How to Become a 3D Animator: Education and Career Roadmap

Aug 12, 2018

Research the requirements to become a 3D animator. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in 3D animation.

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Should I Become a 3D Animator?

3D animation is a highly technical specialty within the graphic arts animation field. It combines 3D art with sophisticated computer technology to design and create 3D motion graphics for science, business, medicine, advertising, video production, video gaming, and computer or mobile device applications. Many animators work long hours. This might include nights and weekends when a deadline approaches.

Key Skills Strong art and design skills and proficiency in animation technology; ability to use 3D Studio Max, Maya, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver, along with digital cameras, digital paper, digital pens, and video compression encoding processes
Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree; however, an artist with no degree and a good portfolio can also obtain an animation position
Degree Field(s) Computer animation, visual effects, 3D animation
Experience Employers require less experience for entry-level positions (1+ years) than for high-level positions (5+ years)
Salary (2015) $70,300 per year (Mean salary for multimedia artists and animators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015), and job postings (July 2012), O*Net OnLine

Let's trace the steps required to become a 3D animator.

Step 1: Get a Degree

While associate's degree programs in 3D animation are available, bachelor's degree programs can better provide students with the artistic skills and technical proficiency required by employers. There are also certificate programs based on intense immersion in this art form. Courses might include art, design, and graphic arts technology, as well as 3D animation techniques, such as modeling, lighting, texture, movement, and animation technology.

There are a variety of mediums that use 3D animation, including video games, film, video, and web design. Students should choose a program that specializes in the medium that best corresponds with his or her chosen career path.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

Hiring decisions are often based heavily upon a candidate's portfolio. Employers will want to review the artist's portfolio specifically for style, artistry, and technical proficiency. Building a portfolio is often part of the curriculum in degree programs. Artists who don't attend a postsecondary education program should create a portfolio on their own. For 3D animation, this portfolio is often contained on a DVD or posted online with the applicant providing a link to his or her online portfolio with the application.

A portfolio should include only the best work that showcases an artist's creativity, artistry, and technical proficiency. An artist might tailor his or her portfolio to a specific employer, emphasizing the skills and styles required by the position.

Step 3: Get Experience

Some degree programs offer the opportunity for the student to participate in an internship, working as an animator and obtaining on-the-job experience. However, internships only last a limited amount of time, and the experience obtained can be limited.

More than half of animators are self-employed, working on projects on a contract basis. Some contract positions can turn into full-time positions based on the artist's job performance. 3D animators may have to accept an entry-level assistant position or a contract job in order to acquire enough experience for advancement.

An artist also can gain experience by volunteering to create 3D animation for non-profit organizations, schools, or small business websites in exchange for references and recommendations. Unpaid professional work is still considered experience.

Step 4: Continue Your Education

Employers invest in the latest technology for their 3D animation projects, and they expect their animators to be able to use that technology fully and efficiently. Since technology changes so rapidly, 3D animators should take continuing education courses that cover advancements in technology to maintain their proficiency and competitive edge. These courses might be offered by colleges and universities, as well as companies that create and market 3D animation programs.

In summary, to become a 3D animator, you'll typically need to earn a bachelor's degree, build a portfolio, and gain experience through an internship, assistant position, or volunteer work. Continuing education is needed to keep up with advances in the field.

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