How to Become An Animator: A Step-by-Step Guide

The animation industry is global. And because its reach is so vast, the market is extremely competitive. It is also a diverse industry, ranging in requirements, experience, and expertise needed to secure a position with a company.

But how do you gain expertise, or even experience, in animation if you’re just starting? Where does someone even start?

You may feel uncertain or intimidated by everyone else who has already advanced their skills. But, there are steps you can take to start building your career as an animator and develop your artistic skills.

This step-by-step guide will show you what you need to do to kickstart a career in animation and answer your questions about all the aspects of the job.

The Job of An Animator

Animators use animation and computer software to create a sequence of images that are turned into movement. Animators can work with both 2D and 3D models, computer or digital images, or hand-drawn pictures.

What Are the Duties of an Animator?

The typical responsibilities of an animator revolve around producing animation. Since there are many steps to preparation, idea generation, and execution of those ideas, there are many more duties an animator would be responsible for.

These Essential Job duties of Animators may be:

  • Working with a team of other multimedia artists to create storyboards and generate new ideas
  • Meet with clients to develop concepts and expectations for animation projects
  • Drawing and creating sketches for 2D animation projects
  • Using computer software and animation software to create multiple frames and sequences of images
  • Work with video editing software or a team of editors to develop the final piece
  • Ensuring movement in each frame matches the audio or soundtrack

What Are the Education Requirements for Animators?

In today’s world, having a college degree doesn’t guarantee success in the field you want to go into. However, many animation companies and clients have education requirements and may want their employees to have a degree in whatever animation field.

Bachelor’s degrees are typically the most common education requirement, but earning an associate’s degree, master’s, or doctorate in animation studies can work just as well.

College-level animation programs can provide hands-on instruction and internships opportunities to help you get your foot in the door. You even have the opportunity to specialize in a certain type of animation and have the ability to take a variety of art classes.

The internet also makes learning the art of animation much easier, with online animation programs and courses.

What Skills Would I Need?

As an animator, you will need to have good computer software skills and animation skills. Whether you are working with physical objects or computer programs, an animator should also have some skill in artistic design and creativity.

Industry-related skills of Animation:

  • Graphic design
  • Artistic and creative
  • Drawing and modeling
  • Computer animation software
  • Video editing

Other skills needed aren’t as animation-centered, but are equally important in the industry.

Consider developing these soft skills as well:

  • Collaborative
  • Patient
  • Creative
  • Innovative
  • Detail-oriented
  • Tech-savvy

A combination of animation skills, technical skills, and soft skills can help you advance your career and can help you stand out to employers.

What Is the Career Outlook of An Animator?

The demand for animators has increased, mostly due to the need for video game graphics and film animation visuals. Motion picture studios and video game production companies need people like animators, game designers, and multimedia artists with the skills for animation and storytelling.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 16% employment growth for animators and special effects artists from 2020 to 2030.

There is also an estimated demand for animators due to the recovery from the recession due to the pandemic. The surge for special effects and animation for video games and films have helped open up thousands of jobs for animators.

6 Steps To Becoming An Animator

If you’ve got the passion for the arts and the drive to pursue a career path as an animator, you may be wondering where to even start. Below is a step-by-step guide to getting you on the right path for building your animation career.

1. Find Your Niche

There are many jobs you can have as an animator, including a 2D animator, a 3D animator, a keyframe editor, and more.

Knowing which type of animator or what specific role you’ll be happiest in will probably come after you’ve experienced a few different roles. But if you’re just starting and haven’t had any experience, you can pay close attention to what you like and what types of animation interest you.

Some animators work specifically with the physical aspects of a rig or setup, like stop-motion animators. There are even jobs as forensic animators who help investigators solve crimes by using computer graphics to recreate and design a crime scene.

2. Become Educated

Most animators have earned a bachelor’s degree in a field related to art, graphic design, and animation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that most employers will want a candidate with a bachelor’s degree, along with a stellar portfolio and skills.

This means that enrolling in animation degree programs or even online animation courses will be the first step for you to take. Finding the best program will depend on what you’re interested in and your availability to dedicate time to your studies.

Most traditional colleges, community colleges, and art schools offer degree programs and courses in animation, with specialized degrees in some fields such as graphic design or film and video. You can even pursue higher education by getting your master’s or doctorate in animation or graphic design.

Once you decide what industry you want to work in, you’ll need to start looking for accredited animation programs and courses.

3. Hone Your Skills

Having a passion for art and some artistic ability can get you started on your path to becoming an animator, but it won’t necessarily make you successful. You’ll need to hone your craft and practice your skills.

