spirit can take the outsourcing trend as an opportunity to seek employment across the globe, but when it comes to improving your computer animation job prospects stateside, the name of the game is specialization. Meaning, for the best chance of getting hired (or promoted) you should focus your computer animation training, experience and portfolio projects on mastering a niche skill set, as employers will pay top-dollar for a true expert and thought-leader in the skills they need. For example, if you want to work in film, concentrate your learning plan on the animation tools and techniques used in movie studios. Or take specialization to the next level by focusing on a specific subset of film animation, such as character sculpting and texturing. Specializing allows you to hone your skill set in a way that’s simply not possible with generalization, thus making you more visible and valuable to employers seeking those skills.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook