Cartoon Animator Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A cartoon animator's median annual salary is around $64,000. Is it worth the training requirements? Read the job description and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a cartoon animator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Cartoon Animator Career

Animators create the motion graphics and special effects you see in video games, movies, TV shows and mobile phone applications. Learn about the pros and cons of becoming a cartoon animator to determine if this is a career you'd like to pursue.

Pros of Becoming a Cartoon Animator
If you have strong skills, you can get the job without a college degree*
Above-average salary (median annual wage was about $64,000 in May 2014)*
Opportunities to specialize (movies, TV shows, video games, commercials)*
May get to work from home*
Those who succeed in this field are extremely satisfied with their jobs**
Opportunities for self-employment*

Cons of Becoming a Cartoon Animator
Competitive job market (anticipated employment growth from 2012-2022 is only six percent)*
Lots of pressure to create animations that meet clients' specifications**
In the beginning, you may need to work for very little pay in order to learn the craft from established animators**
Success rate of cartoon animators is very low**
Long hours, especially when trying to meet deadlines*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The Princeton Review.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

As a cartoon animator, you'll use illustration and computer programs to create motion-based art that communicates a story or idea. You can accomplish this by drawing individual pictures that, when combined, create the illusion of motion, or you can use computer programs. Most animators use computer programs, which means you'll probably spend more time using software and writing code than drawing pictures. This is a highly creative field. However, your creativity may be restrained as you strive to meet your clients' expectations and requirements.

Cartoon animators usually work in teams, and each member works on one part of the project. Some animators might be responsible for joining the various pieces together to form one cohesive product. The work is typically deadline-driven, and you can expect to work 50 or more hours in a week, including nights and weekends, when a tight deadline is imminent. Many cartoon animators work from home, and, as of 2012, 57% were self-employed.

Specializations

Most animators concentrate on a specific medium, such as movies, television shows, commercials, video games or animated movies. Some work on an even more granular level; for example, an animator working in video games might focus solely on scenery and background design, while another animator concentrates on character design.

Salary Information and Job Prospects

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median wage of about $64,000 for animators. Most cartoon animators earned between around $36,000 and $112,000. Animators working in the wholesale electronic markets industry had the highest paying jobs.

As consumers call for better graphics in their video games, movies, TV shows and mobile phones, there will be more job openings for cartoon animators. However, this demand will wane as companies increasingly hire animators from overseas in an effort to cut costs. The net effect, according to the BLS, will be an six percent increase in employment between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations. Most of the job growth will occur in software publishing, the motion picture and video industries and computer systems design. There are more people wanting to become cartoon animators than there are available jobs, so you can expect competition for employment.

Education Requirements

If you have strong technical skills and a solid collection of samples of your work, you can get a job as a cartoon animator without a college degree. However, it can be challenging to attain the level of quality in your work that is needed to succeed in this profession without some form of formal education. Many cartoon animators have bachelor's degrees in such fields as fine arts, graphic design, computer graphics, animation, game design or interactive media. Regardless of your major, you'll want to make sure that you develop strong computer skills. Some schools offer courses on the tools that you'll use as an animator, such as the Oxberry Animation cameras that were used to shoot the movie Fantasia. Many animation companies have their own animation software that you'll learn to use once you are hired.

Ultimately, employers will want to see examples of your skills, so a robust portfolio and demo reel is a fundamental requirement for getting a job as a cartoon animator. Many new animators work as interns for very little pay in order to gain experience, learn from established animators and build their portfolios and reels. Animators are expected to exhibit artistic talent and creativity, work well in teams, have strong computer skills and possess technical design abilities.

Real Job Postings for Cartoon Animators

While employers don't always require a bachelor's degree, most seem to prefer applicants who have them. Employers typically require aspiring animators to be familiar with various types of computer programs and techniques. Following are a few job listings to give you a better idea of what employers were looking for in May 2012:

  • A manufacturer of currency paper in Georgia looked for an animator to create illustrations and animations for such uses as presentations, product simulations and security documents. Applicants needed to have a bachelor's degree in fine arts, graphic design or computer animation. However, the employer was willing to accept equivalent experience. The employer also required prior production experience or strong skills in computer-generated or traditional artwork, as well as proficiency in Blender 2.5 or higher.
  • A manufacturer in Washington needed a 3-D animator with a bachelor's degree or equivalent formal training and experience, a portfolio of design and production capabilities, expert-level technical skills in a variety of programs and strong communication skills. The employer wanted someone who was self-driven, creative, organized and detail-oriented.
  • A technical education company in Indiana advertised for a 3-D artist or animator to temporarily assist their curriculum development team. Applicants needed to have computer skills and experience in 2-D vector drawing and 3-D modeling. The ideal candidate would have been detail-oriented with strong communication skills and the ability to work well under pressure.
  • A web hosting company in Ohio sought a video animator to develop online 2-D videos for the purposes of promotion, instruction and development. Candidates needed to submit samples of their work and have working knowledge in a number of online video-production skills and concepts. The employer considered a bachelor's degree to be a 'plus.'

