How to Become an Animator

Some jobs are a grind, while others leave you excited to come back the next day. For many, the life of an animator is the latter. But what exactly is an animator, and how can you break into this rewarding career field? Keep reading, and we’ll break down everything you need to know.

What is an Animator?

Animators are artists that utilize their 21st century medium of technology to create videos and skits through their work. Simply put, they create short videos and skits through software that users display on computers or televisions.

Animators have evolved over the years from artists who transform their work from paper to computers to ones that almost exclusively work through different computer software programs. Furthermore, animators have transitioned from 2-D art to 3-D and occasionally will dip their hand into a world of 4-D immersion through their work as well.

Animators are creators and innovators, and they help to both entertain us and transform the way we see the world.  

What Does a Typical Workday for an Animator Look Like?

The typical workday for an animator is entirely different than many other 9-5 jobs. Many studies start days out with videos or meetings to get the creative juices flowing and establish a plan for completing the day’s tasks.

From there, most employers send their animators off to create and collaborate! It’s not uncommon for animators to spend weeks or months on the same project, and revisions are constant. The animator might create a product that is precisely what the team is looking for one day, only to find that it doesn’t fit into the rest of the project later down the road.

The typical workday for an animator is fun and artsy, but it can also be frustrating and patience-testing. It’s not for everyone, but if you love making ideas come to life, then it might be the perfect job for you!

Will I like Being an Animator?

Whether or not you like being an animator depends on a few of your personality traits. While some people love the profession, others struggle with it and feel like they don’t have what it takes to succeed. But if you take the time to develop your skills and enjoy working on large creative projects, becoming an animator might be right for you.

Characteristics and Skills of a Good Animator

There are tons of characteristics that good animators possess, but beyond that, there are some useful skills you’ll need to acquire or work on to succeed in the field as well.

One of the most significant characteristics that all good animators possess is a creative mind, a vivid imagination. Animators dream up what they will create then take the time to turn that dream into reality on the screen.

The ability to dream up those creations is more than a skill you can work on; it’s a state of mind you need to embrace.

Additionally, great animators need to have great patience and unrivaled attention to detail. Turning those creations into reality takes time and persistence. In animation, even the little things matter; it can be the difference between a flawless animation and one that glitches and stutters its way to the finish line.

Furthermore, animators need to be team players – one person rarely handles an entire project, so animators need to be able to collaborate and meet deadlines to keep the project on track.

Finally, there are some skills that a good animator needs to learn and master to excel at the craft truly. First, the ability to draw is vital. Animators need to create animations, and that means drawing them by hand or with computer software.

Either way, good animators need some artistic ability to succeed. But contrary to popular belief, you can improve upon your artistic ability. While it comes easier to some, everyone can work on their craft and acquire the necessary artistic abilities to thrive as an animator.

Finally, being an animator is about more than just putting pencil to paper and drawing neat sketches. It’s about turning those sketches into a motion picture on the computer screen. It’s why good animators need to be computer literate and have a great understanding of the relevant graphics software.

While aspiring animators can learn these skills as they go, most employers expect their animators to be fluent in the programs before they start. Since there are multiple different graphic software programs out there, this means being versatile enough to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

Why You Might Not Like Being an Animator

Just because you like drawing pictures doesn’t mean that you’ll love being an animator. Patience and dedication are essential – and while you don’t have to draw images frame by frame like animators of the past did – it’s still a lot of tedious work to get everything just right.

If you have a short attention span or the inability or desire to pay attention to even the smallest details, then you might not like being an animator.

Furthermore, if you don’t like staring at a computer screen (or tablet) for hours on end, then you might want to find another job. The days of drawing everything out and scanning them in or lining them up are over. Instead, almost every animator uses electronic animation software to complete their projects now. It’s faster and delivers a crisper and final product.

You also need to be a self-starter and enjoy working as part of a team. Typical animators will work on a project together but tackle their part of the project independently. If you can’t meet deadlines or need to have everything in a project done your way, you might struggle as an animator.

Typical Schooling for a Successful Animator

Most animators have at least a bachelor’s degree in some sort of animation program. While some people might be able to get away with just an associate degree or a certification from an animation course – this typically isn’t enough to break into the career field.

In addition to degree programs in animation, many animators have degrees in fine arts, computer graphics, or other related fields. Not only does this schooling give you a solid understanding of the career, but it also allows you to spend time working on your craft and building a portfolio.

