How to become an animator.

From your favorite childhood cartoons to today’s blockbuster movies, animation has likely played a big role in the entertainment you love. It’s an incredible medium that helps people tell stories and create worlds in ways that just aren’t possible with traditional live-action film techniques. 

If you feel inspired to pursue animation as a career, this guide will help get you started.

What is an animator?

An animator is a digital artist who creates images that move or simulate movement in sequence. Animators can work in many fields,such as television, film, video games, and advertising.

Animators do more than create cartoons or 3D animated movies like Toy Story, however. They can also work as effects artists to create the dynamic elements you see in live-action films, TV shows and commercials, and web graphics. 

Potential career paths and jobs in animation include:

  • Animator
  • 3D creative designer
  • Video  game designer
  • 3D artist
  • Art director
  • 3D animator
  • Special effects artist and animator or visual effects (VFX) artist

Animators take advantage of the medium’s flexibilityto create images that can’t be captured on film or video, and they do so usinga variety of digital tools.

What does an animator do?

Animators often specialize in different aspects of animation production, such as character design or special effects, and their job duties differ depending on their specialties. Still, many animators share the following responsibilities regardless of the type of animation they do:

  • Creating storyboards
  • Designing characters
  • Animating scenes using software or traditional methods
  • Editing and adjusting their work, including tweaking movements, timing, or colors
  • Collaborating with teams
  • Meeting tight deadlines

Whatever their specialties, animators typically use one of the three primary animation techniques: 2D, 3D, or stop-motion.

2D animation.

2D animation is the art of creating movement in a two-dimensional space. 2D animators must have strong drawing abilities and a great sense of motion, timing, and sequencing as they animate characters and backgrounds. They usually have strong storytelling skills and work with 2D animation apps like Adobe Animate.

3D animation.

3D animation (a.k.a. computer animation) is now the most common type of animation work. It involves creating images in three-dimensional environments that are then animated to look like moving objects. 3D animators need to understand anatomy, perspective, light, and shadow, and they use apps such as Adobe Substance 3D. This type of animation work requires patience,because it takes a great deal of time and computing power.

Stop-motion animation.

Stop-motion animation requires animators to make incremental movements to physical objects, photograph each movement, and then play the photos in sequence to create the illusion of movement. Common types of stop-motion animation include claymation, puppet animation, and cut-out animation.

Get an overview of animation careers.

Luckily for prospective animators, the field is extremely varied. Experts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project increased demand for animators who work in video games, movies, and TV. As visual entertainment becomes more complex, studios and companies need highly talented individuals to fill those roles. 

These companies pay well, too. Depending on the industry you choose, you could see earnings around $131,370 per year. That amount can increase as you grow your skills and move upward within a company.

Paths to becoming an animator.

Becoming an animator takes hard work and dedication. The following process isn’t the only path to an animation career, but it’s a great place to start.

Do research and a self-assessment.

Before you dive headfirst into animation as a career,you need to understand the ins and outs of the industry as well as your own personal and creative goals. Do you want to work on films? In video games?Television? While an industry’s animation needs may have some overlap, knowing which areas to focus on — including animation styles and genres — can provide some guidance into which classes you take, organizations you join, and even the style of drawing you do. 

Where should you look for examples? Consider spending time on fan art websites like Deviant Art or professional portfolio websites like Behance. You can also look up the creatives behind your favorite animated shows and research their histories and backgrounds.

Develop artistic and technical skills.

Working in animation requires strong artistic skills and a keen understanding of visual storytelling.

If you’re looking for hands-on practice, consider using tutorials and online courses to improve your illustration and animation skills. As you continue to build your skills, you’ll be able to take on new projects. Be sure to spend time reading books and blogs from expert animators to help inform your artistic vision.

Beyond that, you need the right technical skills to become an animator. These days, that includes using a computer and animation software. Popular animation apps include Adobe Illustrator and Animate. Because they’re fully integrated parts of the Adobe Creative Cloud offering, you can jump back and forth between them to perfect your animated projects.

Pursue formal education or self-training.

While many animators and artists are self-taught,formal education can give you the head start you need to speed up your career and get your work in front of the right people. In addition to online tutorials and certifications for common animation apps, you can take classes taught by professionals. The hands-on feedback you receive can really help you understand your strengths and opportunities. 

If you’re not sure where to start your formal education, research animation schools. A few notable options include CalArts, Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Ringling College of Art and Design. Some institutions may even allow you to take classes online. 

No matter what path you choose, professional development and continuous learning are the keys to long-term success. Familiarize yourself with new techniques and tools through online courses and tutorials.

Build a portfolio.

A professional portfolio can open doors. To build an effective one, focus on quality over quantity and display a range of styles. Provide context around your creative decisions and show your process using storyboards, rough animations, and more. As your skills continue to improve and you take on more and bigger projects, update your portfolio to show your growth. 

Not sure what elements to include? Solicit feedback from peers, mentors, and professionals. Their constructive criticism and insights can help you improve your portfolio. 

If you need help with the structural building blocks,consider using Adobe Portfolio. Part of Creative Cloud, Adobe Portfolio offers the tools you need to build a full website as well as example portfolios from creatives just like you.

Build a network and gain practical experience. 

To meet with potential clients and resources, use the internet to form relationships with animators and other industry leaders. LinkedIn, Behance, and social media platforms like Reddit and Facebook are excellent places to start. 

Your portfolio can showcase student work, but eventually you’ll need to show client work in order to win larger clients. You can gain this experience through internships or freelancing.

Stay updated and be flexible. 

Animation techniques change. Animation apps add new features. The animation industry is in constant flux, so successful animators must be willing to adapt. Read industry publications to stay current on new developments and trends. 

Get certified by Adobe to demonstrate your skills and unlock opportunities.

One of the best ways to demonstrate your skills is to become an Adobe Certified Professional in Multiplatform Animation Using Animate.

This can help you advance your animation career because it shows that you’ve mastered the essential skills and techniques to hit the ground running in any industry job.

Frequently asked questions

Summary – This section will answer frequently asked questions about “How to become an animator.”

What skills do I need tobe come an animator?

You need a good sense of design, anatomy, and physics as well as the ability to draw objects,  backgrounds, and characters. These days, most animators are skilled in the use of computer software that helps them create stunning animations.

Is a degree required to become an animator?

You don’t need a degree to become an animator, although the technical training you receive at school can help. There are plenty of resources available online to learn animation software on your own.

What are the job prospects for animators?

Job prospects for animators are good, with the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting that animation will grow at about the same rate as other fields. The reasons animators are in such high demand include professional turnover, increased numbers of animation projects, and a large number of studios hiring for those projects. 

How do I create a strong portfolio as an animator?

The best way to create a strong portfolio is to start with personal projects. These will help you develop the skills to attract your first clients. You can also partner with nonprofits or volunteer your time to other organizations or businesses that need animation work but don’t have the financial resources to pay established professionals.

What are some tips for breaking into the animation industry?

You’ll need determination and skills. Develop the latter by practicing your craft as much as possible.
It helps to have a strong portfolio that showcases your knowledge and abilities. To put that portfolio in front of people, consider networking with peers, professionals, and potential clients on social media channels like Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. And don’t forget to share your work on Behance to gain visibility in the world’s largest online creative community.

More questions?

Become an Adobe Certified Professional.

Certification is more accessible than ever before. Schedule an online exam or visit a Certiport Authorized Testing Center to showcase your skills.