How to Become an Animator: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an animator. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in animation.

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Do I Want to Be an Animator?

Today's animators use powerful animation software and computers to create 2-D and 3-D animation for websites, film and video, gaming and mobile media. Drawing and sculpting skills still play a role in today's animation, but cutting-edge technology has combined with art to expand the field. Often working from home, some animators are self-employed and must always be on the lookout for new freelance assignments; others are employed full-time by companies and studios. In either case, work weeks are often long, and animators sometimes work nights and weekends.

Job Requirements

Many animators have an associate's or bachelor's degree in an animation-related field, while others might have a high school diploma or only some college education, in addition to similar experience and skill. A strong portfolio of personal works is crucial when pursuing jobs or assignments. The following table describes the general requirements to become an animator.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree*
Degree Field(s) Computer animation, fine arts, graphic arts*
Experience 1 year for entry-level positions; 5 or more years for mid-level or advanced positions**
Key Skills Art, illustration, design, animation**
Computer Skills Graphic and photo imaging software, like Creative Suite; website design software, such as Dreamweaver; 2-D and 3-D animation software, such as Maya, Studio Max, After Effects, and Flash; video editing software, such as Final Cut Pro or Premiere**
Technical Skills Digital camera, digital paper, digital pen***; knowledge of multiple computer platforms can be an advantage**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com job postings (July 2012), ***O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Obtain a Degree

While some employers don't require that animation artists have a degree, completing an animation degree program can provide a student with valuable art skills and teach him or her to be proficient in the technology used in this industry. There are many specialties within the animation field, including gaming, visual or special effects, animation for websites and animation for film, video or online. Courses generally include art, drawing, multimedia, 2-D and 3-D animation, and graphics before branching off into techniques and technology appropriate to the specialty.

Success Tips

  • Choose the right program. Students should choose a degree program that features courses in the skills required for their chosen specialty. For example, interactive animation courses required for gaming may not aid the student whose career path is special effects animation for film.
  • Build a portfolio or demo reel. To showcase artistry, creativity and technical skill, all students should build a portfolio or demo reel during the degree program. Most employers require the artist to submit a DVD or a link to a website that contains the demo reel along with his or her job application. Artists can tailor their demo reel to showcase the style and technical skills required by the position for which they are applying.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Most employers prefer artists who have experience. Students in a degree program can earn on-the-job experience while serving an internship as part of their graduation requirement. Graduates and animators without a formal education will generally have to first work in an assistant position for a while before advancing to full-fledged animation positions. This field also offers many freelance opportunities for varying degrees of skill, providing another means by which the artist can earn valuable job experience.

Success Tip

  • Volunteer one's animation skills. An enterprising animator can find many local opportunities to provide animation services for schools, non-profits, small businesses or community groups, enhancing their websites or contributing animation for an informational short film. Professional work done as a volunteer service can be used as experience on a resume and in a demo reel.

Step 3: Maintain Proficiency in the Technology

Advancements in animation technology advance at a dizzying pace. Animators who want to remain efficient and competitive can do so by attending classes that teach advanced software features and address industry trends. These classes are offered by colleges as well as companies that produce software, including Apple, Autodesk and Adobe.

Success Tips

  • Read trade publications. Publications that cater to the graphics and animation industry are a valuable, objective source of information and reporting on industry trends and new releases of technology. Artists can subscribe to publications that are available in print and online.
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