animation jobs

The Average Animator Salary and How Its Changed Over Time

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If there’s one profession that has continually grown in demand each year, it’s animation. More and more aspiring animators dream of creating worlds as captivating as the ones they grew up with. Now, schools all over the globe offer all kinds of degree programs in digital art, 3D animation, visual effects, and more.

Of course, it takes more than just passion and imagination to get the dream job of creating jaw-dropping video game environments or lovable film characters. That is why New York Film Academy designed their 3D Animation & Visual Effects School to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to stand out in a competitive job market.

But the question on the mind of many future animators is the same: can I make a good living as an animator? The answer is, yes! In fact, the need for talented animators has led to a growth in annual salaries over the past several years … and there’s no sign of it stopping.

More Demand = More $$$ for Animators

Animators today are getting paid more than those from 20, 10, and even five years ago. This is because advancements in animation and visual effects technology have allowed for better tools offering more realistic graphics. All it takes is one look at a video game from the year 2000 and one from 2016 to see that animation is bigger and better than ever.

At the same time, costs for animation projects have also gone up. For example, “Toy Story” was released in 1995, made on a budget of $30 million with 27 animators. It is still the cheapest movie Pixar has ever produced. In comparison, “Toy Story 3” was released 15 years later on a budget of $200 million— more than six times that of the first movie.

So why are animated films and 3D video games more expensive to make today than ever before? Simply, more animators are required for projects — and those animators are getting paid more. As visuals grow more complex, so too do the tools needed to make it all come alive. Companies want to hire individuals who have mastered the necessary skills and can work quickly without sacrificing quality.

And they’re willing to pay good money.

The Average Salary Today

As of May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has “Multimedia Artists and Animators” earning an estimated median annual wage of $63, 970 and an hourly wage of $30.76/hour. Median means that half of professionals in this field earned less than those numbers while the other half earned more. Not including self-employed workers, these averages were taken from the salary of 30,250 animators and multimedia artists.

It’s important to remember that the industry you work in affects how much you can make. The top paying industry for animators is Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services, with an average hourly wage of $41.22 and annual wage of $85,750. However, there were only 30 reported people working in this field. So even though the average annual wage of someone working in motion picture and video is less ($73,270), it has a higher level of employment.

The motion picture and video industry employed 9,930 artists and animators in May of 2015, the most of any industry. When comparing numbers from 2014 and 2015, people estimate that animation jobs will grow up to 7 percent, which means more than 4,000 more positions.

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10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

Animation is a big business these days. Many of today’s top television series and major motion pictures are animated, and there’s a high demand for animation professionals. One of the best ways for both up-and-coming animators and current professionals to stay on top of news in the animation industry is through social media,  so without further ado…

10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

New York Film Academy
@NYFA

New York Film Academy’s own 3D animation school has helped countless students achieve success with animation, so our Twitter stream is a good start for gleaning news about the entertainment industry in general and the animation world in particular.

Autodesk
@autodesk

Autodesk makes Maya, a 3D animation software platform widely used in the animation industry and widely taught in film and animation schools. Autodesk’s Twitter stream posts everything from tips to using Maya to news in the animation world, so it truly is one of the essential Twitter accounts every animator should follow.

3D Printing Industry
@3dprintindustry

Technology affects every field of the entertainment industry, especially animation. In the past decade, 3D printing has emerged as one of the fastest-growing technologies, and savvy animators will want at least a passing knowledge of news from the 3D printing world. 3D Printing Industry keeps track of such news.

hitRECord
@hitRECord

Founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, HitRecord bills itself as an “open collaborative production company.” Creators of all types, including animators, can contribute material and collaborate with other creators on various projects, from books to movies. HitRecord’s Twitter stream is a good source for seeing what projects need animators.

Lino DiSalvo
@LinoD

Lino DiSalvo is a veteran animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios and was the head of animation for Frozen. His inside expertise in the animation world makes his Twitter stream one of the most useful accounts for animators to follow.

Disney Animators
@DisneyAnimators

Although not an official Disney account, the Disney Animators’ Twitter feed collects the thoughts of animators working at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

 Jessie
@jslipchi

Jessie Slipchinsky is a freelance animator who has also worked for Disney, and her account provides a candid, slice-of-life look into the life of a working animator.

Animation Jobs
@animationjobs

Looking for a job as an animator? Animation Jobs does what it says on the tin, keeping a running list of openings for animators. If you’re looking for paid positions or are soon to graduate, this is pretty much the best Twitter account an animator can follow.

Bardel Entertainment
@bardelent

A Vancouver-based animation studio, Bardel Entertainment has worked on various projects for Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network, to name a few.

Animation World
@AnimationWorld

Animation World Network is an animation news site dedicated to the animation industry. Its website is one of the best sources for up-to-date animation information, and its Twitter stream is a quick way to keep tabs on new articles.

This concludes our list of Twitter accounts every animator – professional or hobbyist – should follow, but feel free to add your own to the list via the comments below. In the mean time, be sure to check out our guide to the various types of animation jobs in the industry.

