Visual Effects & Motion Graphics Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
Get the truth about salaries in the field of visual effects and motion graphics. Read the job descriptions and learn about education requirements and career prospects to decide if a visual effects and motion graphics career is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics

This is a wide field that includes drawing and development, management in 2D and 3D graphic design, creative and business careers and education. Three careers to consider are multimedia artist and animator, postsecondary graphics teacher and art director. Here's a look at these careers:

Multimedia Artist and Animator Postsecondary Graphics Teacher Art director
Career Overview Multimedia artists and animators primarily use computers to create illustrations, animations and other graphics Postsecondary graphics teachers conduct research and educate students about visual effects Visual effects and motion graphics art directors are in charge of projects' visual style and presentation
Education Requirements None required, though a bachelor's degree is typical Usually a doctoral degree, although a bachelor's or master's may be acceptable in certain cases At least a bachelor's degree; some directors have a master's degree
Program Length About four years for a bachelor's degree About four years for a bachelor's; about 1-2 years more for a master's degree or about 6-8 years more for a doctorate About four years for a bachelor's degree
Additional Training On-the-job training to learn company-specific software May need assistantship teaching training experience N/A
Experience Requirement Varies widely; entry-level jobs may be available, though employers may request 3-5 years of experience Varies widely; may need a couple years of teaching experience Usually 3-5 years of experience in a related field
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Slower than average (6%) compared to all occupations; about 4,300 additional jobs* Faster than average (19%) compared to all occupations; about 236,400 additional jobs (for all postsecondary teachers)* Slower than average (3%) compared to all occupations; about 2,200 additional jobs*
Mean Salary (2014) $69,410* $74,040* (all postsecondary teachers) $97,850*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Multimedia Artist and Animator

As a multimedia artist and/or animator, you're in charge of creating visual effects and animations for a variety of mediums, like movies, television, video games, advertisements and web content. You'll often work with a team of other artists to complete projects. You may be in charge of researching future projects and meeting with game designers, head animators and various creative directors to determine the direction of projects. Designing storyboards, drawing designs by hand, utilizing computer software to develop images and editing final projects are additional responsibilities of the job. You'll likely work in an office or at-home studio. In 2012, 57% of multimedia artists and animators were self-employed.


Educational and training that you've attained often mean less than what your portfolio holds, though many animators and multimedia artists have a bachelor's degree in an aspect of the creative arts, like computer graphics, animation or fine arts. The number of years of experience that you'll need depends largely on the particular job and employer. Many companies have in-house training programs to teach you specific software programs they use and to test your skills. Keep in mind that project deadlines may mandate long hours.

Employers posted the following three jobs online in December 2012:

  • In Salt Lake City, an information technology staffing company was seeking a visual effects artist for a 6-month contract position. Four years of experience in the field and an online demo reel and/or portfolio link were required. Strong skills in 2D and 3D software platforms were necessary.
  • A major children's television network in California was hiring a visual effects animator to work closely with the creative and art directors to design animations for creatures, monsters and other characters. Requirements included a minimum of five years of industry experience with at least two shipped credits as an animator, lead animator or senior animator. Experience using Maya software was ideal.
  • An advertising agency in Georgia was looking for a motion graphics artist and editor with a bachelor's degree and at least three years of experience. Candidates needed to know After Effects, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suite.

Standing Out

Having a strong portfolio, staying abreast of current visual effects technology and maintaining skills with a number of kinds of graphic design software are solid ways to stand out in the job market. Since realistic animations for movies, games and cell phones are in high demand, your ability to create lifelike characters and landscapes could give you an edge.

Knowledge of various software programs can be a solid way to open additional opportunities for employment. Employers often prefer particular software programs, so being a jack-of-all-trades regarding motion and animation software can make you eligible for more positions. Common 2D software programs you could learn are Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. Some 3D modeling software programs you may utilize include Autodesk Maya and Autodesk Softimage XSI. You may also need to work in Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premier Pro, VFX and Cinema 4D.

