3D animators are in high demand across various industries with rewarding salary packages. Factors such as level of education, experience, industry, job location, and specialization influence the earning potential of a 3D animator.

Key Insights

  • 3D animators have a diverse job profile, ranging from designing animated logos for websites to creating elaborate 3D models for Hollywood films. They also contribute to the digital alterations in modern film and television.
  • Education plays a crucial role in the earning potential of 3D animators. A degree can make the salary more competitive and open up more job opportunities.
  • Experience correlates strongly with the salary of 3D animators. Experienced animators are sought after for their unique creative voice and are often rewarded with higher compensation.
  • The industry in which 3D animators work also influences their salary. Large, successful studios tend to pay more than smaller ones.
  • Job location plays a significant role in the average salary of a 3D animator, with jobs in major cities typically paying more.
  • Specialization also impacts the average salaries for 3D animators. Certain specializations make animators more attractive to companies in specific industries.

Since it is such a diverse field with so many different subspecialties across so many different industries, it can be difficult to judge the exact salary of a 3D Animator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Effects Artists make about $78,000 a year. This is, however, a median salary accounting for the average pay of employees in every field and every part of the country, so the real, functional pay of a 3D Animator will vary depending on factors like experience, education, and location. Anyone looking for a job in the field should consider the factors that influence their earning potential before trying to find a job.

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.

What Affects Your Pay as a 3D Animator

An Animator’s pay is going to depend on a number of outside factors. Not only will their pay depend on things in their control, such as their level of education, but it will also depend on things like where their job is located and how long they have been at the position.


Statistically speaking, the best thing you can do for your lifetime earning potential is to get a college degree. While it isn’t a requirement for becoming a 3D Animator, having a degree in hand will make your salary more competitive, and it will qualify you for more job openings. Getting Certified in 3D animation skills and completing other non-college education training programs can significantly increase your lifetime earning potential as well, so students are encouraged to continue their training and education if they want to receive competitive salaries.


As with most professions, on-the-job experience tends to correlate strongly with salary for 3D Animators. This is because experienced animators will have more job responsibilities and they will have significantly more career opportunities since they are in higher demand. For many 3D Animators, this experience will translate into team management roles, more creative control over a project, or both. Particularly experienced 3D Animators will be sought out for their unique creative voice, and they will be compensated greatly for their work. 


3D animation is not unique in that large, successful studios are going to pay their employees more than small independent creators, and those working in major industries like film and television are likely to make more than those working in industries like online advertising. For example, Disney is making billions of dollars off of films that rely on the work of 3D Animators, so they are going to be more selective about who they hire and are going to pay more to compensate. Smaller advertising studios are still likely to pay 3D Animators well in comparison to other creative professionals, but they will be paid less than their counterparts working at huge firms and studios.


Location will also play a role in the average salary of a 3D Animator. This is true of most professions (there are very few jobs that pay better in Butte than in New York City), but it is especially relevant for animators, whose jobs tend to be located in a few major cities. If you are working in film and television, for example, there are few places to find a lot of jobs aside from Los Angeles, New York City, and a few major metropolitan hubs. This means that pay will be higher across the board, but the cost of living will also be increased as a result. Aspiring 3D Animators shouldn’t be dissuaded by this, but they should be aware that this will impact their real wages.


Specialization also plays a role in average salaries for 3D Animators. Generalists will find that there are more job openings available to them, but they won’t be in as high of a demand since, by their nature, there are more generalists in the market. This also ties back to concerns of industry since certain specializations will make animators more attractive to companies working, for example, in software development or game design. Animators who work in specific art styles might be more attractive to some film studios, and animators with experience working on specific genres of films, for instance, might be able to find work more easily than others.

Pay Range for 3D Animators

According to Glassdoor’s career data tracking system, salaries for 3D Animators with less than a year of work experience range from $41,000 to $96,000, with the most common range falling between $50,000 and $75,000. After a few years in the field, the average salary levels out at about $75,000 a year. Indeed.com also tracks average salaries for 3D Animators, though without granular data for years of experience in the field. According to Indeed, the average salaries for 3D Animators fall between $60,000 and $110,000. While these data points and those produced by the BLS differ slightly, they collectively indicate that 3D Animator salaries are higher than the national median salary.

Highest-Earning Job Titles for 3D Animators

For 3D Animators, there are two major ways to qualify for the highest-paying positions in the field. Either you need to learn how to oversee and manage teams of animators as a Lead Animator or Senior Animator, or you need to gain the experience necessary to find work as an Animation Director.

Lead Animators and Senior Animators will oversee teams of Associate Animators (or whatever title a studio uses for its entry-level 3D Animators), and they are responsible for ensuring that tasks are completed in a timely and cost-effective manner. These 3D Animators will still need to regularly work on animation projects, but they will also need to learn management skills and be ready to work alongside creatives from other departments or who are working on other aspects of a given project. According to Glassdoor, these 3D Animators will make between $70,000 and $100,000.

Directors of Animation will be in charge of overseeing entire divisions of animators and are given greater creative control over the direction of a given animation project. They are more likely to spend their time working alongside other directors, editors, designers, storyboard artists, and important creative directors than they are to be working directly on 3D Animation projects, making their work more about large creative vision decisions than specific design choices. These professionals will make around $100,000 a year, depending on the specific industry in which they are working.

The highest job title commonly held by 3D Animators is that of Creative Operations Director (sometimes also referred to by titles like Chief of Creative Operations or Chief Creative Director). These artists oversee the creative direction of entire companies, studios, or divisions, and they are part of the upper management of a creative company. Most Creative Operations Directors are hired for their specific creative voice and their ability to guide a company, studio or firm in a new direction creatively. As such, they are very well compensated, with pay as high as $250,000 a year at a mid-sized company (many massive companies pay their CCOs much more, but these jobs are incredibly competitive).

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