Become a CGI Artist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Research the requirements to become a CGI artist. Learn about the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in animation. View article »

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  • 0:01 CGI Artist Career Info
  • 1:13 Get a Degree
  • 2:10 Build a Portfolio
  • 3:05 Gain Experience
  • 3:40 Continue Education

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

CGI Artist Career Info

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the creation of still and moving images and visual effects using computer hardware and software. CGI artists create characters, environments, objects, special effects, and locations, both real and imagined. Although CGI encompasses many specialties in computer graphics, 2-D and 3-D animation, and special effects, the term is most often used to refer to 3-D animations created for television, video games, and film.

Many multimedia artists and animators, including CGI artists, are self-employed and therefore must spend time finding work. Although they might work long hours to meet deadlines, they often work from home or other convenient locations.

These professionals should have creativity, artistic ability, technical proficiency with video editing and graphics software, and proficiency with web design software. In general, multimedia artists and animators earned a median annual salary $63,970 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is common, but an artist with experience and technical proficiency can also enter the field
Degree Field(s) Computer graphics, digital media, Web development, graphic design, fine arts
Experience Up to 1 year for an entry-level position, at least 2 years for mid-level positions
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, technical proficiency; experience with graphics and video editing software such as Maya, Studio Max, Photoshop, Premier, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, and Final Cut Pro, as well as Web design software and languages like HTML, CSS, and Java; ability to use digital paper, digital pen, and digital camera
Salary (2015) $63,970 per year (median annual salary for all multimedia artists and animators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings (July 2012), O*NET Online

Get a Degree

Degree programs are available for a wide variety of specialties related to this field, including game development, animation, and entertainment design. This provides students with the opportunity to select programs closely aligned with their career goals. Students also have the opportunity to focus on the aesthetics of animation by enrolling in a fine arts degree program, or on the more technical aspects by selecting a computer-related degree program. Many programs feature basic courses in graphic design, art, and technology before branching off to offer specialized coursework. There are also limited degree options in CGI art as a self-defined major.

Since there are so many sub-specialties in this field, students should carefully research degree programs to ensure they select one providing coursework that aligns with their future goals. Many degree programs offer internships, which can provide on-the-job experience and networking opportunities.

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Build a Portfolio

Artists are expected to have a portfolio to show prospective employers. This is a collection of the artist's best works, showcasing his or her artistry and technical proficiency. Most degree programs require students to create a portfolio as part of their graduation requirements, but artists without a degree also need to have portfolio. Many employers require artists to submit portfolios on a CD or DVD or to provide a website link.

Students should select portfolio pieces based on a potential employer's needs. Artists can tailor their portfolios to the position for which they're applying to demonstrate their style and proficiency using the technology required by the job. Artists should also limit the number and scope of pieces in their portfolio. The contents of a portfolio should be chosen with care and restraint to avoid overwhelming a potential employer with too much imagery or too many technical gimmicks.

Gain Experience

Many positions require professional experience. New artists or graduates may have to accept assistant-level positions to obtain the necessary on-the-job experience to advance. This field also has many freelance opportunities available, allowing artists to commission CGI art for experience and a contract fee.

Volunteering to perform CGI work for schools or other nonprofit organizations can also provide valuable experience. Additionally, cable access stations may seek volunteers to provide programming and production services, which can be included in an artist's portfolio.

Continue Education

Advancements in the technology used to create computer-generated imagery are incredibly dynamic. Having invested substantially in the technology, employers generally expect artists to have the technical skills and up-to-date product knowledge to maximize all the features present in software programs and hardware equipment. To stay competitive, artists can take continuing education courses offered by colleges or product vendors, including Apple, Autodesk, and Adobe.

Education and experience can lead to advancement opportunities for a CGI artist. He or she may get promoted to a senior artist position, a review or editorial position, or may even lead projects. A degree and business acumen may lead to a supervisor or management position with a large enough company. Alternatively, with more experience and education, a CGI artist's skills will become more valuable on a freelance basis.

To reiterate, aspiring CGI artists should become technically proficient with the relevant technology and software. Doing this might require completing a degree program, undertaking internships, and continually staying educated on advancements in the industry.

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