Explore the world of 3D animation and its significant influence in various sectors such as film, television, video games, software development, and web design. Learn about the role, job requirements, responsibilities, and skills of a 3D animator and the promising job outlook and salary in this field.

Key Insights

  • 3D Animators are primarily responsible for creating digital assets that provide the illusion of motion, weight, and depth in computer animation assets, playing a vital role in various industries including film and television, software development, and more.
  • Most 3D animation projects are created by large teams, with individual animators handling specific aspects of the process. They usually work in a studio setting and can occasionally find work-from-home options.
  • Being proficient in dedicated animation software applications like Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Cinema 4D is a requirement for nearly all 3D Animators.
  • While most 3D Animators have a digital arts degree, it is not a formal requirement. Skills can be acquired through professional training bootcamps and self-paced study.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 5% year-over-year growth in jobs for special effects artists and other 3D animators over the next decade. The median salary for these professionals is around $80,000 a year.
  • Becoming a professional 3D Animator can take between one to four years, depending on the chosen path for receiving training and developing skills.

3D Animator Job Description

3D Animators are creative professionals who create the illusion of motion, weight, and depth in computer animation assets. While most often associated with film animation, they will also find work as effects artists in film and television, the video game industry, software development, and web design. If there is a digital asset or object on the screen that moves, it is likely that a 3D Animator was involved in its creations.This overview will explain more about what a 3D Animator does, what they typically earn, and how to learn the skills required to land a job. 

What is a 3D Animator?

Entry-level 3D Animators tend to work at animation studios that will specialize in work in specific fields, like video game animation or special effects animation for film and television. While they will tend to work on the same broad kinds of projects, they will also tend to move from project to project fairly frequently as the need arises. These animators will have minimal creative control over the work they are doing, and they may find themselves assigned to fairly specific tasks as part of a design project. More experienced animators will regularly work as part of a team of creatives who aim to shape the creative direction of a project.

Most 3D animation projects are done by massive teams collaborating on huge projects, with individual animators being tasked to handle fairly minute aspects of the process. For instance, an animator working on a feature film may be part of a team that handles compositing and post-production effects, while a different animation team may be working on special effects in a single scene. For most 3D Animators, this means working in a team setting alongside fellow animators, overseen by a team leader who may be in charge of several teams (or maybe overseen by someone in charge of several teams, depending on the size of the project).

3D Animators will usually work in a studio setting, reporting directly to team leaders and working alongside their colleagues. Some 3D Animators will find work-from-home options, but these tend to be less common than traditional studio work. Sufficiently experienced animators may work alongside other creatives like storyboard artists, directors, or actors, and they may be tasked with participating in the planning stage of projects, though they will need several years of experience to reach this point of their career.

Job Requirements

Virtually all modern 3D animation is done on computers using dedicated animation software applications to create, model and render 3D assets. Thus, almost all 3D Animators will be required to know how to use these applications fairly proficiently. The most commonly used tools among 3D Animators include Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Cinema 4D, and many 3D Animators will also use tools like Photoshop, InDesign, or Adobe XD, depending on the kinds of projects that they are working on. While it is unlikely that employers will require users to become professionally certified in these tools, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in them in order to be competitive for job openings.

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In terms of education, most 3D Animators have some form of a digital arts degree from a four-year university. However, this is not a formal requirement, and many successful 3D Animators enter the workforce without a degree in hand. There are a number of alternative ways to receive the necessary skills training required of 3D Animators, including professional training bootcamps and self-paced study. Regardless of the path you choose to take, it will be a requirement for any aspiring 3D Animator to demonstrate their proficiency and skills training in order to find a job.

Job Responsibilities

While the job responsibilities for a 3D Animator will vary depending on the kind of project they are working on and the field in which they are working, there are a few consistent responsibilities that most 3D Animators will share. Some of these responsibilities include:

  • Work with digital design tools to create 3D animated assets
  • Work as part of a team of animators
  • Perform external research work to improve the quality of your assets
  • Work alongside editors, directors and other animators to edit and iterate on assets
  • Respond to feedback from invested stakeholders.


3D animation lies at the intersection of technical design and creative expression. This means that being a successful 3D Animator will require you to have skills in computer-aided design software and the creative skills required to make the most effective use of those applications. While there are a lot of different 3D animation toolkits available, the most commonly used tools are those in the Adobe Creative Cloud; After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Cinema 4D. These tools let users create, model, animate, and render 3D assets that can be easily added to film, television, software, web design, and video game projects. These designs can range in complexity from simple animated logos all the way up to fully animated set-pieces and environments.