Postsecondary Graphics Teacher

Postsecondary graphics and visual arts professors instruct students and conduct research on principles related to graphics, animation, film and visual design. Creating new artwork may also be a part of the job. You'll need communication skills to help students understand concepts and to communicate with faculty members and visual effects/motion graphics companies.


Although a bachelor's or master's degree is sometimes acceptable, you'll typically need to earn a PhD in graphic design, animation, visual communications, fine arts or a similar field. Demonstrable animation and visual effects skills are usually what matter most to employers. The number of years of experience you'll need depends on the job. One of your career goals may be earning tenure, which typically requires obtaining a tenure-track position and attaining seven years of work experience, moving up through the hierarchy of postsecondary positions.

In December 2012, potential employers posted the following positions for postsecondary teachers online:

  • A state university in New Mexico was seeking a 3D animation college instructor with a BFA, BCM or similar degree for a 9-month position. In addition, experience teaching 3D animation topics like modeling, rigging and lighting was required. Individuals with experience teaching diverse populations were preferred.
  • In Missouri, a college was looking for a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor in art, graphic design, web design and motion graphics. Minimum requirements included an MFA in graphic design with a focus on web and interactive design. A strong portfolio and three letters of reference were also necessary.
  • A university in Minnesota sought a probationary, tenure-track, full-time assistant interactive/graphic design professor. A master's degree or PhD in visual communication, interaction design, graphic design or a related discipline was necessary, along with two years of teaching experience in a Mac-based classroom. Candidates who know Adobe Creative Suite and have skills in game design, motion graphics, instructional design, editorial design and typography, among other skills, were ideal.

Standing Out

The academic job market can be extremely competitive, particularly for the tenure-track positions that are becoming less commonplace. Having your research and scholarly works published can be a solid way to bolster your resume and earn the respect of your peers and potential employers. For example, if you're earning a PhD, strive to publish part of your dissertation in a peer-reviewed academic, film, technological or art journal. Having your creative and/or commercial work published or released can be a solid way to build up your resume as well. Since teaching experience may be necessary, it's a good idea to seek teaching assistantships while in a graduate program.

Art Director

Art directors in the field of visual effects and motion graphics are typically in charge of the overall look, feel, design and layout of animations and movie sets. You may also be responsible for determining appropriate images for commercials, television and web productions. Common duties include discussing concepts with clients, reviewing the designs of other artists and supervising design staff. You may also deal with time and budgetary constraints.


You'll usually need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in animation, visual effects or a similar discipline to become an art director in the motion graphics and visual effects industry. You'll need to work your way up from staff positions. Although the BLS states that you'll typically need 3-5 years of experience to become an art director, you may need more for certain positions. A strong portfolio of previous work is integral to getting hired.

Here's a handful of art direction positions that were posted online in December of 2012:

  • In Ohio, a creative media organization that provides services for clients in various industries sought a visual effects art director to supervise staff and create photo and video references, art and storyboards. A bachelor's degree or five years of experience were required, in addition to strong skills in creating imaginary scenes.
  • A major cable network located in California was hiring an animation director to oversee, create and review storyboards in addition to maintain the quality standards of a show. Drawing experience, five years of TV animation storyboard experience and at least two years of experience as a storyboard director were required. A BA or BS degree in fine arts was preferred.
  • A creative agency in Maryland was seeking a freelance art director for a 6-month position overseeing web design, broadcast, branding, print and digital advertising. Applicants needed a BFA degree in design, 4-6 years of creative broadcast marketing or agency experience and a strong portfolio. Skills in animation and Adobe Creative Suite were preferred.

Standing Out

As you earn your degree, consider learning a second language in order to open up a larger amount of job opportunities. According to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population of the U.S. is likely to double by the year 2060. As a result, more media is likely to be in Spanish. Some current art director postings on job boards prefer that applicants are fluent in Spanish as well as English.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • BA in Digital Film - Screenwriting
  • BA in Digital Film - Production
  • Bachelor of Arts in Digital Film with an Emphasis in Editing and Visual Effects

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • Entertainment Business Masters - Campus
  • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • Film Production Masters - Campus
  • B.S. - Show Production

What is your highest level of education?