3D Animation Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career in 3D animation? Get real job descriptions and education requirements to see if a career in 3D animation is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in 3D Animation

Various industries offer careers in 3D animation, ranging from artistic to management positions. Three careers to consider in the field of 3D animation are animator, art director and animation professor. Here's a quick look at each of these options:

Animator Art Director Animation Professor
Career Overview Animators and multimedia artists create graphics and animated content for a variety of media. Animation art directors are in charge of the design and overall vision of various types of animation projects. Animation professors teach, create animated content and conduct research at community colleges, technical schools and universities.
Education Requirements Usually a bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Usually a PhD, although a master's degree may be acceptable for some positions
Program Length 4 years for a bachelor's degree 4 years for a bachelor's degree 4 years for a bachelor's; an additional 1-2 years for a master's degree or 6-8 years for a PhD
Work Experience Varies Usually 3-5 years Some previous teaching experience usually required
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Slower-than-average growth (6%) compared to all occupations* Slower-than-average-growth (3%) compared to all occupations* Faster-than-average growth (19%) compared to all occupations*
Mean Salary (2014) Roughly $69,000* Roughly $97,000* Roughly $74,000*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

3D Animator

Television, movies, video games, commercials and the Internet are a few of the platforms for which you could potentially create content as a professional animator. As an animator, you'll often work with a team of people who develop, design, draw, edit and perfect a finished product. You'll meet with design professionals, editors, head animators, storyboard developers and more. Animation jobs can be found across the country; however, major cities with large media markets, such as New York City and Los Angeles, tend to offer the lion's share of employment opportunities in this field.


Many animators hold a bachelor's degree in computer graphics or another field related to art; however, your portfolio and experience in the field of 3D animation might have more impact on your job prospects than your formal education. The number of years of experience that you'll need depends largely on the employer and the level of the position you're applying for. In many cases, companies require extensive on-the-job training.

The following positions for 3D animators were posted online in December 2012:

  • An events and meetings company in Arizona was hiring a 3D animator/graphic artist with at least 1-2 years of experience and an associate's degree.
  • In New York City, a computer software company was seeking a 3D animator to animate body motions in 2D and 3D. A bachelor's degree was required for this full-time position.
  • An architectural firm in New Jersey was searching for a 3D animator and modeler with a minimum of five years of experience in the field.

Standing Out

Computer prowess and skills with a variety of software can help you stand out as an animator and visual artist. Common 3D modeling software that you can learn includes AutoDesk Softimage XSI and AutoDesk Maya. Knowledge of Cinema 4D, VFX, Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter also might be useful. Some positions require skills with Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premier Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro.

Art Director

Motion graphics and visual effects art directors often work in a variety of media. You could potentially be in charge of a 3D animation staff for advertising, television, movies and online content for a variety of private and public companies and organizations. Typically, you'll monitor the development, design, aesthetic, layout and feel of various animated projects. Managing staff, deadlines, budgets and clients and making final design decisions are typical job duties.


A bachelor's degree in 3D animation, visual arts or a similar field is usually required to become an art director. This is commonly a position acquired through years of experience, including work as a staff animator and some sort of administrative expertise. You'll also need a solid online and/or physical portfolio.

Here are a few art director jobs that employers posted online in December 2012:

  • In Wisconsin, a video game publisher and software company was looking for an individual to manage its animation department. Requirements included a bachelor's degree in animation, five years of experience in the gaming industry and participation in at least three high-quality, high-budget games.
  • A major cable network in California was seeking an animation director to design and review storyboards as well as meet with production coordinators and supervisors. Drawing experience, a bachelor's in fine arts, five years of television experience and 2-3 years of storyboard management experience were required.
  • Another major cable network in California called for an animation director with a physical or online portfolio, a bachelor's degree in fine arts and television/storyboard direction experience as well as experience with character layout.

Standing Out

Animation director positions were projected to decline in the print publication industry; however, new positions should be available with online publications. Thus, you might increase your chances of employment by honing your Web design skills. Another potentially lucrative field in which to specialize is advertising; the BLS reported that this industry was projected to have the strongest growth among art directors. Incorporating courses in advertising into your curriculum during college could be beneficial.

Animation Professor

As a postsecondary animation professor, you might work at a college, university, community college or technical school. In addition to teaching students 3D modeling, storyboard development and other animation topics, you might conduct research and complete 3D animation projects of your own. Communication with students, administration, other faculty members, motion graphics companies and animation professionals might be necessary.


Although a doctoral degree in visual arts, animation or a similar field is often required for a career as a postsecondary animation teacher, you might be able to obtain employment at a 2-year college with a master's degree. As is the case for animators and art directors, potential employers often require demonstrable skills and a strong portfolio.

In December 2012, these postsecondary teaching positions were posted online:

  • An art institute in New York City was hiring a part-time 3D animation and modeling instructor with at least a master's degree and 0-2 years of experience.
  • In Virginia, another art institute sought a part-time animation instructor with a master's degree.
  • A creative media institute in New Mexico sought a 3D animation instructor for a full-time, 9-month, non-tenure track position. A Bachelor of Fine Arts or similar degree was required along with teaching and advising experience.

Standing Out

A solid way to bolster your resume and stand out as a postsecondary 3D animation teacher is to get published. If you're earning a PhD in the field, you might try to have your research findings published in a peer-reviewed academic, film, tech or art journal.

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