The Day-to-Day as a 3D Animator
Three-Dimensional (3D) Animators use computer programs to create 3D characters and experiences. They work on movies, games, websites, online media, and amusement park experiences. Most 3D animators work on a team, but some contract or freelance 3D Animators work solo. There are a growing number of job opportunities for freelance, contract, and full-time 3D Animators. Most 3D Animators work in-person, even contractors, but some do work from home or freelance from an offsite location.
A day in the life of a 3D Animator will vary depending on their employer. If they’re working in a studio, 3D Animators will be assigned tasks during production like attending dailies, working on their shots, occasional team meetings, developing concept art and storyboards, or drawing and animating. 3D Animators often work on a gig or contract basis with long workdays. Almost all 3D Animators should expect to work nights and weekends often to make sure their work is completed on time.
What Skills Should 3D Animators Have?
Communication is a crucial skill for a 3D animator because they’ll be working on a team with items that can’t always be quantified without explanation. They’ll need to be able to articulate the status of each item or shot they’re working on, details within scenes, and their responsibilities for each shot they are responsible for or working on. 3D Animators should also be great at receiving and implementing feedback, especially in front of an audience of team members. Most great Animators even come to value feedback from other Animators. Additionally, a good Animator will be prepared to adapt to each gig or studio’s office culture if they are working in-person.
3D Animators work on deadlines that are often tight and require more than the usual 40-hour workweek. They must work well under pressure and be able to properly manage their time to meet important deadlines and stay on budget. They’ll also need basic filmmaking skills like storyboarding, concept art, character concepts, layout design, character movements, camera angles, and key scenes.
3D Animators, above all else, should be skilled animators! They should be fantastic drawers and be proficient in Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Photoshop. They’ll also need to know how to use Cinema 4D, Maya, and understand motion graphic design. Every studio and artist has their own preferred software, so be prepared to adapt when you’re first starting out. 3D Animators should be skilled at understanding how humans, animals, and the world around them moves. They also must have basic design skills like color picking, layout design, and texture work.
Learn the Skills You Need to Become a 3D Animator
Photoshop is a software application created by Adobe for image editing and photo retouching on Windows or macOS computers. Photoshop can be used to manipulate and retouch photos. It can also be used to create compositions, collages, design comprehensives, and more.
After Effects is a computer software application developed by Adobe used to create visual effects and motion graphics. After Effects is used in the process of creating films, video games, television series, and other videos. It is most commonly used for keying, tracking, compositing, and animation.
Premiere Pro is a timeline-based video editing software application developed by Adobe. Premiere Pro is used to edit videos for film, tv, and the web.
Cinema 4D is a 3D software suite created by Maxon. It is used for 3D modeling, animation, nad rendering in motion graphics, modeling, and texturing. It is most commonly used by small teams and solo artists.
Motion graphics are pieces of digital footage or animation that create the illusion of motion. They are usually combined with audio and used in multimedia projects. Adobe After Effects is the most popular motion graphics software.
3D Animator Salaries
A 3D Animator in the United States makes, on average, $64,118 annually, according to Indeed.com.
Salaries for 3D Animators vary by region within the the United States. Listed below are some 3D Animator salaries for specific areas with the United States compared with the average national salary:
- U.S. Average $64K source n/a
New York City
Los Angeles, CA
- U.S. Average $64K source n/a
Orange County, CA
Typical Qualifications to Become a 3D Animator
A degree is not required for most animation positions, although it may be preferred. Potential employers care far more about an applicant’s demo reel and experiences than their degree level. Many Animators have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, computer animation, illustration, digital arts, media arts, or communications. Some Animators even have a master’s of fine arts in animation or visual effects. The majority of entry-level positions in this field are apprenticeships, paid internships, or the rare Junior Animator role. Animators should expect to work their way up through these entry-level positions before getting hired as a 3D Animator.
Searching for 3D Animator Jobs
Animation is a career field that is primarily gig work. Each project has an end date and it is important to separate the stress of finding your next gig and your current gig in your mind. Consistently networking, doing your best work, getting good testimonials when you can, and getting back on the job search beat with enthusiasm can be difficult but key in keeping a consistent work schedule. There are some staff jobs at studios but these jobs are more rare and can often fall through after years of dedication if a studio folds.