Jobs in Animation: Average Salaries & Career Paths

To someone who is passionate about animation, gaining paid work in the field can be something of a dream come true. The only downside is getting your foot through the door in the first place, especially given that the industry – much like any creative profession – is saturated with competition.

But don’t despair. Those armed with information are better prepared for success, and you’ll find plenty of it below as we delve into the various sub-professions within, and related to, animation.

We’ve also listed the typical career paths people usually follow to break into them (for instance, is animation school a prerequisite?) as well as the average salary one can expect and difficulty of attaining regular paid work (not the difficulty of the job itself).

All figures correct at time of writing, but should be taken as estimates only. Salary can vary wildly depending on location and experience level.

Art Director

art director salary

While many industries – from publishing to marketing – employ art directors for any project or campaign that requires heavy visual elements, the role is even more prominent in animation.

An art director holds a very high position on an animation team, and most creative staff involved on a project report directly to him or her. Not only do art directors have the final say on what footage or stills are to be included in the final cut (as well as helping to coordinate and shape the entire project), but may also be required to train junior staff and manage budgeting requirements.

Art Director Career Path: Typically working up from more junior roles, with qualifications from an animation school helping accelerate the process.

Pros: Being in charge of calling the shots is often the biggest pull for art directors.

Cons: Nobody knows pressure like an animation art director, particularly one who also has to manage budgetary issues.

Art Director Salary: Averaging $70,000 to $80,000, but wholly depends on the scale of the project.

Difficulty: 8/10

Stop Motion Animator

Stop motion animation jobs

Stop motion animation is a very laborious discipline which takes an incredible amount of skill, attention to detail and, above all, patience. What sets stop motion animators aside from traditional 2D or 3D animators is that they must also set up physical rigs, usually to specification, in which to work with the models and camera equipment before using specialist software to bring it all to life in the editing suite.

Stop Motion Animator Career Path: More often than not, stop motion animators are self-taught and break into the industry gradually having honed their skills through freelance work.

Pros: The job satisfaction when you see the finished animation – usually after weeks if not months of painstaking work – is truly off the scale

Cons: The painstaking work.

Stop Motion Animator Salary: Most stop motion animators earn a fairly steady $60,000, with no great difference being seen depending on experience or location. This is similar to how much somome earns while playing blackjack for a living.

Difficulty: 5/10

3D Modeler

3d modeler jobs

Working with a number and combination of industry-grade animation tools – Maya, 3DS Max and Blender to name a few – a 3D modeler works from the ground up to bring fully rendered models and environments to life. While this may sound like a fairly niche job, a skilled 3D modeler can find work not just in film and video games but also in engineering, advertising, manufacturing, architecture and many other fields.

3D Modeler Career Path: Given the steep learning curve, many modelers get their leg up onto the career ladder via 3D animation school. Internships usually follow, or the modeler can sometimes get straight into paid work if they’re based in an entertainment hotspot.

Pros: A fair amount of creative control, as well as no two days ever being the same (for the most part).

Cons: The competition for paid work is pretty stiff.

3D Modeler Salary: Very hard to calculate averages given that most 3D modeling work is offered on a freelance basis. A contracted modeler for a major studio like Disney or Pixar can expect as much as $100,000, but it can be less than half that for a smaller company.

Difficulty: 7/10

Flash Animator

Flash animation jobs

Predominantly working with the Adobe suite of animation tools, Flash animators combine skills in illustration, graphic design and composition in order to create compelling 2D and 3D animation in Adobe Flash. Given the prevalence of the format in modern usage, Flash specialists are employed in just about every area in which animation is required but particularly in web applications and advertising.

Flash Animator Career Path: A standard career path for those specializing in Flash is to self-teach before seeking out freelance work.

Pros: As long as Flash is as popular as it currently is, work is plentiful for a skilled Flash animator.

Cons: If you work in web advertising, client demands can get almost comically outrageous at times. A lot of work is being outsourced overseas, too, leading to greater competition at lesser rates than previous years.

Flash Animator Salary: As above – quite difficult to calculate given most Flash animators are self-employed. The median average lies around the $60k mark, but this is a very rough ballpark figure.

Difficulty: 4/10

Compositing Artist

compositing artist salary

Compositing artists hold a great degree of responsibility over the final appearance of an animation, working closely with the other animation staff (particularly SFX specialists, lighting and texture directors) in order to add a layer of polish and keep the entire project looking consistent. If you’ve ever been impressed by the stylistic quality of an animation, that’ll probably be the work of one or more compositing artists.

Compositing Artist Career Path: There are numerous routes to becoming a full-time compositing artist, and while many studios hire professionals who have undertaken specialist study in this area, it’s usually a case of working up from a junior animator or SFX level.

Pros: An opportunity to use your artistic flare to the fullest and leave your own creative stamp which is immediately apparent in the final animation.

Cons: It’s an under-appreciated artform, and you’ll be forced to satisfy the demands of numerous departments.

