How to become an Animator. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does an Animator do?
As an animator, you would bring drawings or models to life on screen. Your work could be used in animated short and full-length films, television cartoons, adverts, computer games, music videos, websites and movie visual effects.
You could specialise in one of the following animation techniques:
- 2-D hand-drawn, or traditional
- 2-D computer-generated
- 3-D computer-generated (known as ‘CGI’)
- stop-frame, stop-motion or model animation.
Producing an animation involves many stages and processes, from generating ideas to building models and editing the final piece. Each stage can involve several specific tasks and job roles, such as the following:
- development stage – directors and producers create ideas, plan the project and find funding
- pre-production – production designers create the look; storyboard artists take the script or ideas and show the story in a visual way; layout artists draw how each shot will look
- production – digital painters touch up colours; animators and modellers follow the storyboard and use computer or stop-frame animation to create movement and personality
- lighting, texturing and compositing – texture artists ‘paint’ colour and texture onto digital models to make them lifelike; compositors join the different layers of animation (backgrounds, special effects, characters and graphics); various editors add the soundtrack and produce the finished piece.
Working on a smaller project might mean that you cover several of these jobs, particularly during the production stage. On large or long-running productions, you could be part of a team of animators and assistants working on one stage for several weeks, months or even years.
See the Animation section of Skillset’s website for more detailed information about how an animation is made, and about specific animation job roles.
For many jobs you will work standard office hours, Monday to Friday, but overtime and unsocial hours may sometimes be necessary to meet deadlines.
The work can be office- or studio-based, depending on your role and the type of animation.
In stop-motion animation you may spend a lot of time on your feet adjusting models. In other types of animation, you would spend most of your time sitting at a computer or drawing board.
How much does an animator earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Starting salaries are around £23,000 a year.
- With more experience and skills, earnings are usually around £32,000 to £43,000.
You may also earn a bonus at the end of a project, particularly in the computer games industry.
Freelance animators are usually paid a fee for each contract or project. Rates can vary based on your track record and the type of production. Contact the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) for current pay guidelines.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To become an animator, you will need skills in drawing, modelling or using computer animation packages. Some animators are self-taught, but many start by taking an animation or art-related course to develop their skills before looking for work.
Several colleges and universities offer foundation degrees, BTEC HNDs, degrees and postgraduate courses in animation. The most useful courses include practical skills and work placements. See Skillset’s website for details of industry-endorsed animation courses. You should check content and entry requirements carefully to make sure that the course is right for you.
You could also get into the industry with qualifications in other relevant subjects such as:
- graphic design
- computer programming
- model making or sculpture
- 3-D design
- multimedia design.
You would often start as a studio runner – you don’t need qualifications to work in this role, although in practice many people who start at this level are graduates. You could then progress to junior roles like storyboard assistant, digital painter, inbetweener or assistant animator. Follow the links below to read more details about what these jobs involve.
- Skillset – Studio Runner
- Skillset – Storyboard Assistant
- Skillset – Digital Painter
- Skillset – Inbetweener
Employers always want to see proof of your talent and creativity, so you will need a ‘showreel’ DVD or online portfolio of your best animation work and ideas to show them.
You could also show commitment to joining the industry by entering animation competitions and festivals, and sending short animated films or ideas to broadcasters.
Training and Development
Most of your training would be on the job, learning from more experienced animators.
You should keep up to date with developments in the animation industry throughout your career. It will be useful to learn more software packages that are relevant to your job, for example:
- 3ds Max
- Action Script
- Lightwave 3D
- After Effects.
Many other packages are available, and some companies also create software to meet their own needs. Your employer may organise some training courses for you, or you may be responsible for your own training and development.
You can take short courses in various animation software packages and techniques at several film schools, universities and private training companies. Visit Skillset’s website to search for courses.
With experience and advanced skills, you can progress from junior roles to become an animator, lead animator and animation director.
Skills and Knowledge
- creativity and imagination
- good drawing or modelling skills
- patience and concentration
- accuracy and attention to detail
- good computer skills, preferably including graphics and animation software
- communication and presentation skills
- the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
- good teamworking skills.
You could work for large or small animation studios, computer games developers, interactive media designers or post-production houses (producing animated film and TV titles and credits). Freelance fixed-term contracts are common.
The main centres for animation in the UK are London, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee and Manchester. CGI is the fastest-growing sector of animation, but there is still a demand for people with good drawing skills. The more skills you can offer, the more employment options you will have.
Jobs are sometimes advertised on specialist industry websites, although many jobs are not advertised as it is common to find work through networking.