Best 6 Colleges

College is by and far the most popular and easiest way to break into a career in animation. But where you go to school matters. Some schools simply push degrees out to anyone with a pulse, while others take the time to craft and push their students into professionals that can thrive in the industry.

While it might be a little more work to earn top marks, your hard work will pay off when you land a job right after you graduate. Whether you’re looking for the best in person or online schools, we’ve done the hard work for you, identifying the best schools in the business.

Best In-Person Colleges for Animation

There’s something to be said for the in-person college experience. While it might be a little more expensive than the online alternative, you get to work with top-notch animators to help you perfect your craft, and you’ll work on building connections in the industry from day one.

Ringling College of Art and Design – $49,540 per year

If you’re looking for a college that leaves you ready to land a job at a major studio the day after graduation, you can’t beat the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida. Not only will you graduate with a degree from one of the most prestigious animation universities in the world, but you’ll also work on a world-class portfolio.

Students work on a collaborative project during their senior year, and this project has won Student Academy Awards, Siggraph Electronic Theater Awards, and film festival placements. You’ll get connections to DreamWorks, Sony, Pixar, and more. The tuition is through the roof, but if you can afford it, you’ll start a step ahead.

California Institute of the Arts – $52,850 per year

If you’re judging a school on what they can help you achieve, just look at who they’ve graduated. When it comes to the California Institute of the Arts, it’s hard to beat their resume. Master class animators Tim Burton and Brad Bird are CalArts alumni, and they’re always looking to churn out more world-class animators year after year.

Getting accepted to CalArts isn’t easy, and paying off the tuition is even harder, but their track record says that they’re doing something right.

Savannah College of Art and Design – $37,575

Landing a job and building experience is the goal of any recent graduate, and if you attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, it’s one less thing that you need to worry about at graduation. That’s because 99 percent of recent animation graduates landed a job in their desired career field.

Even better, the SCAD tuition is significantly less than both CalArts and Ringling, making it a far more affordable option if you don’t have a trust fund taking care of your tuition.

Best Online Colleges for Animation

While there are some perks to going to college in person, that’s simply not an option for everyone. The good news is that getting an animation degree online is far cheaper than attending an in-person university – with tuition rates less than half compared to the top schools. You’re going to land a job working on a computer, why not learn on one?

Academy of Art University – $26,399 per year

The Academy of Art University prioritizes all aspects of animation in their degree program. It’s why their animation degree gets paired with visual arts. Not only do you get to master animation, but you’ll master both 2-D and 3-D visual effects.

You’ll build a masterful portfolio and demo reel across an array of fields, giving you the versatility to thrive wherever you choose.

While some online degrees get scoffed at, everybody knows that a degree from the Academy of Art University carries significant weight.

Rasmussen College-Bloomington – $25,325 per year

If you’re trying to finish your degree and move onto a paying gig, Rasmussen might be precisely what you’ve been looking for. They offer an expedited course option that allows you to start and finish your degree in just 36-months.

Still, they focus on building their students a professional portfolio along the way. In this vein, they include an intern course as part of the curriculum for seniors, ensuring that they are building a portfolio using techniques and appropriate methods in the industry.

Not only does this internship help their aspiring animators build a bullet-proof portfolio, but it also lets them make some valuable connections in the industry.  

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design – $18,350 per year

Rocky Mountain College takes a unique animation teaching approach in that students pick between specializing in either 2-D or 3-D animations. This gives them a better understanding of the information in their field than many of their peers, but it also leaves them lacking a little knowledge outside of their area of expertise.

Your future career field might be a little more defined, but you’ll be more than ready to leave your mark on the industry with a degree from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

Can I Skip College and Teach Myself How to be an Animator?

While skipping college isn’t the easiest way to break into the field, if you’re a talented animator, you’ll be able to work your way into the career field and make a name for yourself. You’ll need to take the time to build a portfolio and learn the craft, and there are a couple of different ways you can do this.  

Certificate Programs

Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs instead of their full degrees. Since these programs are often associated with a university, they carry a little more weight than some of the other options out there.

There are two distinct advantages to certificate programs offered by universities – first, since you aren’t taking any general elective classes, you’re saving a ton of money. Second, since the university provides the courses, if you ever want to go back and get the full degree, they typically accept all of the credits.