Compositing Artist Salary: Between $50,000 to $75,000 per year depending on location and experience.

Difficulty: 7/10

Storyboard Artist

storyboard artist jobs

While not strictly a branch of animation, storyboard artists usually work hand-in-hand with animation and/or filmmaking teams to help map out a story from start to finish long before work starts. Taking input from writers and directors, it’s the storyboard artist’s job to produce conceptual artwork from stills from which the production team can work – given that a skilled artist can save everyone else an exceptional amount of time (and, ergo, money), they’re highly sought after on film shoots, traditional animation, music videos and commercials.

Storyboard Artist Career Path: Like many professions in the creative industry, it’s all about having a solid portfolio and leveraging connections. This can take years of working on smaller projects for very little (or no) money, but studying the craft at illustration school can help you get there quicker.

Pros: Getting to be pretty much the first person to start the transformation process from written script to polished animation.

Cons: Being sandwiched between a director making demands and an animation team trying to make sense of the whole project.

Storyboard Artist Salary: In LA, the salary for a contracted storyboard artist can be as high as $80,000 to $100,000 but once again this can be half as much in other locations (and depending on the sector in which the artist is employed).

Difficulty: 6/10

Mathematical Modeler

mathematical modeler animation jobs

Arguably the most specialized branch of animation in the industry (and with a commensurate pay scale to go with it.) As the name suggests, a mathematical modeler uses complex formulae in order to generate equally complex models for use within animation; typically this skillset is mainly used in precise engineering such as aeronautics, but the increasing advancements in video gaming have seen a call for such specialists in recent years.

Mathematical Modeler Career Path: Intensive. A degree in math, engineering or similar is virtually essential, and coupling it with a program specific to 3D animation and modeling doesn’t hurt either.

Pros: Let’s not mince words – the main attraction here is the money.

Cons: Have fun digging through 20,000 lines of code to find the one mistake causing the model to act that way.

Mathematical Modeler Salary: Expect no less than $80,000.

Difficulty: 10/10

Forensic Animator

forensic animator training

Declaring that you’re an animator will usually fire up interest and conversation at a party, but being a forensic animator is guaranteed to turn heads.

Pretty much exactly as it sounds, a forensic animator will utilize his or her unique skills to help investigators piece together crime scenes and collate evidence for presentation to a jury. Forensic animators are also used often in insurance and/or liability claims, requiring strong experience in both 3D and 2D animation as well as terragen software in order to recreate real life locations and scenarios.

Forensic Animator Career Path: An already established animator can transfer over to forensic animation via specialist courses, but be warned: your flashy portfolio of superb SFX won’t do you any good since the field calls for technical attention to detail over dramatic embellishments. A criminal record will kill this career dead in the water, too.

Pros: As you can expect, playing an instrumental part in solving crimes is its own reward.

Cons: It’s not quite as ‘CSI’ as most people think, and it can take a strong mind (and stomach) to deal with some of the work you’ll undertake.

Forensic Animator Salary: Nearly always freelance based, a forensic animator can charge anywhere between $20 to $100 per hour, depending on experience.

Difficulty: 9/10

Render Wrangler

render wrangler jobs

When an animation is complete, somebody needs to make sure it is rendered down into a format fit for public consumption. That’s where a render wrangler comes in.

Modern animations typically comprise of many terrabytes of data per minute; this necessitates entire banks of computers to provide both the RAM and storage required to handle the rendering, and it’s entrusted to the render wranger (sometimes referred to as a data wrangler) to come up with workable solutions to facilitate this.

Render Wrangler Career Path: Computer science skills a must; animation knowledge secondary.

Pros: If you dream in zeroes and ones, this job is the epitome of high-powered computer geekery.

Cons: Trying to explain to non-technical staff the limits of what’s achievable. The pay is also fairly dire.

Render Wrangler Salary: Surprisingly low given the technical expertise required – typically only around $15 per hour.

Difficulty: 3/10

Texture Artist

Texture artist salary

Texture is an often overlooked aspect of animation, but it’s also one of the most crucial.

As one can imagine from the title, a texture artist concerns him or herself with the finish of any models (and sometimes terrain) to be featured in the animation. Often the main goal is to achieve a realistic look, but texture artists may also have to use all their graphic skills to create effects not usually found in nature. 

Texture Artist Career Path: Texture artists typically come from a graphic design school background, becoming proficient in texture creation first and foremost before transferring those skills to the animation sphere.

Pros: As well as always having to push your own boundaries to get results, if you enjoy using artistic skills to solve logical problems, this is the job for you.

Cons: Sometimes spending many hours just to get one particular texture on one character right, which may only get half a second of screen time.

Texture Artist Salary: $60,000 is a fairly standard mean average, ranging up to around $80,000 in some location hotspots.

Difficulty: 6/10

Ready to learn more about future possibilities in the world of 3D animation and visual effects? Check out NYFA’s Animation School for program offerings, and apply today!

See Also: Filmmaking, photography and broadcast journalism guides for jobs and salaries in other fields.