How to Become a Computer Animator


Learn the Basics of Computer Animation

Computer animation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades. You only have to look as far back as 1995 – when Toy Story revolutionized both the movie and computer animation industries as the first feature-length movie that was entirely computer animated  – to see how recent the modern computer animation industry is. 

In the years since Toy Story was released as a major box office success, the quality and technical capabilities of computer animation has grown by leaps and bounds. Best of all, the industry continues to see growth and is projected to thrive for years to come, which means those who are talented and passionate about the field will find job security and ample opportunities to grow and excel. 

Computer animators are responsible for taking an idea and making it come to life. A computer animator’s role will vary depending on the type of animation they are creating, however, 3D animation (which has largely become the industry standard) involves the creation of 3D models, which are adjusted slightly for each proceeding frame in the animation or film. 

Computer animators have a relatively unique skillset. In addition to a creative eye, computer animators must be well-versed in the technical aspects of computer animation. They should know what computer animation software can do, but also know how to push the boundaries of that software to create innovative new techniques and outcomes. 

Of course, having a passion for the field is essential, since computer animation can require long hours, tight deadlines, and last-minute revisions. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for multimedia artists and animators (which includes computer animators) are projected to grow six percent between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as average for all career fields.  Demand is driven by the increased interest in visual effects and animation in video games, television, and movies. The median annual salary in 2015 was just over $63,000.



Learn Formal Concepts, Methods, Theory & Technique

Earning a bachelor’s degree in computer animation is the best way to learn the skills needed to succeed this profession. However, a degree in graphic arts or fine arts can be useful as well.  That said, most employers require animators to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer animation, although some animators hold only an associate degree or certificate.  Upon graduation, students may find work with video production companies or within the motion picture industry, advertising firms, and with software designers.  With continued education, animators might also find work in a number of related fields, including graphic design, web design, computer game programming, or as cartoonists and sketch artists. 

Computer animators must have a strong grasp of animation technology and computer software. Examples include motion graphics software like After Effects, Flash, and Maya. Audio editing programs like Audacity and Adobe Audition. For those who are creating animations for video games, Unreal, Unity, and Game Maker are essential tools most computer animators will learn, and if you are creating animations for the Internet, an understanding of Dreamweaver is essential as well.  However, some of what you need to be a success in this field goes beyond computer software and hardware, and includes knowledge in storytelling, storyboarding, character design and development, camera and lighting techniques and drawing for animation. 

In order to efficiently create motion, computer animation utilizes a number of techniques. Two of the most popular methods are motion capture and keyframing. Motion capture employs live actors, usually wearing a special motion capture suit, which can then be transferred into a digital 3D model. Keyframing uses an animated “skeleton” to create motion without the need to manually animate each individual frame. Computer animators should be very comfortable and familiar with both of these techniques. 

Computer animators must understand compression and encoding standards and processes, as well as a reasonably strong understanding of computers and the various operating systems and platforms they’ll use throughout their career. 

Because the industry is growing at such a rapid pace, computer animators must keep up with the latest developments in the industry, as well as relevant technologies as they evolve. A computer animator’s education is never done, and keeping up with new technology is key to long-term success.



Build A Strong Portfolio & Industry Connections

Building a strong portfolio – also referred to as demo reels – as a computer animator may be more difficult than for many other art or design fields. This is particularly the case for aspiring computer animators who are still relatively inexperienced.  Computer animations take time to create and building an online portfolio that covers a wide range of computer animation elements can be a long and laborious process. For individuals earning a bachelor’s degree in computer animation, creating your best possible work in every class is essential since those projects can form the basis of a strong portfolio early in your career. 

Your portfolio allows prospective employers to easily view your knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of computer animation and should include a wide range of work that may include camera moves that have been rendered, a walk cycle, or space scene.  To enhance your job prospects further, you may want to create a personal website. Websites are relatively inexpensive and allow you to market your creativity and your skills. But, they should only include your very best work rather than anything and everything you’ve ever done. 

Even though the industry is growing, it can still be challenging to find a job in the computer animation field, especially if you are just starting out. Networking can be a powerful way to find job opportunities you might otherwise miss, and there are several excellent organizations you can join in order to network and become more involved in the industry. The Computer Graphics Society (CG Society) is one example of a great industry networking and education organization. Internships and volunteering are also great ways to gain experience and further your knowledge.


Helpful Resources