Learning from online courses or degree programs can only give you so much information. You’ll want to put that information into practice and apply what you’ve learned. Perfecting your skills and even specializing in a type of animation can set you apart from the big pool of other animators.

Only focusing on your computer software or animation skills can help produce great work, but may not help you become as successful. Studying body movement, facial expressions, emotions, and background settings, can help you in creating more realistic visuals.

On top of practicing all things animation, both working within a team and learning people skills can help you improve your career.

4. Create Your Demo Reel

Your demo reel is a collection of your best work and is the best place to let your creativity shine. It will be the point where you can capture an employer or client’s attention.

If you are just beginning, most of your first pieces of work may be from freelancing or course programs. Make sure if you include these pieces in your demo reel that it’s your best work.

The most common way, and best way, to showcase your demo reel is online. Many platforms such as Vimeo, WordPress, or Google Drive can host your demo reel, and most of those are free.

5. Build Your Portfolio

When applying for jobs, all animators will need to build a portfolio that showcases their animation skills, expertise, and artistic ability.

Your portfolio is not the same as your demo reel, even though both serve the same purpose for highlighting your talent and previous work. Your portfolio will show more of who you are in addition to your style of animation.

Some of the things you will want to include in your portfolio are:

  • Your demo reel (1-4 minutes long)
  • Life drawings
  • Object drawings
  • Animations
  • Storyboards
  • Your bio

A good portfolio can be the make-or-break decision an employer makes, so ensure that yours is creative, filled with your best work samples, and includes a variety of your skills.

6. Get Work Experience

Since most employers (and clients) prefer animators with a college degree, a creative portfolio, and the technical and animation skills to create excellent visuals, it may be difficult to land some job experience.

As you go throughout your degree program, you’ll be getting some hands-on experience that you can use for your portfolio. This will come in handy for any freelance work that you do or for applying for internships.

Getting freelance work or employment can be tricky when you’re just starting. One helpful tip can be to do a bit of free work for family, friends, or people in the community can help you gain valuable experience on the job and to have content for your demo reel.

Once you’ve gotten a solid demo reel, applying for jobs, internships, or securing clients may have a higher success rate since you’ve got something to prove your skill.

The Bottom Line

If you have the desire to learn and grow, and a passion for the arts, then you can build a career as an animator.

Determining the path to get there is the tricky part, and probably the hardest! But developing a step-by-step plan can get you started and, from there, help you work your way towards your end goal. 

  • Finding your niche: Look at what part of animation excites you and then specialize in that.
  • Becoming educated: Enrolling in training courses and educational programs can give you the know-how and training to use when you start looking for work.
  • Honing your skills: Once you get the training and education, you’ll need to practice and grow your skills in animation, computer software, editing, and all the soft skills.
  • Creating a demo reel: This is where you can wow potential employers and clients. Here you’ll want to show your absolute best work.
  • Building your portfolio: This is your demo reel plus additional work samples that help show more of who you are and your animation type.
  • Applying for work: Once you’ve got the portfolio, skills, and education, you can start applying for jobs, securing clients, or looking for internships.

Everyone’s animation journey will look different. But if you go by a guide, it can give you direction and motivation to keep going. I hope this guide has helped you get closer to starting your animation career. Go get started!

FAQs

Here are some of the most common questions an aspiring animator might have.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become an Animator?

As an animator, you will need to be skilled in design, creativity, and computer software programs. On top of those skills, a major qualification is educational experience in an art, multimedia, or design-related field.

Do Animators Make Good Money?

According to the BLS, animators in 2020 earned a median annual wage of $77,700, with the lowest 10% earning around $42,390 and the highest 10% earning more than $142,750.

The amount of money you make as an animator can vary. It generally depends on the company you work with, the clients who hire you, and the position you hold. Most animators can make good money with companies, although most of them start out at entry-level positions.

How long does it take to become an animator?

If you go the route of getting a college degree plus a year or two for  internship work or freelancing work, the total amount of time can range from 4-7 years. Although everyone’s career path will be different, depending on the route you want to take will determine the time it takes.

Even while you are in school or doing an internship, you can still find animation work through freelancing and client jobs. Taking online courses can even speed up the process of becoming an animator, where you can do jobs while you are training.

How do I choose an animation program?

Deciding on a program to put our time, money, and effort into can be overwhelming! When choosing a program that will fit your needs and career goals figure in your availability, budget, and what you want to specialize in.

When searching for a degree program, look at the cost, what the program covers, and the ratings.

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