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3D Animator

Last Updated: January 31, 2023, by TACP Staff

3D Animator

In the realm of digital artistry, 3D animation stands as an extraordinary fusion of technical skill and creative vision. It’s a discipline that breathes life into inanimate models, giving them the ability to move and interact in a virtual space. With its roots in traditional animation, it has grown into a dynamic field that is continuously evolving, riding the wave of technological advancements.

The world of 3D animation is a spectacle of endless possibilities. It is the driving force behind the vibrant, engaging visual content that we see in movies, video games, commercials, and various digital platforms. It’s the magic that turns the imaginary into a visually tangible reality that captivates audiences and takes storytelling to extraordinary heights.

However, behind every stroke of this magic, there’s a maestro, a 3D animator, whose diligent work and inventive spirit make it all happen. In this article, we delve into the exciting world of these digital artists, answering the question: “What does a 3D animator do?”

What Is a 3D Animator?

The field of 3D animation is extensive. Also known as 3D CGI or visual storytelling, it is both exciting and new for both the creator as well as the audience. In recent years as the popularity of 3D animated movies and television shows has grown, so has the industry. Movies like “The Croods” and “Cars”, or “Ice Age” and “The Incredibles” are all examples of 3D animation.

In the world of animation, there are two types of animators, 2D and 3D. Essentially, they do the same job. Both suggest new ideas, usually to a team, complete a certain amount of research to ensure their ideas are original and engaging, then render them on paper, or with the use of computer software. But, that’s where the similarities end. In simplest terms, 2D animators create flat images, which have width and height but no depth. 3D animation is more realistic because of the addition of depth. Adding depth creates more life-like characters, and it is much easier for 3D animators to make changes to a scene because they can move or transfer an object more easily, whereas, in 2D animation, the animator must draw the scene all over again if any changes are necessary.

People who work in the field of three-dimensional (3D) animation create visual effects and animated characters for television, video games, and other electronic media. Many animators work in the movie and film industry. 3D animators create moving images using digital models and add details to the pictures, such as landscapes, skin color, or clothing.

Artists who successfully become a 3D Animator are often self-employed, and some choose to specialize. To create 3D animation, they create drawings or take photographs of an actress or actor’s movements and then use computer software like Maya, MotionBuilder, Mudbox, FBX, and more, to convert them into cartoon characters. Some 3D animators choose to specialize in scenery or background development in the movie and television industry, while others decide to become video game designers who are responsible for creating the entire look, feel, and functionality of a game, in addition to creating the 3D animation.

What Does a 3D Animator Do?

Someone who works as a 3D animation artist may also have the job title of multimedia artist. In a typical day, they take on a variety of responsibilities for the purpose of planning and crafting their art form. Some of the specific job duties of a 3D animator may include:

  • Creating animation and graphics with the aid of computer illustrations and software programs.
  • Spending time researching the project to get ideas for animation.
  • Creating a working model of scenes to be animated in movies, television, or video games. This process is called storyboarding.
  • Receiving feedback from clients and the rest of the design staff and incorporating the responses into project edits.

Animators can be self-employed and will meet with clients to plan the scope of the work, or they will work with a team of other animators and creative professionals. If traditionally employed, 3D animators meet with actresses and actors, directors, game designers, and other animators to decide on specific job functions and establish deadlines for each part of the project.

In addition to strong artistic, visual imaging, and computer skills, it is essential for 3D animators to possess the skills to work as part of a team. Even working with a client directly requires accepting input from someone else about the creative process, which often makes it necessary to compromise for the greater good of the project. 3D animators also need strong organizational skills, attention to even the smallest details (like wind blowing leaves on a tree or a character winking). They need strong design and art skills, good communication and observational skills, and must possess artistic talent, along with proficiency in animation technology. Knowledge in the use of a digital camera, digital paper and pen (such as Solidtek Acecad or Wacom Bamboo), and video compression encoding processes is also essential to compete and succeed in this competitive field.

