What Does an Animator Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, and More

Image shows a woman sitting at an illustrator's desk, working on an animated drawing of a bird flapping its wings. Text reads:

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

An animator creates an extensive series of images that form the animation seen in movies, commercials, television programs, and video games. They typically specialize in one of these media and may further concentrate on a specific area, such as characters, scenery, or background design. Animators typically use computer software to do their work. They are members of a team that consists of other animators and artists who collaborate on projects.

Animator Duties and Responsibilities

Typical job responsibilities may include:

  • Create expressive character animation portraying a wide range of emotions
  • Recommend the best approaches to integrate 3-D components into final commercial quality products
  • Create high-quality animations by utilizing both hand key animation and motion capture data
  • Give and receive constructive, creative feedback across teams
  • Collaborate with other animators, clients, and producers
  • Create prototypes and mock-ups of new types of products
  • Brainstorm and conceptualize ideas, with the ability to produce concept sketches and quick concept edits
  • Comprehend and execute direction from the lead animator or animation supervisor

Animator Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, salary information for multimedia artists and animators was:

  • Median annual salary: $70,530 ($33.91/hour)
  • Top 10% annual salary: $123,060 ($59.16/hour)
  • Bottom 10% annual salary: $39,330 ($18.91/hour)

Education Requirements and Qualifications

Animators should have the following education and experience:

  • College degree: While an animator isn't required to have a college degree, most employers prefer to hire job candidates who have a bachelor's degree in animation, computer graphics, fine arts, or a related discipline. If you want to create animation for video games, you should earn a degree in video game design or interactive media.
  • Courses: Coursework includes painting, drawing, and sculpture. Degrees in animation often require classes in drawing, animation, and film. Many schools have specialized degrees in interactive media or game design.
  • Self-study: Skills in graphics and animation can be honed through self-study and can improve a job candidate's portfolio. The website Animator Guide offers workshops, tutorials, and other resources for those wanting to learn animation.
  • Internships: Internships are a great way to gain experience and build your portfolio. For example, if you are interested in video game animation, you can contact GameDesigning.org, which provides internship information for aspiring animators. Internships.com also provides internship opportunities.

Animator Skills and Competencies

An animator needs more than artistic talent to work in this occupation. In addition to the technical skills learned in an academic program, they must have certain soft skills:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: Function as part of a team.
  • Listening and speaking skills: Understand and convey accurate information for creating the requested animation.
  • Time management skills: Meet scheduled deadlines.
  • Creativity: Generate ideas and bring them to fruition.

In addition, these skill requirements are from job announcements posted on Indeed.com:

  • Must be able to take direction, communicate with other artists, as well as external contractors, and work with engineers to ensure that art and animations are properly implemented in the game
  • Ability to illustrate and storyboard
  • Outstanding work ethic, character, integrity, and professionalism
  • Must be able to prioritize, multitask, and meet tight deadlines
  • Strong design, communication, and project management skills
  • Must have a positive attitude and be a team player

Multimedia artists and animators who show strong teamwork and time-management skills can even advance to supervisory positions, where they are responsible for one aspect of a visual effects team. Some artists might advance to leadership or directorial positions, such as an art director or producer or director.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of multimedia artists and animators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026 due to an increased demand for more realistic animation and visual effects in video games, movies and television, as well as more advanced computer graphics for mobile devices such as smartphones.

Work Environment

About half of all animators are self-employed and work from home. The job is concentrated in the motion picture and video industries. Animators may also work in a business office, such as a publishing company, advertising agency, or software company.

Work Schedule

Animators are expected to work late hours, weekends and holidays, depending on approaching deadlines.

Apply

Those seeking employment as an animator, can search popular job sites, such as Monster, Indeed, and Glassdoor.

Animation Magazine also provides career opportunities in this field.

In addition, attending conferences provides networking opportunities that can lead to employment:

Comparing Similar Jobs

If you are considering a job as an animator, you may also want to view these similar positions:

Description Median Annual Wage (2014) Minimum Required Education/Training
Fashion Designer Creates clothing and accessories

$64,030

Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Design (preferred)
Graphic Designer Communicates messages using visual elements $45,900 Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design
Photographer Tells stories and records events by taking pictures $30,490 Bachelor's Degree in Photography
Fine Artist Creates art to sell or exhibit $43,890 Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts