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How to Become a Video Game Animator: Career Guide

Watch this video and learn about the requirements to become a video game animator. Discover the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in video game animation.

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Should I Become a Video Game Animator?

Video game animation is a specialty within the computer animation field that focuses on game design and interactive aspects of animation uniquely associated with video gaming. Video game animators combine art and technology to create interactive animated images and environments for video games. In addition to traditional computer animation techniques, artists employ storytelling skills in their game designs, as well as movie production skills, such as lighting, texture and movement. Animators often work long weeks, including nights and weekends, especially when deadlines loom.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree typical, but an artist with a high school diploma, experience and technical skills can also obtain employment
Degree Field(s) Computer graphics, art, animation, illustration
Experience 2-4 years typically required for mid to advanced-level positions
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, technical proficiency, team-oriented, ability to use digital camera as well as digital paper and pens, knowledge of industry-standard graphics and video production programs, such as Studio Max, Illustrator, FinalCut Pro and After Effects
Salary (2014) $63,630 (median salary for all multimedia artists and animators)

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

Step 1: Obtain a Degree

While a degree may not be a strict job requirement, there are benefits to obtaining a degree, including the training a student receives in the complex software used to create video game animations. Coursework often includes immersion in 2-D and 3-D animation techniques and technologies, as well as instruction in modeling, game design and development, interactive design and animation, art, lighting, texture and audio. Graduates are typically proficient in the technology and techniques employers demand in this competitive field.

Success Tip

  • Choose the right program. Video game animation requires skills associated with storytelling and interactive animation techniques that are unique to this field. Generic computer animation degree programs may not provide courses in these areas, so students who desire careers in video game design should select programs that include industry-specific training.
  • Complete an internship. Many degree programs offer or require an internship. This is an opportunity to obtain valuable on-the-job experience in video game animation and to network with potential employers.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of an artist's best work that showcases his or her artistic mastery and proficiency in a variety of technologies used to create video game animations. Students enrolled in a degree program often create a portfolio as part of their graduation requirements, but non-degreed artists should also have a portfolio. Animation portfolios are often formatted for DVDs or the Web. In the latter case, artists can provide potential employers with links to their websites.

Success Tips

  • Choose portfolio content with care. Artists should not overwhelm prospective employers with too much imagery or technical gimmicks. Instead, artists should select a few examples of their best pieces that highlight their key and relevant technical skills.
  • Tailor a portfolio to the position. Artists can customize their portfolios to the positions for which they're applying, emphasizing the style and skill each particular employer is seeking.

Step 3: Obtain Experience

Graduates or skilled artists entering the job market for the first time may have to accept an entry-level or assistant position for a year or two before moving on to more advanced positions. This field also has many freelance employment opportunities, which can provide another method for new artists to obtain professional experience and build their portfolios.

Success Tip

  • Volunteer to obtain experience. If finding a job is proving to be difficult, an artist can acquire experience by working on a volunteer basis for small companies, non-profit organizations or schools in exchange for recommendations or references. In this manner, students can build their resumes and add material to their portfolios.

Step 4: Maintain Technical Proficiency

The technology used to create video game animations rapidly changes. Employers who invest in the latest technology generally expect artists to be knowledgeable and skilled in these new areas. Therefore, video game animation artists should keep up with the latest changes. Colleges offer continuing education classes in these areas, as do many product vendors, including Autodesk and Adobe.

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