How to Become an Animator

Illustration of a man sitting in front of a desktop and working on an animation of a rocket ship

Everywhere you look, animators have left their mark. Be it movies, TV shows, internet graphics or advertisements – an animator contributes to a whole host of media across the marketplace. It is a modern art form that presents a diverse array of employment opportunities for the creative types. 

Animation has evolved beyond pencil and paper. Gone are the days of strange-looking cartoon characters, and highly pixelated backgrounds on the PlayStation console. Today, animators have a heavy arsenal of technologies, software and tools to produce realistic images. But animators do more than draw characters, create backgrounds and come up with stunning visuals. They are also integral to the storytelling process. 

Are you interested in becoming an animator? These steps will help you make a start on this career path.

1. Do your research

No matter how appealing an occupation might be, it is always a good idea to do some research to understand this profession better, whether you are launching a new career or switching job titles.

Animators are responsible for producing an image series that would be viewed in motion pictures, television programmes, commercials, video games and other media. Today's generation of animators depend primarily on computer software to carry out their tasks, but there might be occasions when manual sketching is necessary. Animators will focus on a specific part of a production, like background design, characters or scenery. 

That said, an animator will have a diverse array of duties and responsibilities, such as: 

  • Produce high-quality animations through motion capture data and hand key animation. 
  • Brainstorm proposals and conceptualise ideas, as well as having the proficiency to come up with sketches, prototypes, mock-ups and quick concept edits. 
  • Create expressive character animation that can showcase varying emotions. 
  • Collaborate with colleagues and other members of your firm. 
  • Understand directions from the lead or supervising animator and execute their wants. Also, be sure to accept constructive criticism and use this creative feedback to improve your work. 
  • Put forward the suggestions to incorporate 3D components into final commercial quality products. 

For a lot of people, being an animator is a dream career. You are tapping your artistic talent, and you are working in modern industry and, in many cases, you are working independently. At the same time, it is still important to highlight the stress that comes with this position, from meeting tight deadlines to satisfying demanding clients.

2. Enhance your skillset

There is no doubt that you might be passionate about animation. Passion, however, may not be enough to be adept at completing the projects typically involved in animation. Moreover, career experts routinely recommend that employment opportunities should match your personal attributes and current skillset – hard and soft. As a budding animator, it is vital that you work on developing the following skills and qualities: 

  • Creativity: This goes without saying, but creativity is the most important trait to possess as you travel down this career path. Without an ounce of artistic talent, as well as originality, you may not survive this field. You may enjoy animation, but you need to know how to do it well. 
  • Communication: A core component of thriving in this job is the ability to communicate your ideas to your colleagues and clients and listening to the information your manager is conveying to you. 
  • Interpersonal: Some might believe that an animator sits in the corner of a room and isolates him or herself from others. However, this could not be further from the truth because animators need to regularly collaborate with team members, which is why it is crucial to maintain stellar interpersonal skills. 
  • Tech-savviness: Animation has evolved from the days of paper and pencil. Today, animators utilise various digital tools to get the job done, and you need to be aware of the technology and software involved to perform your job. 
  • Time management: Whether it is meeting scheduled deadlines or prioritising your tasks, time management is crucial to being an animator since you may have several different assignments needing to be completed in a short period. 
  • Organisation: An animator needs to be organised, particularly when he or she is inundated with work or orders. By everything within an arm's reach, from tools to client needs, you can ensure that you will not spend your finite time searching high and low for something.
  • Enthusiasm: Excitement is contagious at the office, but enthusiasm is just as important to keep you invigorated and ready to get the assignment completed. Being jubilant about your job is crucial to career advancement.

3. Get the right qualifications

Some animators may be self-taught, working on everything from 2-D animation to drawing since they were wearing diapers. But it is still a wise career move to complete study at an institution and earn a bachelor's animation degree programme. This provides you with a better opportunity to gain employment at a much sought-after firm, and it gives you the chance to work with equipment that you might not otherwise have used. 