3D Animators can look for jobs on these sites:
- Google Jobs
- Animation World Network
- Chris Mayne’s Spreadsheet
- Art Station
- Entertainment Careers
- Game Jobs
- Simply Hired
- Visual Effects Society
3D Animators can find freelance gigs on these sites:
Tips to Become a 3D Animator
A 3D Animator should have a well-designed portfolio website and demo reel when applying for jobs. A strong demo reel should be less than 2 minutes, perhaps even under a minute. A 30-second reel with your best work ever is going to perform much better than a 2-minute reel with work you’re only mostly proud of. Animation reels should include any original sound for clips with dialogue. No background music is the industry preferred, but some unobtrusive background music can be okay. Include a title card at the beginning and end of your reel so that they don’t have to search for your information after watching. Post your reel on Vimeo or Youtube and share it on your social media.
There are multiple societies that are regional, national, or international that each offer ways for Animators to network and learn. The Society for Animation Studies (SAS) is a great resource for Animators and becoming a member will get you access to a list of thousands of experts and their contact information. These experts are often willing to have informational interviews, point you in the right direction of other people who can help you find a job, or even teach you something new. The SAS also hosts conferences and educational programs that will certainly help you boost your career prospects.
Networking is the best way to jump-start your career. Whether that’s making connections with genuine conversations on LinkedIn or another social media platform, going on informational interviews, or attending events in the industry, networking is a must. Every studio has its own job board, some colleges offer job boards, and so do most bootcamps. Keep a running list of studios you’d like to work at and check them often. Try to connect with someone who works at that studio in an adjacent position through LinkedIn or another networking channel. If you’re not the best at keeping tabs on multiple different job boards at once, check out Chris Mayne’s spreadsheet. Mayne has been tracking thousands of new studio job openings for the past four years and will continue to do so.
Many employers look for at least two years of experience in this industry. If you don’t have any experience and you’re looking for a job, you should definitely start your own passion project and try taking on freelance gigs. Creating your own short films is the best way to catch the attention of potential employers, especially if you share them and market them on video platforms and social media because your passion can shine through. You should also take on freelance jobs while you look for your first full-time animation job, even if you work for free. Freelance platforms are a great place to start for this, but you can also find many opportunities on LinkedIn and network while you look for gigs which will build job search momentum more quickly.
What Job Titles Would a 3D Animator Hold?
3D Animators can find jobs working on movies, games, websites, online media, and amusement park experiences. They might find work on a contract, freelance, or full-time position. More than half of all 3D Animators are self-employed but work on a gig by gig basis in-person at studios. Depending on their project, 3D Animators have a variety of positions to choose from and work toward specializing in.
3D Animators can look for job titles such as
- Effects Animator
- Texture Artist
- Character Rigger
- Storyboard Artist
- Forensic Animator
- Effects Animator
- Character Animator
- 3D Modeler
- Stop Motion Animator
- Junior Animator
3D Animators could find a very similar but slightly less technical career as a 2D Animator. The majority of the career is the same except that 2D animators tend to use fewer or different software and think about space in a different way. A role like Video Manager might be a good stepping stone to a director role or simply jobs at studios with a higher pay grade or jobs within a different field like digital marketing. Video Editor or Video Manager roles are a great pivot for someone who wants to leave drawing daily behind. Positions like Motion Graphics Designer are also certainly within reach for a 2D Animator. Motion Graphics Designers use similar skills but typically work on smaller, marketing-focused projects.
Salary Comparison to 3D Animator
2D animators develop storyboards, characters, and backgrounds to bring stories to life in 2D. Working with software such as Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, and 2D animators provide creative support to art directors in a variety of industries. 2D animators can work for studios or design firms, or as freelance independent contractors.Learn about becoming a 2D Animator
Video editors work on films from script to post-production. Working closely with their teams, they help with script and storyboard development, sound editing, and video layouts. Video editors are responsible for ensuring sequence and continuity throughout the film. They work with producers and directors as they develop treatments and storytelling approaches.Learn about becoming a Video Editor
Video managers take assets from ideation to post-production. Beginning with storyboards and scripts, video managers help guide the development of media assets of all kinds. Some video producers create digital ads, and others produce television shows or movies.Learn about becoming a Video Manager
Motion Graphics Designer
Glassdoor Avg. Salary
$87K / yearglassdoor.com
Motion Graphics Designers, sometimes referred to as MoGraph professionals, use visual effects and animation to create artwork for: television, film, tech devices, software, live-video, video games, applications, and the web.Learn about becoming a Motion Graphics Designer