In addition, 3D animators must have a feel for timing and movement, know when to edit, how men and women move differently, what backgrounds work best for a particular scene, etc. Following the lead of a director or animation director, they will refer to existing layouts, models, designs, and characters when creating the illusion of movement that will appear on the screen.

Related: Interview with Barbara Bernad – 3D Animator & Video Game Developer

What Does It Take to Become a 3D Animator?

Becoming a 3D animator requires more than just education and technical skills. It demands passion, perseverance, and a relentless drive to learn and improve. This is a field where technology and trends change rapidly, and animators must keep pace.

Creativity is the lifeblood of animation. An animator must be able to envision what doesn’t exist and bring it to life. They must be imaginative, innovative, and willing to take risks in their work.

Patience is another indispensable virtue of a successful animator. Animation is a painstaking process that requires a meticulous eye and an unwavering attention to detail. Every frame of animation is a labor of love that takes hours, if not days, to perfect.

The Role of 3D Animators in Different Industries

The realm of 3D animation is not confined to the entertainment industry. These digital artists play vital roles in various sectors, bringing their unique skills to diverse applications.

In the world of advertising, 3D animators create compelling commercials that captivate audiences and promote products or services. In the realm of architecture, they generate realistic, detailed 3D models and walkthroughs that help clients visualize a project before it’s built.

The science and medical fields also benefit from 3D animation. Animators create detailed, accurate animations of complex biological processes, surgical procedures, or scientific concepts, aiding in research, education, and patient communication. Meanwhile, in the video game industry, 3D animators bring characters and environments to life, creating immersive, interactive experiences for players.

3D Animator Education & Training Requirements

Multimedia animation is a competitive field that requires strong educational credentials, a professional portfolio, and experience via an internship, volunteer work, or a part-time job. People with certain personal characteristics do well in this field, such as those who are highly creative and possess strong design skills.


An entry-level position in 3D animation requires successful completion of at least a bachelor’s degree in computer graphicsgraphic design, fine art, or animation. Students should look for programs that focus on art and computer courses.

It is essential to take the time while in school to build a professional portfolio. This should contain up to 30 pieces that display the student’s creative and artistic skills, as well as mastery of computer software programs. Due to the nature of the work, most schools require students to build and manage their portfolio online. Some specific items to include in a portfolio include:

  • Life Drawings

    These can be quick sketches of sustained and gesture drawings of humans or animals in various positions. Life drawings should demonstrate realistic proportions in a variety of angles and poses.
  • Original Character Designs

    This category should show a variety of animated characters highlighting different expressions and poses. Students may also wish to include illustrations, model sheets, and turnarounds.
  • Other Original Work

    This should include computer graphic, design, drawing, painting, or sculpture that demonstrates a wide range of the student’s talents. It should be obvious to the viewer what the student’s personal interests are and who has influenced his or her work the most. 3D images, computer animation, motion graphics, photography, website design, and fine art are all good things to include here.
  • Prop and Location Designs

    This portion of the portfolio should include drawings of locations, scenery, and objects that demonstrate a thorough understanding of line, shadow, light, perspective, design techniques, and color.

Practical Experience, Internships & Volunteering

The best way to stand out to a potential employer in this competitive field is to complete one or more internships while earning a bachelor’s degree. Whether a student obtains their degree online or at a traditional college, he or she should have access to an advisor who can help to locate possible internships. When deciding on 3D animation schools, students should choose one that has a strong internship support program.

A typical internship lasts for at least a semester and gives the student the opportunity to learn more about the field by working closely with a mentor. The internship should provide the chance to complete actual tasks that a 3D animator would do each day and not merely administrative tasks. This will typically include writing papers outlining what they have learned or performed while interning, as well as interviews with various people in the organization.

In addition to full-time formal internships, it’s also a good idea for students in this degree field to volunteer their services at local companies or for people in their social circle who need the help of an animator. However, it does take persistence to find these opportunities. 3D animation students should contact television stations, producers, website designers, and related types of businesses and offer their services at no charge or for a small fee. The goal is to have more content to add to their portfolio and references who can vouch for the student’s quality of work when it comes time to apply and interview for a full-time job in the field.

