3D Animator
How to Become a

3D Animator

The complete career guide to be a 3D Animator: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $70,300
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 6.1%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Creativity Focused
    Career Attribute

Unlike 2D animators who may create hand-drawn animations, 3D animators use specialized computer programs to design realistic animations for movies, video games, TV shows, and other media. They generally specialize in designing specific animations: characters, scenes, or special effects.

Recommended Schools

What is a 3D Animator?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in 3D animator roles:

  • Design 3D animations using specialized computer animation programs
  • Convert recorded actor movements into 3D renderings using designed characters
  • Design animated movies, video games, and TV shows, and add animations to other forms of media
  • Work with a team of animators, designers, and developers to turn animations into a fully functional product
  • Revise animations based on feedback

A Day in the Life

3D animators work to design realistic, three-dimensional animations for movies, television shows, and video games. They are artists who specialize in translating art into computer code to create moving pictures, special effects, 3D characters, landscapes, and game levels. These skills may lead them to work for major movie producers like Pixar and Disney, for some of the largest video game development studios like Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony, or for multiple companies as a freelance 3D animator.

3D animators usually specialize in designing a specific type of animations. They may focus on animating characters, or they may focus on animating backgrounds and scenery. Those that work on characters may do a specific type of animation that requires taking the recorded movements of real actors and applying them to character movements. This allows them to create character movements that are realistic because they mimic the gestures and reactions of real actors playing the role.

3D animators almost always work with a team and divvy up responsibilities for projects. Each animator works on their specific portion of the project, and then at the end, all pieces are merged together to create a cohesive whole. For this reason, 3D animators must be effective team players as well as skilled animators because disconnects could lead to disjointed final projects. Additionally, 3D animators who work on video games also commonly work with developers to transform animations to code.

Typical Work Schedule

3D animators typically work full-time schedules during normal business hours. This results in a total of 35 to 40 hours of work logged each week. Having said this, animators are sometimes expected to work late hours, weekends and even holidays to meet approaching deadlines.

While many animators will be hired on for full-time employment, some may work only part-time, while others will freelance or work under temporary contracts. Freelancers can also expect to put in some hours traveling to meet potential clients and promote their work.

Animators generally work in well-lit offices or studios. Some forms of animation, such as stop frame animation, may involve many hours of standing while some demand sitting at drawing boards or computers.

Projected Job Growth

We live in a time when most people are never disconnected from a digital device. Whether it’s a smartphone or ipad, these products give us 24/7 access to a wide variety of entertainment options.

Animated movies, television shows, video games, and mobile games and applications are among the most popular entertainment mediums of our time, so demand for skilled 3D animators is expected to increase in the coming decade to enable businesses to continue producing these forms of media.

Typical Employers

Many 3D animators are self-employed and work on a freelance basis. Other animators will be contract hires that work for major movie and television studios as well as video game producers like Disney, Pixar, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.

Because of this, there are definitely certain locations across the country that tend to be hotspots for employment. While nearly every state in the country will have some work for animation and multimedia artists, certain states will offer greater job opportunities than others.

The top 5 states with the highest employment in the industry, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are:

California (highest)
New York

We knew California would make that list as the state is home to the biggest film and television production companies in the country and world.

You’ve no doubt heard of Pixar, which is located in Emeryville, CA. Over the years this production studio has produced and released some of the most successful and critically acclaimed animated films of all times.

Then there is Industrial Light and Magic studio located in San Francisco, CA. Founded in 1975 by George Lucas, the studio has been behind every Star Wars film.

There is also the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Cartoon Network Studios, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, And Warner Bros Animation that are all located in Burbank, CA.


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How To Become a 3D Animator

The starting point for finding work as a 3D animator is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics or animation. Some may also choose to pursue a degree in fine arts, but while this degree teaches students the best practices and skills required of artists, it may lack coursework in computer design. If pursuing a fine arts degree, make sure you also take courses in computer design—most major animation studios use computer programs for animation design.

While in college, you’ll need to start building a portfolio of work. You can do this as part of class projects, or you might choose to self-develop animations and cartoons on your own time and publish them to social media sites like YouTube. 3D animators can earn some money from ad revenue on YouTube-hosted animations, and a portfolio will be required when applying for open positions after college. Having published pieces with positive feedback received will be beneficial for getting hired.

While having a bachelor’s degree is generally required for finding work with a production company, self-employed 3D animators may be able to secure work without having a degree. If you’re able to teach yourself how to animate and have the talent, a striking portfolio may hold more weight than having a degree. However, taking college courses in business administration can be helpful for self-employed animators as they’ll need business acumen, negotiation skills, and bookkeeping abilities.

3D Animator Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

Low Range




High Range


How do 3D Animator salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, 3D Animator's can make an average annual salary of $70,300, or $34 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $47,660 or $23 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #196 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a 3D Animator. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among 3D Animators

  • 1.9%   Doctorate
  • 12%   Masters
  • 45%   Bachelors
  • 9%   Associates
  • 18.4%   College
  • 10.7%   High School
  • 3%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does 3D Animator job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 3,900 jobs for a total of 68,300 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 6.1% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #368 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most 3D Animators

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Self-employed workers 35,300 300 0%
Computer systems design and related services 3,800 800 1%
Software publishers 3,200 900 1%

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