You want to choose the right programme for you, one that contains courses that will emphasise your speciality. For example, if you want to work on animation for film and TV, you would want to attend a college or enrol in a four-year degree programme that specialises in special effects animation, graphics and multimedia. 

After you have completed your bachelor's degree, it would be smart to at least consider graduate training. This helps your career because a Master of Fine Arts in Animation, for example, can elevate you to the next level by enhancing your storytelling capabilities through 2-D and 3-D designs. You might also gain fresh ideas and practice collaborating on teams during projects and workshops. 

4. Diversify your work experience

A good way to fast-track your career is to do some freelancing on the side, even as you are permanently full-time at a firm. This way, you are piling on your experience and honing your skills. This might not provide an ideal work-life balance, but it's the sacrifice you need to make when you are becoming a professional animator. 

But there are other methods of attaining real-world experience, which is just as crucial as education requirements. Here are a few tips:

  • Attend industry conferences to meet companies looking for the best talent. 
  • Join associations and groups to garner accreditation. 
  • Enrol in continuing education courses to keep updating your skills and attain additional certification. 
  • Intern at companies if your CV lacks experience. 
  • Expand your network by finding a mentor in your sector
  • Build your reputation, which can be easy to do thanks to social media (list testimonials, social proof your career and ask clients for referrals). 
  • Stay on top of the latest industry news to ensure you are up to date on a whole host of issues.

5. Put together an impressive portfolio 

Before you can apply to any role, you first need to compile your best work in a polished portfolio, Animators, regardless of their current employment status, should always keep an updated portfolio ready to deploy. The portfolio, either in a physical form or online, should highlight any relevant work, the most recent project and your best animation. It would be best to avoid fan art and to include various details relating to your projects. When you wish to make the review process by the hiring manager faster, be sure to organise your work by type. 

6. Seek entry-level jobs

Once you have attained the necessary qualifications and skills to become a professional animator, it is time to emerge from your cocoon and try out your new wings. The first step? Applying for an entry-level job. Indeed, this can seem rather intimidating after spending a lot of your recent time studying, getting degrees and certificates and building a portfolio. But you have to do it at some point.

Once you've made a list of jobs you are interested in applying for, it is time to prepare your CV. You might think that a CV is unimportant for your line of work since you have a portfolio. However, this is a crucial document that makes an impact since it highlights your relevant skills, previous work experience, education and other forms of human capital you wish to bring to the attention of the employer. 

7. Enhance your reputation

Career experts routinely say that you are your own brand. What is critical to a brand's success? Reputation. Enhancing your reputation is critical in this field, particularly if you are self-employed. To become an in-demand animator, you need to build your reputation for not only your talent but also your reliability, work ethic, customer service and personality.

At the same time, if you work in an office, you can do a lot of things to expand upon your internal reputation:

  • Accept new assignments with unbridled enthusiasm.
  • Remain positive at all times, even if you are stuck in a rut or facing a barrage of work.
  • Volunteer to lead a new project or show a new employee around the office.
  • Be ready to work evenings, weekends and holidays, and take work home with you.

There's a myriad of methods to employ to increase your personal brand reputation.

8. Form industry connections

Let's be honest: Animation is an attractive field for a lot of young graduates. Sure, it is an in-demand skill, but there is a ton of supply in the market. When there is a lot of competition, you generally need to stand out from the crowd. Talent is a prerequisite, but it is always a good idea to form relevant connections, too. 

This is achieved by attending industry conferences, building relationships in school, volunteering or interning at firms and joining associations or groups relevant to your field. This way, you can always ensure that you know somebody at one company, or you may know someone who knows another person whose firm is looking to hire an animator.

Finding the right career is not always easy. Whether you are changing careers or you are searching for one fresh out of high school or college, there are a lot of aspects involved in finding something to do eight hours a day. 

We are often told that you should follow your passion, while others argue that you should do something practical. But why can it not be both? Well, that depends on you, your skills, the present marketplace and the steps you are willing to take to survive and thrive as an animator. 

With hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck, you can guide yourself to a reputable and successful animation career.  

Why do you want to become an animator? What are your career goals? Share your thought with us in the comments section below!