How to Become a Special Effects Animator: Career Guide

Jul 15, 2018

Learn how to become a special effects animation artist. Explore the job description and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in special effects animation. View article »

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Video Transcript

Special Effects Animators

Special effects animators create realistic-looking imagery for movies, mobile apps, multimedia presentations and video games, among other productions and products. Special effects animation is a sub-field of the graphic arts industry that requires artistic skill and technical proficiency. Animators use 2-D and 3-D animation software and digital animation techniques to create imagery that conveys a specific message to an intended audience. Work weeks might be particularly long, and night or weekend hours may be required to meet deadlines.

Career Skills & Info

Degree Level Some employers require an associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Animation and visual effects, digital effects, animation, multimedia art, graphic design or computer animation and graphics
Experience 2-4 years usually preferred
Key Skills Strong communication skills; ability to translate a concept into a compelling visual message; creativity; ability to draw and distinguish colors; visual acuity; knowledge of Web design, graphic design, and animation software such as Photoshop, After Effects, Dreamweaver, Maya, and Avid or Final Cut Pro; portfolio, animations and sketchbook for review
Salary $70,300 (2015 median salary for all multimedia artists and animators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings by employers (June 2012), O*Net OnLine

In addition to creativity, special effects animators must have the ability to draw and translate concepts into compelling visual messages. A strong sense of color and knowledge of graphic and Web design are also important. Special effects animators should have the technical skills necessary to work with computer software, such as Adobe After Effects, Dreamweaver and Photoshop; Maya; and Apple Final Cut Pro or Avid Media Composer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), multimedia animators and artists in general earned an average annual salary of $70,300 as of May 2015.

Step 1: Degree

While not all employers require special effects animators to have a degree, others may specify a minimum of an associate's or bachelor's degree in animation, computer graphics, fine arts, game design or interactive media. While pursuing a degree, students can hone their artistic abilities, receive specialized training in the technology used by employers, gain real-life experience through an internship and create a portfolio that showcases their creativity and skills.

Success Tip

  • Complete an internship. Participating in an internship can provide students with the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade that may not be taught in class. Internships can also help aspiring animators get a foot in the door for later employment.

Step 2: Portfolio

When applying for jobs, a portfolio is an artist's calling card. If an artist has not attended school but is creative and technically proficient, an impressive portfolio that demonstrates a range of projects and styles can potentially lead to a job offer.

Success Tip

  • Know which software programs are in demand. Animators should know which software and hardware programs are currently used in the animation industry and make sure their portfolios include samples demonstrating their proficiency in the use of these tools.

Step 3: Experience

Many employers prefer applicants who have more experience than is generally acquired through college internships. Even graduates of bachelor's degree programs may need at least two years of hands-on experience beyond that gained in entry-level positions. As reported by the BLS, multimedia animators and artists can expect a 6%, or fast as average, growth in jobs between 2014 and 2024. Competition for jobs will be strong. Specialized animators or those skilled in computer drawing and/or programming may enjoy more opportunities.

Step 4: Freelance

In 2014, the BLS reported that over 50% of multimedia artists and animators were self-employed. By working as freelance contract artists, new special affects animators can not only gain valuable experience, but also have opportunities to add pieces to their portfolios.

Before this video comes to an end, we just want to remind aspiring special effects animators that they'll need a bachelor's degree in animation, computer graphics, interactive media or a related area; experience; and a strong portfolio to succeed in the field. The average yearly salary for a multimedia animator or artist in May 2015 was $70,300.

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