In addition to knowing how to use these tools, aspiring 3D Animators will need to have a creative eye for what to do with those tools. While many 3D Animators will be given fairly direct instruction on how a finished animated asset should look, the highest paying 3D animation positions will go to creatives who can bring their own voice to the vision of a given project. Someone needs to be responsible for deciding how an asset or an environment should look, and that often falls on the shoulders of the animation team. 3D Animators may also need to be comfortable with collaborative creative work since large-scale projects, the kind most commonly associated with professional 3D Animators, are the result of tens of thousands of man-hours from hundreds of different animators working together to see a project through to completion.

Read more about what skills you need to become a 3D Animator.

Why Do Businesses Need 3D Animators?

Most businesses employ 3D Animators because their product is a kind of creative output that requires 3D animated assets to look perfect. Whether this is a film, an online advertisement, or a video game, 3D animation is at the center of their creative output and is, therefore, an essential part of the process. Whether they are employing in-house animators or contracting out an animation studio, these businesses rely upon the quality of their 3D Animators to make a product, be it a movie or software application, that consumers want to buy and engage with.

Businesses also may find that they want to contract out 3D animation studios for one-shot projects, such as a corporate announcement video, an online advertisement, or a television commercial. These businesses want to put the best version of themselves on the market; advertising is an important part of that process. Just like with film and television, commercial advertising utilizes 3D animation in a number of significant and subtle ways, so businesses wanting to market their products are likely to require the service of 3D Animators.

Where Do 3D Animators Usually Work?

3D Animators usually work in animation studios, working at firms that are dedicated to providing other businesses and organizations with 3D animation services. Some of these studios are in-house studios that only work for a single production company (such as a television studio or a video game studio), while others are contracted out by companies that need 3D animation services but don’t maintain an in-house studio. Regardless of whether you work in-house or not, most 3D animation work happens in the film and television, software development, video game development, and digital advertising industries.

3D Animator Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that jobs for special effects artists and other 3D animators will grow by about 5% year over year in the next decade. This is on pace with the national average and is higher than most other comparable artistic design positions. While job outlooks are steady, the primary movers of demand in this field are in the film, television, and video game industries. As technology improves and customer expectations rise, students will be hiring more and more 3D Animators to create evocative and life-like designs and assets. This is especially true in the field of mobile app development.

Similarly, according to the BLS, the median salary for special effects artists and 3D animators sits at around $80,000 a year, which is significantly higher (nearly 66% higher) than other art and design fields. Companies are placing a premium on hiring talented and experienced 3D Animators, and because these jobs are so in demand, salaries are rising to match. This is an ideal career field for anyone looking to make a solid living off of their creative work, and the combination of good pay and a positive job outlook makes it a promising career path for anyone looking to learn new, in-demand skills.

How Long Does it Take to Become a 3D Animator?

According to most estimates, it can take between one and four years to become a professional 3D Animator. This will depend on your long-term goals and the path you take to receiving your training. Since most 3D Animators learn their skills in a four-year degree program, that is why the upper range tends to be four years. By contrast, students can quickly learn the important skills they need in a career bootcamp or other accelerated program but they will need additional time to build the soft skills and get the training and practice they need to perfect their own style.

3D Animator vs. 2D Animator

The career path most closely related to 3D animation is, naturally, 2D animation. Since both kinds of animators use the same design applications, the primary difference between the two fields is the kind of projects that are most likely to be working on. Since 3D animation technology has become more powerful and cheaper, 3D animation has begun to overtake 2D animation in most professional settings. However, there is still demand for 2D animation specialists, particularly in the advertising industry and television and film industries. Most training programs that teach 3D animation also teach 2D animation as a scaffolding skill. This means that the difference between the two career paths is more about the creative process and techniques than it is about the technical skills you will need to master.

As 3D animation applications continue to improve and processing power gets cheaper, the demand for 2D animation has begun to wane. This is particularly true as classic 2D animation studios have shifted towards digital 3D animation as a major component of their output. This means that 3D Animators are in higher demand and are paid more than their 2D Animator counterparts. Depending on your specialty and where you work, this difference can be as much as $20,000 a year. 

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.

Key Takeaways

  • 3D Animators are creative specialists who use computer design applications to create 3D animated assets.
  • They work in a wide variety of different industries, including film and television, video game development, software development, and advertising.
  • Most 3D Animators will work on collaborative projects at animation studios. Some of these are in-house studios, while others are studios that contract work from other businesses.
  • Becoming a 3D Animator can take a few years of training and skills development, though getting a college degree is not a requirement.
  • If you want to start down this career path, you can receive comprehensive 3D animation training through Noble Desktop, with courses available in person and live online.