Animation has been an essential part of our culture as well as the entertainment world since its invention in the early 20th century. Today, the Japanese anime industry alone rakes in $24.8 billion dollar a year! Just as animations have progressed from hand-drawn to virtual reality, the industry has also expanded to encompass a diverse array of jobs.
As cool as a job in animation sounds, many may not be aware of the career path or skills necessary to work in the animation industry. In this article, we’ve listed some of the most popular and sought-after animation jobs in the industry as well as some ideas on how to get those jobs.
Popular Career Opportunities in Animation Industry
It is a common stereotype that working in animation you need to be good at drawing, designing or using digital tools. However, animation professionals can work in a variety of industries, including management, entertainment, and advertising. You can still find a position that suits your interests and expertise, even if you don’t know anything about making animation. As a freelancer, you can even try out several of the roles listed below until you find one you’re naturally drawn to. With a laptop and a solid freelance contract setting your terms and conditions, you will be able to outsource work of all kinds to most animation studios.
Animation Casting & Talent Manager
Though there are many variations of this job title, the casting and talent manager is essentially a hiring manager for animation studios. They typically oversee talent search and development for an animation studio, including scouting and research to find the ideal candidate. This job is always exciting and keeps you on your feet.
Though casting and talent managers may not be an animator themselves, they must have a thorough and strong understanding of the animation industry or studio they are working for. Good management, logistical, and communication skills are also essential to succeed in this upper-level position. Most jobs require a college degree, as well as experience in leading teams and/or the animation industry. The median salary for animation talent development managers is $120,800 USD.
Animation Technical Director (TD)
Are you interested in animation software and developing tools? This role might be for you. The animation technical director (TD), also known as a technical producer, animation programmer, or animation engineer, is responsible for innovating and improving animation artists’ workflow and software. A successful animation TD works closely with its animation technical crew to solve technical problems as well as use data to monitor and improve how the studio is working.
This role emphasizes problem-solving skills, good communication skills to be able to offer support, and programming or coding skills. Most studios require advanced knowledge of Python and C++ and an ability to adapt. These technical artists make an average of $97,000 USD a year and typically require extensive training and proficiency in specific animation software and a few years of experience in technical animation.
Curious about what a day in the life of a technical director looks like? Paul Kanyuk, a Lead TD at Pixar Animation Studios, has been working there for the last 16 years and detailed his typical day in this video:
Calling all writers and creatives! An animation writer, also known as a scriptwriter, is the backbone of an animation studio. They are the ones developing story ideas and putting them into words, which are then used by artists and directors to develop a project.
Writers often either form original ideas or add to an existing one, such as a TV show or series; their work is then pitched to producers. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, if a producer has a specific writing style or idea they’d like to create, they will commission a screenplay from a writer.
Animation writers are often freelance, but big studios will also employ staff writers. The ideal candidate for an animation writer should be highly adaptable and able to quickly execute concepts for their studio or job. It goes without saying that an animation writer should be creatively driven, with advanced English level and writing abilities. The average annual salary of an animation writer is around $73,000 USD.
Storyboard artists, or storyboarders, take a brief from an animation writer and bring it to life through scenes or panels. They will create a storyboard to represent key actions that occur during a story. These storyboards are also used to give directors something to look off of during the animation production. Storyboarders often work with the crew from start to finish of the project.
Many storyboard artists have a background in drawing or art, and their average salary is around $73,000 USD a year.
When people think of jobs in the animation industry, the first one they usually think of is the animator. Animators are the creators of the images you see on the big screen — they are artists just as much as they are storytellers. They typically work with both directors and storyboarders/writers to translate words and animation blueprints into moving images.
There are as many types of animators as there are types of animation. Animators can greatly vary, specializing in fields from traditional 2D to 3D animation. Regardless, if you’d like to be hired as an animator, you should have plenty of previous experience and expect to work collaboratively with others. Skills such as drawing, solid foundation in art and colors, animation making, communication, and organization are all must-haves for a professional animator. Freelance animators will also have to be experienced in communicating with different studios.
The national average salary for animators is around $74,000 USD a year. The pay will also vary greatly depending on experience. Though many jobs do not require a degree in animation, extensive experience in advanced animation mixer and software is usually required.
Art Director (AD)
An art director is a broad term to describe a role that is responsible for visuals and images in media, including newspapers, product packaging, movie and TV productions, and many content types. In terms of the animation industry, art directors directly oversee the visual style and design of the animation, including the creation of a character or set, and work with the animation team directly.
Communication and leadership skills are incredibly important in this role. Not only that, a proper design background and drawing skills are needed, most likely from a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (graphic design, fine art, photography, etc.) Art directors make an average of $130,000 USD per year.
Though background artists (also known as environment artists) are not always recognized, they play an essential role in the animation process. Their job is exactly how it sounds — they design the scenery and background that the animation happens around or on top of. They determine which backgrounds need to be drawn, create detailed backgrounds, and collaborate with other animators to make sure things line up appropriately. Consequently, it is also essential for background artists to have a design eye and keen attention to detail.
