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By: Shiraz Chavan on May 30th, 2017

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How much do animators make?

Animation | For Undergraduates

By any measure, now is a great time to be an animator. Recent blockbusters like Avatar, Marvel's The Avengers, and Frozen have raked in billions of dollars at the box office, thanks in large part to their dazzling CGI. Meanwhile, the global video game market, an industry that leans heavily on animation, is expected to grow nearly 5% between 2015 and 2020.

If you're thinking about pursuing an animation degree, your employment prospects after college are excellent. But which animation jobs have the highest return on your tuition investment, and what type of work is out there? Before you commit to four years of hard work studying the field, it's important to know what kind of options you'll have after school.

Types of animation jobs for art students

There are dozens of different animation jobs available depending on your interests and skills. Here are three common positions:

  • 3D modeler – these professionals create the framework for an object that will eventually be animated, then illustrate it with textures representing things like hair, clothes, skin, etc. 3D modeling requires artistic skills and the technical savvy to work with several types of software.
  • Stop motion animator – stop motion animation involves the manipulation of physical objects to create movement. Animators in this profession work with puppets, clay sculptures, or figurines to capture an animated sequence through photography. This job is painstaking, but highly rewarding.
  • Compositor – also called compositing artists, these animators help pull every element of an animation together. They combine animated sequences, 2D images, special effects, and backgrounds into a comprehensive, attractive final product. Compositors need an eye for detail and must be able to work with a range of other team members, including other visual artists and producers.  

Work environments

Because animation is used in so many different mediums, from film to video games to marketing, workplaces can vary drastically from one animator to the next. Pixar and Dreamworks are the two biggest names in movie animation; many young animators have dreamed of a career at the companies behind landmark films like Shrek and Toy Story. Positions at marquee studios in film, television, and video games are competitive, but there are plenty of smaller shops and publishing companies who also employ animators.

If you're considering a career in animation, consider becoming a freelancer.. According to the BLS, in 2014 over 50% of all animators were self-employed, and many steady animation jobs only last as long as a project's production. It's certainly possible to find a long-term animation position, but if you don't mind looking for gigs and continuously improving your skills, the abundance of short-term jobs available could be lucrative.

Answering the big question: How much do animators get paid?

BLS data lists the 2015 median pay for animators at $63,970 a year. Glassdoor has the national average a bit higher at $70,000. Like many other fields, compensation for animators also depends on experience: it's not uncommon for senior-level animators or art directors to earn well into six figures.  

You should never choose a job based solely on pay, but it's an important consideration for prospective animation students. Though the field is competitive and employment is often short-term, it's also growing quickly. If you have the will to work hard and the technical, visual, and communication skills needed to make top-caliber animations, you stand a very good chance of earning a comfortable living as an animator.

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About Shiraz Chavan

Shiraz Chavan came to the United States from Nigeria to study education and work with international students like herself, and she is currently Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at California College of the Arts. Chavan is passionate about equal access to education, with an undergrad degree in Elementary Education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a graduate degree in Education Administration from University of the Pacific.

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