If you’re not going for a traditional 4-year degree, an accredited certificate program is the next best option.

Diploma Programs

Much like certificate programs, there are different options out there that offer courses directly on animation. These “diploma programs” vary in their effectiveness, and often the “diploma” isn’t worth as much as the portfolio.

Prospective employers will want to know what you can do, as they are unlikely to track down your specific program and see what it’s worth. Typically diploma programs aren’t associated with a university, so if you decide later that you want the full degree, you’ll have to start from scratch. 

Self-Learning

If you’re a talented artist and a quick learner, you can take the time to scour the web and learn everything you need to about animation. YouTube will be your friend, and you’ll spend hours upon hours trying to track down everything you need to know.

You’ll need natural talent, a wealth of patience, and a drive and passion that others simply can’t match to make it work. It’s not impossible – but plenty of people try and fail this route every year.

Which Software Programs do Animators Use?

When it comes to animation software – there are more options than you’ll ever be able to learn. But how do you sort through the noise and identify the ones you need while ignoring the ones you don’t? Just keep reading our guide, of course!

Autodesk Maya

If you’re looking to become a professional 3-D animator, Autodesk Maya is the program you need to master. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap – with subscriptions costing $195 per month. But it gives you everything you need to produce professional-quality animation.

Blender

When you’re starting out in animation, you shouldn’t dive right into the deep end. Not only is it expensive, but it’s jam-packed with features that you won’t know how to use and will only confuse you. That’s why Blender is such a great option. It’s open-source software that is free to use, meaning you can take as long as you need to master the basics before upgrading to a paid service.

Animate CC (Formerly Flash)

At the dawn of digital animation, Flash was king. With the advent of 3-D animation on a large scale, Flash has taken a bit of a backseat in many applications. Now they’ve rebranded themselves as Animate CC, but it’s the same basic program if significantly upgraded. If you’re looking for a great 2-D animation program to learn and hone your skills on, Animate CC is still a great option – and it’s only 20.99 a month.  

TVPaint

Where Autodesk Maya is the application for 3-D professional animators, TVPaint is where the pros go for 3-D animation. It’s a French-owned software company that can handle everything you could possibly need to do for 2-D animation. While it’s not cheap, it’s not subscription-based either, so once you own it, it’s yours. The price to purchase the software is 500 Euros, roughly translating to 550-600 dollars depending on the current exchange rate.

Character Animator

If you want to get into animation and don’t know how it works – Character Animation is precisely what you’re looking for. Professionals won’t use it, and it has extremely limited applications, but it’s by far the easiest way to create your first animation. It works off pre-built characters, and webcams/videos and auto animates the entire recording for you. It’s certainly neat, but if you’re interested in a career in animation, this won’t get you anywhere.

What are the Best Blogs and Influencer Accounts to Follow?

If you’re trying to become the best, you need to learn from the best. While not everyone can afford to attend the country’s best universities, everyone can easily follow some of the brand’s top names.

But who should you be following, taking tips and tricks from? While sometimes you simply need to learn from the best, other times, all you need is a little inspiration. Keep reading, and we’ll break down the biggest names in the industry to follow – and highlight those that can help you take your work to the next level.

Top Influencer – Seth MacFarlane

While there are several big names in animation, Tim Burton comes to mind; arguably, Seth MacFarlane is the most successful. He doesn’t create just one of the top shows on prime-time television today, but three. Love him or hate him, there’s no arguing with his results. 

Notable Mentions

As an animator, a big part of your job is finding inspiration for the next project. These next two animators might be precisely what you need to get your creative juices going and set you on the path for success!

Frank J Guzzone

Frank Guzzone doesn’t flood his feed with tons of new posts – but that’s alright. Because what he does post is good, making it well worth your time. You don’t want to flood your feed with nonsense, you want to be inspired by top-notch work, and that’s exactly what he provides.

Clara Lucian

When you’re looking to be inspired, you want to find something different. With Clara Luzian, there’s no lack of different. She’s an artist through and through, and while not all of her work is animation related, a large portion of it is. Either way, her work will make you question the way you see things, which is precisely what’s needed to get you out of a creative funk.

Best Blog for Animators – John K Stuff

When you’re looking for places to learn, blogs are a phenomenal place to start. You can learn methods and styles by listening to how others do it, and it’s a great way to add new techniques to your craft. That’s why the John K Stuff blog is one of the best.

