Hot Job: 3D Animator

By Robert Half March 21, 2019 at 2:00pm

Toy Story, Pixar’s 1995 feature film, showcased the power of 3D animation and led to a boom the field is still experiencing today. While 3D animators most frequently work in areas like film, video game production and television, they can also find employment in web design, graphic design and advertising.

Translating emotion and movement to the screen requires a unique skill set and the ability to understand a variety of disciplines, including acting, cinematography, interactive storytelling, graphic art and web programming. Do you have what it takes to be a 3D animator?

The rising demand for 3D visual design has led to an increased need for those with the talent for it, making the role one of the hottest jobs in the creative industry.

These professionals can function as part of a company or as freelancers, working on a wide range of projects. “Roles tend to be either long-term projects or ongoing work in which clients need someone in an ad hoc capacity,” said Lois Snavely, a senior recruiter with The Creative Group. “Our clients require excellent animators who can be on standby for the foreseeable future.”

What’s involved in being a 3D animator? What’s the salary like? What are the typical duties? What about required skills?

3D animator salary benchmarks

According to The Creative Group 2019 Salary Guide, the midpoint starting salary for a 3D animator in the United States is $67,000. However, location, industry and experience can all affect the starting rate you should be offered. Use our Salary Calculator to determine the standard earnings for 3D animators in your city and field.

Duties and expectations

On any given day, a 3D animator may take on a variety of tasks to create characters, visual effects and even scenery. Using technical and design skills, these professionals breathe life into their digital creations. Different projects have different demands, but an understanding of movement and basic art principles like lines, shadow, light and perspective are always necessary.

Typical duties of a 3D animator include:

  • Meeting with clients and key stakeholders, such as directors, actors, video game designers and other animators, to determine the scope of the work and project deadlines
  • Researching subjects to ensure accurate animated representations
  • Communicating with other designers to ensure a cohesive vision across the product
  • Storyboarding to develop scenes that require animation
  • Using software to create animated characters, scenes and graphics
  • Adjusting colors, lighting, shadows and textures to perfect lifelike appearances
  • Integrating client and stakeholder feedback into final designs

Professional experience and skills

Most 3D animators hold a bachelor’s degree in a concentration like graphic design, fine art, animation or computer graphics. Many companies hiring for the position desire candidates with at least five years of experience. For entry-level jobs, this can come in the form of internships or apprenticeships.

Additionally, 3D animators should be versed in a variety of industry-standard applications, including Maya, MotionBuilder, Mudbox, FBX, 3ds Max, ZBrush, Premiere and After Effects. Experience with Cinema 4D may also be required by companies seeking animators with motion design skills. As technology evolves — and consumers increasingly rely on smartphones and tablets — animators with mobile skills will have a competitive edge.

To further set yourself apart from fellow 3D animators searching for the same jobs you might want, you’ll need a solid portfolio or demo reel. These highlight your best work and show potential employers what you’re capable of producing.

For animators, a portfolio should contain a variety of pieces that illustrate your range, like life drawings, scenes or original characters and locations. You should also include examples of different mediums — such as paintings, sketches, sculptures or computer graphics — to emphasize the breadth of your abilities.

A demo reel is a collection of short clips from animations you’ve produced. Choose a variety that include your work on different characters, types of motion, backgrounds and visual effects.

While technical savvy and an artistic eye are certainly critical to succeeding as a 3D animator, employers also want candidates to possess robust soft skills. These techniques are not job specific, but they show potential employers that you can interact with others effectively to produce exceptional work. 

Valuable soft skills for 3D animators include time management, multitasking and the ability to write and speak well.

On this last point, Snavely adds, “Excellent communication is a must. The best animators and motion designers are over-communicative with their questions, edits, feedback, follow-up and so forth. They work swiftly and set clear timelines for the client.” Animators must also be able to collaborate and work as part of a team, giving and receiving feedback productively.

Does the 3D animator role sound right for you? Check out our available jobs now.

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