Thinking about becoming a 3D Animator? Learn about everything from the tasks involved in a typical workday to the different specializations in the field and how to acquire the skills for this exciting career.

Key Insights

  • 3D Animators are creative professionals responsible for creating and building 3D animated models for a variety of industries, including entertainment, software, and the consumer product industry.
  • The job titles in 3D animation typically reflect one’s seniority and experience rather than specialization. However, certain roles emphasize the industry, such as Video Game Animators or Special Effects Artists.
  • 3D Animators typically work in office settings, although some may work from home. Daily tasks may involve checking on 3D rendering projects, collaborating with team members, and making minor or major alterations based on feedback.
  • An animator's tasks vary depending on the project and its stage with early stages involving planning with storyboard artists and later phases focusing on animating details of assets or characters.
  • Deadlines are often strict in 3D animation projects, therefore, if a problem arises, animators may need to work overtime to address the issue.
  • Noble Desktop offers a range of motion graphics design classes, including a Motion Graphics Certificate Program, to help aspiring 3D animators learn the tools of the trade and develop their skills.

When looking at pursuing a new career path, it is important to consider that you will be working in this field for years, perhaps for the rest of your professional life. As such, you should consider the kinds of daily tasks you will be asked to perform and the kinds of tasks that will make up the bulk of your workweek. This is particularly important when considering entry-level positions that give the employee less direct creative control over their work. While tasks will vary from day to day and project to project, there are some consistent job tasks that will fall on the shoulders of most entry-level 3D Animators, regardless of whether they are working on a film, a software project, a commercial, or a video game.

What is a 3D Animator?

3D Animators are creative professionals responsible for designing and building 3D animated models for a wide range of different entertainment and consumer products. They are tasked with taking static images and using computer technology to give those assets the illusion of depth, weight, and motion. 3D Animators build everything from animated logos for webpages to elaborate 3D-rendered models for major Hollywood films. They also work in the consumer software industry, the video game industry, and even aspects of the entertainment industry you might not expect, like theme parks.

3D Animators are also often the professionals responsible for the thousands of minor digital alterations that go into modern film and television. Physical props and practical effects are less common, and it increasingly falls on 3D Animators to create the environments and assets that actors interact with on a film set. This means that 3D Animators are likely to find work in the film and television industry as their services are increasingly in high demand. This isn’t the only industry in which they can find work, but it is the one that is most commonly associated with 3D animation skills.

Read more about what a 3D Animator does.

3D Animator Specializations

Most 3D Animation job titles deal with one’s seniority and experience (and, thus, associated job duties) rather than with one’s specialization. So, for example, Associate Animators are entry-level animators working on assorted projects as demand arises, while Senior Animators are more in charge of the creative direction of a given project, dictating how the Associate Animators should work on their projects. While there are some specialized job titles available, such as Concept Artist or Character Artist, most 3D Animation job titles hinge on seniority rather than specialization.

The job titles that hinge on specialization tend to emphasize the industry in which you work. For example, Video Game Animators will specialize in using 3D animation tools to build digital assets for video games and will therefore need to learn how to account for things like game engines and processing power in their animation work. Special Effects Artists will work on specific kinds of film and television projects, building animated assets that are later edited into live-action video projects. Web Animators will work with specific tools designed to optimize animated designs for web browsing and mobile devices. If you are interested in specializing in a specific medium or field, there are a lot of options available to you in the field of 3D animation.

Starting Your Day

Most 3D Animators work in office settings, though some will work from home depending on their studio and whether or not they are self-employed. Most animators who work in an office setting work alongside fellow animators so that they can more easily collaborate with one another on their daily tasks. Since animation is a computer-aided design process, almost every animator will work at a computer console, though they are likely to work in a space design to facilitate other kinds of creative brainstorming sessions.

9 AM:

One of the most important tasks that a 3D Animator has is to see what projects have successfully rendered overnight and gauge whether or not more work needs to be done on those assets. Rendering a 3D asset takes a lot of time and processing power (though far less than it used to), so an important step each day is to make sure that the work done overnight has been completed at the desired level.

After checking on any 3D rendering projects from the night before, animators will need to report this back to their team leaders and see if there is any feedback or important information that they need to account for as they continue working on the assets. Many will spend the morning checking emails and receiving updates from supervisors and colleagues on messaging programs like Slack. Depending on their role in a project, animators may have regular team meetings to discuss and delegate tasks.

11 AM:

The main tasks of a 3D Animator will vary depending on the kind of project they are working on and the goals of that project. For example, in the early stages of a project, animators may spend time working with storyboard artists or 2D Concept Artists to plan for what individual assets, objects and characters should look like in the finished project. In later phases of the project, they may be responsible for animating the subtle details of an animated asset or character in preparation for the finished project. This can include minor work like preparing an animated muzzle flash for a gunshot or animating the movement of a character’s hair. It can also include major parts of the project, like ensuring that an animated monster feels sufficiently weighty to be passed off for post-production editing work.

2 PM:

3D Animators who work for animation studios might also work on smaller tasks for clients who aren’t looking for elaborate, incredibly time-consuming 3D assets. For example, a 3D Animator working on an asset for an online advertisement may be asked to quickly mock up and render an asset without much direct oversight since it is a project that can be completed relatively quickly. Animators may also be asked to check with other animation teams in order to ensure that there aren’t major discrepancies in the project or the workflow.

Many 3D Animators will receive direct feedback from their immediate supervisors on their output. This can be simple notes asking for minor alterations to an animated asset, or it can be requests to redesign to re-render a major part of a scene or model. Sometimes, they will receive feedback from higher up the chain of command on a project, but most of this feedback is going to be delegated to team leaders to keep everyone working at a reasonable pace. Most 3D Animators will respond to this feedback by going back to the original design files and altering the original models to meet the requests of their team leaders.

5 PM:

On larger projects, 3D Animators will render assets and other models overnight in order to make sure that they are ready for additional work in the morning. Since this requires a reasonable amount of time and energy, animators are likely to spend the last bit of time they have at work preparing their files to render so that they minimize the chances that problems develop overnight. They will communicate this to their team leaders, who may have tasks for them to handle in the morning.

After Work

After work, if a 3D Animator does anything to develop their professional skills, it will involve practicing their craft or iterating on their designs in subtle ways that they work on from their home offices. This will likely become more common as they gain more experience and have more job responsibilities as a creative overseer of a given project. Many 3D Animators will also passively work on their skills simply by consuming media that makes heavy use of 3D animation to better understand what other creatives in the field are doing with the tools available to them.

Since most 3D animation projects are incredibly elaborate projects, they tend to operate on rather strict deadlines. If there is a problem at one stage of the process, it is likely to cause cascading effects and require animators to work overtime in order to address the problem. This can be a frustrating part of the job, but it is somewhat predictable, so while crunch work isn’t rare, barring incredibly unforeseen circumstances, it will be clear to a team of animators that they will need to work overtime well in advance of the bottleneck.

Learn the Skills to Become a 3D Animator at Noble Desktop

Anyone looking to become a professional 3D Animator will need to learn how to use the tools of the trade. Applications like Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D can be difficult for new animators to learn, which is one of the reasons that guided, live instruction is so profitable for aspiring creatives. Noble Desktop offers a wide range of motion graphics design classes and these courses are available either in-person or online. These classes provide students with hands-on instruction guided by industry experts who can help students learn the ins and outs of 3D animation programs. Class sizes are limited, so even online classes are kept small, meaning students won’t have to compete for their instructor’s attention. As a bonus, every student who enrolls in a Noble Desktop training program can retake that course within a calendar year, giving them more time to develop their skills and build their demo reel.

Students looking to start a new career as a professional 3D Animator should consider enrolling in Noble’s Motion Graphics Certificate Program. This career-focused course will teach students how to animate complex 3D assets and objects using Adobe After Effects. Students will learn how Cinema 4D can be used to create and render 3D models, and students will get hands-on experience working with animated text, graphics, and both Photoshop and Illustrator files. Since this is a career-focused program, students will benefit from resources aimed to help them succeed on the job market, including one-on-one career mentorship sessions and a capstone project in which students construct their own sample demo reel to take with them onto the job market. 

Students who want to learn 3D animation skills but aren’t preparing for a shift in their career may want to enroll in a class like Noble’s Adobe After Effects Bootcamp. This course aims to provide students with hands-on training in the 2D and 3D animation tools offered through Adobe After Effects. Students will not only learn how to build 2D and 3D assets, but they will also learn how to integrate text and audio into those designs, how to transition between animation cycles, and how to work with layers to add complex lighting and the illusion of depth to a 3D asset. This course is an ideal fit for students looking to learn how to use this dynamic animation tool.

If you would like to learn more about animation as a professional and technical field, please visit the Learn Animation page on Noble’s Learn Hub.