John Kricfalusi runs the site, and he is a well-known and respected animator that takes the time to break down his craft so others can learn from him.

He’s posted thousands of pictures, how-to-guides, and articles for aspiring animators to dig into. If you’re looking for a well-respected animator that has taken the time to develop a professional-quality site with tons of information – look no further.

5 Ways to Break into the Animator Industry

Breaking into any new career field can seem daunting. But if you’ve done the work to get there, it’s not as hard as many people make it out to be. Put in the work, follow the 5-steps below, and you’ll have a job as an animator in no time!

  1. Get Online

When we’re talking about a portfolio, we’re not talking about a couple of nifty files on a USB. Put it online for the world to see! Build yourself a website and put your work on it! Not only is this an easy thing to refer to potential employers, but if your work is good enough, potential employers might try and track you down!

If you’re worried about building your own website to highlight your work, don’t be. Building a website has never been easier. Below are three favorite websites for building a space to highlight your animation portfolio.

WordPress

More websites use WordPress software than any other company in the world for a reason. Their sites are insanely customizable, and if you’re simply building a portfolio site, they even have free options available (however, their lower-level plans are incredibly affordable).

Note that you want WordPress.com to build and host your site if you’re looking for a quick and easy setup, not WordPress.org.

Squarespace

If you’re looking for a more unique setup than WordPress, Squarespace offers its own spin on website building. They have specific templates for portfolios, allowing you to spend more time animating and less time website building.

Weebly

Weebly has been in the website building business for a long time. Whether you’re looking to freelance your services or build a simple portfolio website, Weebly has an option for you. Just like WordPress.com, they have a free option available if you’re looking to get your work out there without spending a dime.

  1. Get Social

You can have the best portfolio in the world, but if nobody knows that it’s there, then it’s not worth a thing. Social media is the easiest way to get your name out there. Even more critical is LinkedIn. Many employers will require that you have a LinkedIn account even to apply. LinkedIn also allows you to connect to other professionals and employers in your field.

LinkedIn is the most important option, but don’t sleep on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. If you’re producing top-notch animation, show it to the world and let them advertise for you!

  1. Become an Apprentice

You need experience and connections to thrive. Don’t be too proud to take an apprenticeship and learn from the best – especially if you’re trying to skip the college route. You’ll build up your portfolio, work on your skills, and learn from those doing it for a living. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to land a paid internship, but often you’ll be stuck doing this for the experience alone.

  1. Continue Learning

Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean that you can stop learning. Animation is continually changing and progressing, and you should be too. When new programs are released, take the time to find a program that will teach you how to use it.

If you see something that you’ve never seen before, take the time to track down how they did it. Watch YouTube videos, follow blogs, and keep an eye on the top animators in the world. The more you learn, the better off you’ll be.

  1. Keep Grinding

Nobody has made it without their fair share of adversity. Somebody along the way will tell you that your work isn’t good enough. This is especially true if you’re just starting out.

Take what they say and learn from it, but don’t let it knock you off your dream. Not everyone will like everything you do, and you’ll never craft a piece that everyone loves. Do your job well, and don’t worry about pleasing everyone, and never let a setback derail you.

FAQ

We understand that you have tons of questions about animators. That’s why we took the time to break down some of the most common questions that we receive below.

How Much Money Do Animators Typically Make?

According to Glassdoor, the average animator makes $69,168 a year. However, it’s a wide range based on expertise and skill. Entry-level animators can make as little as $46,000, and high-end animators can earn over $101,000.

What Do You Study to Be an Animator?

There are several degree programs you can major in, but the most common are Animation, Fine Arts, or Computer Graphics.

Is an Animator a Good Career Choice?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for animators, the job market for animators will grow by 4 percent over the next decade, the average for job growth in the United States.

Are There a Lot of Job Openings for Animators?

There are typically job openings for animators due to the wide range of companies needing them.

What’s the Best Website to Find Animator Job Listings?

Two job boards that consistently have high paying jobs for animators are Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com.

What Are Some Big Companies that Hire Animators?

Some big names companies that hire animators are Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony, and more. If they make movies or shows, they have animators working for them. Even companies like iHeartMedia and Square have animators working for them so their software and apps run smoothly. 

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