Continuing Education – Advance Your Career

Master’s degree programs in 3D animation are not common. However, students who are interested in furthering their education can enroll in a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) program and then choose 3D animation as their specialty. Courses at this advanced level focus on perfecting artistic and computer software skills that students learned while completing an undergraduate degree. Specifically, master’s degree programs are more in-depth and explore algorithms used to design animated characters and models. Students will also study the concepts of weight and physics as they relate to animated creations.

A master’s degree program typically requires two years of full-time study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. MFA candidates can expect to spend significant time in the computer lab learning about the technology that makes 3D animation possible. At the end of the MFA program, students will submit a thesis paper on an animation topic of their choice. In lieu of a thesis, some professors may ask for a more developed portfolio or completion of a group project.

To gain a competitive advantage, some people who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in 3D animation choose to earn certification in a specialized area, which may include movie special effects, video game development, or cartooning. A number of online programs exist that enable students to gain this credential.

Helpful Links

3D Animator Salary & Job Outlook


The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people working under the general classification of Multimedia Artists and Animators earned a median annual salary of $72,520 in 2018 for full-time work. This salary represents the average for people with all levels of experience. The lowest 10 percent earned $40,870 while those at the 90th percentile earned $124,310. Of course, salary will depend on location, industry, years of experience and education level attained. According to the BLS, people working as animators earned approximately $20,000 per year more than those in general art and design occupations.

Job Outlook

From now until 2028, the demand for multimedia animators is expected to grow by four percent each year which is only slightly less growth than for all occupations. In addition to a higher salary, those with animation training are expected to be in much higher demand than general artists and designers. Increased demand for visual effects in video games, television, and movies, as well as in graphic design and animation is the reason the demand for these jobs is expected to grow.

As consumer demands for more realistic 3D movie and television programs, as well as video games, continues to increase, the need for more sophisticated equipment to enable this will also increase. Consumers will also purchase newer hardware, which adds to the overall complexity of video games. Studios that create and distribute video games will require more 3D animators to meet the growing expectations of their customers.

In a society that has become increasingly mobile, people expect realistic computer graphics on their smartphones and computers as well. This leaves many openings for people who are skilled at creating 3D animated games and graphics that work well on mobile devices. Companies that have an online presence but are not mobile-responsive will suffer in search engine rankings as Google, and the other search engines penalize those who have not made their websites and games available to mobile users as they have to those who use laptops and traditional computers.

Pros and Cons of Being a 3D Animator

Like any profession, being a 3D animator has its ups and downs. On the plus side, it’s a career that offers immense creative satisfaction. Animators have the opportunity to bring their visions to life, tell stories, and create art that resonates with audiences.

Moreover, the demand for 3D animation is on the rise. With digital media proliferating every aspect of our lives, the need for skilled animators is expected to grow. This translates into numerous job opportunities and the potential for a rewarding career.

On the flip side, the job can be quite demanding. Animators often face tight deadlines, which can lead to long work hours. The work also requires a great deal of patience and attention to detail, which can be mentally exhausting.

Is a 3D Animator a Good Job?

So, is a 3D animator a good job? The answer to that question is subjective and depends on one’s personal goals and values. For those who are passionate about art and storytelling, who thrive on creativity and innovation, being a 3D animator can be an incredibly fulfilling career.

However, it’s also a job that requires a significant investment of time and effort. It demands continuous learning, a commitment to honing one’s craft, and a willingness to navigate the challenges of a rapidly evolving industry.

In conclusion, 3D animation is a dynamic, exciting field that offers a wealth of opportunities for those willing to embrace its demands. It’s a profession that combines art and technology, creativity and skill, vision and execution. And at the heart of it all are the 3D animators, the maestros who wield the magic wand, turning the imaginary into visual reality.

Helpful Organizations & Resources

Aspiring students and current 3D Animation professionals who are hoping to advance their careers can find useful information from the following organizations, professional societies, and web resources.

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