How to Make Animation Cartoons for a Living

Sep 11, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an animation cartoonist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and internships to find out if this is the career for you.

Talent is the essential underlying factor in being a successful animation cartoonist. This--strengthened with some type of degree in art or computer animation, and portrayed through a strong portfolio--is enough to get an animation cartoonist in the door to art agencies, animation studios, and similar employers.

Essential Information

Animation cartoonists tell stories with moving pictures. Different media are used such as ink, charcoal, pencil and paint on paper, modeling clay, puppets and computer software to create the illusion of movement when filmed. Animated cartoons are used in many industries beyond television cartoons and include computer games, advertising, education, feature and short films, forensics, architecture, science and medicine.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in art or related field
Other Requirements Personal portfolio
Projected Job Growth 4% for multimedia artists and animators from 2018-2028*
Median Salary (2018) $72,520 annually for multimedia artists and animators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Career Roadmap

Step 1: Completing Training and Education

There is more than one pathway to making a living creating animation cartoons. Self-taught artists can learn animation skills by working with computer software and other media to develop a unique and marketable animation portfolio.

However a bachelor's degree in art, design, multimedia or computer animation typically opens doors to employment. Bachelor's programs may include coursework such as drawing, design, illustration, story and character development, scriptwriting, compositing, 3-D computer modeling and special effects.

Step 2: Creating a Portfolio

A portfolio is an organized record of a student's art and functions as a creative resume. Many students begin building their portfolios before starting art school. During art school students select their best work for their portfolios. The goal for cartoon animators is to develop a portfolio of unique and creative work.

Step 3: Gaining Work Experience

Many colleges and universities have relationships with industry partners such as motion picture studios, advertising agencies and independent film studios and are able to place students in cartooning and animation internships. Internships provide students with real world experience and add projects to their portfolios. Self-taught and advanced animation students may do freelance animation projects as a way to earn money, add to their portfolios and gain work experience.

Step 4: Finding Entry-Level Jobs

Large motion picture studios, advertising agencies and independent film studios hire art school graduates and self-taught animators for entry level positions. The largest motion picture studios typically seek well-rounded artists with bachelor's degrees and portfolios that fit with their styles and needs. These positions generally involve coloring and drawing, creating background scenes, and learning the studio's or agency's style.

Creating an animated cartoon website that develops a popular following is a way some artists find entry level jobs. Another way animators break into the industry is by posting animated pieces on the Internet and being discovered by agencies and studios. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cartoon animators can expect average job growth due the current trend of hiring animators overseas, so competition for these jobs will be intense (

Step 5: Building a Successful Career

Animation careers are built on creativity, artist's skills and teamwork. Many successful animators work their way up through the ranks at large motion picture studios, proving their artistic, collaborative and technical skills over time. Freelance animators build a creative portfolio and reputation by meeting and exceeding the needs of clients and this fuels continued employment.

An animation cartoonist's success is built on their portfolio and experience. Work experience can be gained during an animator's studies at the university level through internship opportunities. A new animation cartoonist can find entry-level positions in a variety of businesses in the art and animation industry, including advertising, while an experienced animator can find work in the animated film industry.

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