Background designers have keen attention to detail and knowledge of environments, as well as good drawing skills. Relevant experience with architecture and animation is also required for this position. The median salary for this role is $98,800 USD a year.
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Character designers focus on the spotlight of animations — the characters! They often research anatomy, fashion styles, bodily movements, and other relevant experience with character animation and more character assets to create realistic animation. Character designs also vary based on medium — for example, the 3D character modeling technique is very different from claymation character development.
A character designer especially needs an active imagination along with an ability to think outside the box.
Rather than being freelance, character designers are most often employed by an animation company or studio. Character designers have extensive experience with software such as Photoshop, and may also have a degree in a relevant field. The average salary for a character designer is around $40,875 USD per year.
A compositor, also known as a compositing or finishing artist, works with the final image of a frame of animation. They take all the elements of the work (characters, backgrounds, graphics, special effects) and combine them to make a high-quality animation. Composition looks at how the parts make the whole — compositors are responsible for ensuring that each part of the animation comes together to make a beautiful moving picture. Compositors can also take the role of editors, pointing out last-minute changes or mistakes.
A compositor has an eye for details and knows how to navigate the animation pipeline. They must also have knowledge of compositing software, including After Effects and Maya. The average annual salary for an animation compositor is around $72,000 USD.
Concept artists create the “first look” of the animation. They deal with the first rough draft sketches that are then referenced by other animators, background and character designers, and art directors for work on the final product. They typically work off of a brief provided by an animation studio and consult with them to draw in a certain style or design.
Concept artists are essential to the animation pipeline; in fact, they kick it off! They may use hand-drawn sketches or even computer software like Adobe Illustrator to create a sketch or a detailed character. Therefore, concept artists must have a high level of drawing skill and creativity, as well as be able to manage deadlines by themselves in a (mostly) freelance role. The average salary for a concept artist is around $84,000 USD a year.
Effects Technical Director (FX TD)
Effects technical directors, or FX TDs, are the cherry on top of the animation pipeline. They are responsible for the cool explosions, smoke, water, fire and whatever other visual effects animation artists use in their drawings. For example, the swirling snow in the movie Frozen would be work done by an FX TD or similar role. FX TDs are both artistic and technical — they have an eye for design and a knack for perfection, while also being highly skilled in software and problem-solving.
The FX TD must be knowledgeable in their area of expertise as well as how each part of the animation pipeline works and plays with every other part. Typically, TDs are senior-level roles, so animation industry experience is essential to get the job. The ideal background for an FX TD is fine art or drawing, and math or computer science. The average annual salary for an FX TD is around $70,000 USD.
Gameplay animators, or 3D game artists with relevant experience in gameplay animation, have fun and rewarding jobs. They work directly with video game designers and developers to aim to create a smooth, immersive experience for the user. Due to the collaborative nature of the job, a game artist may move up and down the animation pipeline, working with animation, coding, and design departments. Gameplay animators may also work to debug game mechanics.
Many studios will require a bachelor’s degree, as well as a demo reel and a few years of animating experience. Skills may include proficiency in animation C#, understanding of game development, and knowledge of commercial game engines. A game artist typically gets paid around $63,000 USD a year.
An inbetweener’s role is just as it sounds. This job is incredibly important in making an animation as smooth and high-quality as possible. Inbetweeners fill in the gaps in animation that the animators leave key movement scenes, drawing in between the key scenes. They will typically use illustration and 2D animation skills to accomplish their goals; excellent drawing skills and an understanding of animation are needed for this role.
Inbetweeners is just as important as main character animators. They round out a character’s movements and articulate the character’s personality through posing. Inbetweeners are paid an average of $78,230 USD a year.
A motion designer, or motion graphics designer, partners with art directors and creative teams to create animated content for the web, TV, or films, specializing in 3D animation for production. This involves digital animation production for movie clips, advertisements, small title sequences, and more. Typically, motion designers are highly skilled in visual effects, other graphic design tool and animation techniques.
Motion designers are in high demand in industries like social media marketing and advertising; they can work as a freelance and also in-house for a company. The average annual salary for a motion designer is around $62,000 USD.
Post-production specialists have a knack for seeing the big picture. They deal with the final product; this includes editing, video formatting, and ensuring that the end product communicates the original brief well. These specialists have a solid understanding of animation and typically have several years of motion graphics or animation experience, as well as extensive skills in software such as Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. The post-production specialist earns approximately $56,000 USD a year.
Does the animation industry intrigue you? Do any of these jobs pique your interest? If you have the skills or motivation to learn, go for it! If you’re not sure where to start, but want to give animating a whirl, try out beginner-friendly animation tools like Animation Desk to build your personal skill set. Even if you’re an animation professional, Animation Desk has the advanced features to help you create stunning and engaging animations outside of the studio.
The animation industry can be one of the most rewarding and interesting careers to go into and provides many avenues for success. What are you waiting for? Put yourself out there and who knows, you might be the next Walt Disney!
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