How to Become an Animator (Digital/3D)

Animator Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $69,010
Avg. Pay / hour $33.18
Education 3-4 Years
Job Outlook 4%

An animator is the person responsible for creating the images and frames that make up an animation movie or short film.

These days, most animations are created digitally, that is with computers.

With 3D technology advancing, as well as becoming more affordable at a rapid pace, this also looks to be set as the trend of the future.

To work as an animator you must be a creative person who is well versed in all aspects of design.

You’ll be given a basic framework of ideas and story lines.

You’ll need a strong work ethic, as animators are often called to adhere to strict deadlines.

Working well in team environments is also important, as an animator will be called on to work closely with other people involved in the creative process.

In some roles, animators double up as writers, also providing story lines.

This is most common in the world of gaming.

Education Requirements to Become an Animator

While there are no formal education requirements to become an animator, in this competitive industry your job prospects will be greatly improved with some training behind you.

There are two year associate’s animation degrees, as well as four year bachelor’s degrees in animation.

Alongside straight animation subjects, completing art subjects will help you learn about design.

As strong computer literacy is needed as an animator, taking computer subjects will also help you further down the track.

One of the best choices of course you can take if you want to become an animator is a four year Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in animation.

Not only will you get a good grounding in design with this course, but you will also develop a good knowledge base in the humanities, which will help you in any arts-based career path.

It should be noted, that while you don’t need any specific education to be an animator, it is difficult to succeed without any at all.

Getting your start in this industry is competitive, so doing everything you can along the way to help you is important.

If you’re still in high school, taking art and computer subjects will help.

As will any work experience, paid or unpaid, that you can get.

While you’re at college, consider taking up internships if possible.

Animator Job Description

If you decide to become an animator, your role will involve far more than drawing pictures.

Here are some typical tasks an animator could find themselves completing in a work day.

  • Drawing characters, backgrounds, and other elements of animations
  • Communicating closely with other team members
  • Communicating with clients to determine their requirements
  • Creating work using various computer design programs
  • Building Models
  • Creating Storyboards
  • Timing movements

Animators can find a few different kinds of work.

Many are employed to create movies and cartoons.

Some work for ad agencies, while others create educational films, or productions for private companies.

Animator Salary and Career Path

Once you become an animator you can be assured of a secure job, there is a high demand in the industry at the moment for experienced and talented animators.

It’s also a role that offers a good salary.

Most animators do their job simply because they love being part of a creative team, working towards creating something together.

According to, the bottom 25% of animators earn around $30,000 to $40,000 a year, while someone with a more experience could earn upwards of $65,000 or more.

Staring out, most animators wither work as graphic designers, or work as an assistant animator.

An assistant animator will draw pictures based on other people’s sketches, as opposed to creating characters and ideas themselves.

The further your career advances, the more creative control you will have.

Many artists gain work as animators, and use this role as a platform to launch their own careers in the art world later on.

If you’re a creative personality who has an interest in art, design, and drawing, then a career as an animator may be perfect for you.

While getting that initial start may be difficult, once you have established yourself, you can look forward to a successful and secure career.

What could be more rewarding than coming to work every day and doing what you love?

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$95,890
New Hampshire$76,700
New Jersey$84,500
New Mexico$47,040
New York$96,690
North Carolina$71,730
South Carolina$40,090

The top earning state in the field is Connecticut, where the average salary is $120,150.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Connecticut - $120,150
California - $99,510
Washington - $96,860
New York - $96,690
District of Columbia - $95,890
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Special Effects Artists and Animators, OCC Code 27-1014, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an animator (digital/3D) do?

3D animation is used in cartoons, feature films, commercials, video games, and a lot of other spheres.

The primary role of a 3D animator is to create moving images.

To do so, the professional uses digital models or even digital environments.

Some animators might focus on characters, while others are responsible for creating the surroundings (backgrounds and buildings, for example).

Animators might also lip-sync characters to ensure that the voice-over matches the image.

Professionals use state-of-the-art software programs or packages that combine the features of plenty of programs to help the animator save time.

How much do animators (digital/3D) make?

The salary of a 3D animator will depend on whether or not he has an education and experience.

Newbies can earn around $40.000 annually or around $19 per hour.

According to BLS, professional animators that have a lot of experience can earn over $116.000 per year.

The average annual salary for a 3D animator, however, is around $72.000.

If you have started at $49.000, then you can expect to earn over $65.000 after 3-5 years of experience (in the chosen field).

How much does it cost to become an animator (digital/3D)?

If you are thinking about earning a degree, then the cost will vary a lot depending on whether you want to obtain the degree online or on-campus.

A degree in experimental and character animation in one of the top schools will cost you around $42.000 per year.

The books and supplies will require $2.000-$3.000 more.

Online animation schools can cost you anywhere between $600 and $16.000.

Online school is certainly a more convenient option that will help you save your time and money not only on the actual education, but also on housing, transportation, and meals.

You can always learn for free with the help of YouTube tutorials or purchase an Adobe’s creative cloud subscription, for example ($50 per month).

What is the demand for animators (digital/3D)?

The demand for 3D animators will certainly depend on the country and even the city, as well as the industry and field.

However, the global 3D animation market will grow between 2019 and 2028 (with a significant CAGR).

Users want to watch movies and play video games that are more realistic.

That’s exactly why there will be an increased demand for 3D animation in the gaming and film industries.

3D technology will also be used more in mobile devices in the near future (in navigation and geographical mapping).

How long does it take to become an animator (digital/3D)?

In case you have decided to learn 3D animation all on your own, you might want to spend around 3 hours daily on practicing with the help of the chosen software.

Getting an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in computer animation, visual effects or 3D animation will take you up to 4 years.

In case you have a good portfolio, you can apply for entry-level positions with no degree.

Employers usually require around a year of experience for entry-level positions and over 5 years of experience for high-level positions.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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