How to Stand out Among the Competition

Create a Strong Demo Reel

According to Pixar, a leader in the field of cartoon animation, the key to getting a cartoon animator job is to have a stellar demo reel of your work. Without one, you will not get terribly far in the interviewing process. The reel should clearly indicate the level of work that you can do, convey what type of work you want to do and display your artistic talents.

Sharpen Your Computer Skills

Both the BLS and The Princeton Review predict animators with strong computer skills will have the best job opportunities. You can add an emphasis in a computer skills-related field to your degree, or you can take individual courses in computer graphics software and animation tools to build your expertise.

Develop Your Acting Skills

Great animators, according to Pixar, understand how to make a character come alive by portraying its thoughts and feelings through physical movements and expressions. They know how to communicate in such a way that the audience is not only entertained, but empathetic as well. Basically, talented animators know how to act, and when making hiring decisions, Pixar places a heavier emphasis on an animator's acting talents than on his or her ability to use computer graphics. Taking courses in acting or drama may help you enhance your abilities to breathe life into animated objects and characters.

Other Careers to Consider

Computer Programmer

If you are attracted to the technical side of cartoon animation, you might consider a career as a computer programmer. In this role, you'll write code that turns designs created by software developers into computer programs. You can get the job with an associate's degree, although the BLS reports that most computer programmers have bachelor's degrees.

You may also choose this job for more a more favorable salary and job outlook. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for computer programmers was about $73,000 in May 2011, and a 12% increase in computer programming jobs was expected between 2010 and 2020.

Art Director

As an art director, you'll oversee the visual design of magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows and product packaging. You'll typically need some work experience in fields like graphic design, photography or copyediting before moving into an art director position. You'll also need a bachelor's degree in some kind of art or design major. The median annual wage for art directors in May 2011 was just over $81,000, according to the BLS. In that same year, the top ten percent earned over $167,000.

Graphic Designer

Like cartoon animators, graphic designers develop visual means for communicating ideas, either through traditional artwork or computer-generated graphics. The difference between the two roles is that graphic designers use text and images rather than animation. You'll typically need a bachelor's degree in graphic design and a portfolio of your best work to get a job as a graphic designer.

The median annual wage, as reported by the BLS in May 2011, was only about $44,000, and most people in this field made between around $26,000 and $77,000. The BLS anticipates a 13% increase in graphic designer jobs between 2010 and 2020, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Popular Schools

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    1. Full Sail University

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      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
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      • BS - Simulation and Visualization (Campus)
      • BS - Game Design (Campus)
      • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
      • B.S. - Computer Animation
      • B.S. - Graphic Design
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    2. American University

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      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
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    3. The George Washington University

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    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Multimedia Development
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    4. Johns Hopkins University

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      • Master of Arts in Communication
    Certificate
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication
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    5. Southern New Hampshire University

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      • MA in Communication: New Media & Marketing
      • MA in Communication
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      • BA Graphic Design and Media Arts/ 3-D Modeling & Animation
      • BS Game Programming and Development
      • BA in Game Art and Development
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    6. Purdue University

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      • Master of Science in Communication
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      • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management
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    7. Grand Canyon University

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    Master's
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
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    8. ECPI University

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      • Web Design & Dev
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    9. Queens University of Charlotte

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      • Master of Arts in Communication - General
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided
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    10. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
  • BS - Simulation and Visualization (Campus)
  • BS - Game Design (Campus)

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • Graduate Certificate in Multimedia Development

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MA in Communication: New Media & Marketing
  • MA in Communication
  • BA Graphic Design and Media Arts/ 3-D Modeling & Animation
  • BS Game Programming and Development

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication
  • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

What is your highest level of education?

ECPI University

  • Web Design & Dev

What is your highest level of education?