Computer Animator

By TACP Staff on July 15, 2021

Nearly every form of entertainment utilizes the talents and skills of a computer animator. These professionals have honed skills in both the technical aspect of animation; as well as the artistic needs of the industry. Find out now what it takes to acquire and blend your artistic nature with your computer proficiency.

What Is Computer Animation?

Computer animators convert still images into moving images with the aid of several different computer software programs. Animated characters, visual effects, and sound effects are some of the end results of their work. Movies, television shows, video games, websites, and various types of advertisements all depend on computer animation to entertain or inform the intended audience. People who pursue this career need to have strong creative abilities with the skills to turn their ideas into powerful images. Working in computer animation also requires mastering numerous computer programs and having strong technical skills. The ability to work as part of a team and meet tight deadlines are also critical.

What Does a Computer Animator Do?

Computer animators use programs such as Autodesk, Lightwave, Maya, Softimages, Photoshop, and Corel Draw to create a realistic movement for characters in a variety of mediums. The characters may appear as two dimensional (2D) or three dimensional (3D), although many in the field of computer animation now work with 3D graphics exclusively. Software manufacturers continually upgrade programs, which makes staying on top of industry developments an essential component of success. The following are some areas of specialization within the field of computer animation:

  • Character Animation
  • Compositing
  • General Animation
  • Lighting
  • Textures

Before sitting down to create a new piece of animation, people employed in this field meet with their creative team and spend time researching their options. They create a storyboard of the animation to visualize the steps needed to complete the process from beginning to end. After creating the images with a computer software program, they meet with their creative team again to receive feedback. The next step is to make edits based on input from clients, managers, other animators, artists, musicians, and anyone else involved in developing the project from concept to release.

Computer Animator Education & Training Requirements

High school students who know they want to go into computer animation should take computer science, creative writing, and drawing classes if they are available. These help to develop the strong visual and spatial skills needed to do well in this career. Most companies that employ computer animators require them to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. For those who choose to go the route of self-employment, having a degree enables them to show clients a strong portfolio.


Both traditional and online colleges offer a variety of degree options in this growing and competitive field. A bachelor’s degree combines core courses such as mathematics, English, and social sciences with competencies students will need to obtain work once they graduate. Typical course offerings at an animation school include:

  • Technology in the Entertainment and Media Industries
  • Creative Presentation
  • Foundations of 2D and 3D
  • Art Fundamentals
  • Art History
  • Shading and Lighting
  • Character Design and Animation
  • Visual Development
  • Storyboarding
  • Fundamentals of Compositing
  • Production Modeling
  • Animation Production

Additionally, students spend a good percentage of their time preparing their professional portfolios and receiving constructive criticism to improve them. A computer animation portfolio highlights projects the student worked on while earning a degree and should demonstrate his or her very best work. The portfolio should include items like 2D and 3D drawings, sketch art, links to any online work, character drawings, and storyboards. Most companies looking to hire a computer animator consider the work he or she is capable of producing more than any other qualification.

Some students decide to choose a specialty area while earning their degree, such as video game animation. Those who desire to specialize need to ensure that the college they select can accommodate their request for more focused classes as opposed to coursework that provides more of a general overview. Employers and clients typically expect entry-level workers to have a degree in computer animation, graphic design, or fine arts. Associate and master degrees are also available, although the bachelor’s degree remains the most common educational credential for new computer animators.

Earn Practical Experience (Internships & Volunteering)

Most schools that offer computer animation degrees require students to complete at least one internship. This involves working at a company off-site to get hands-on experience with what they have learned so far in college. The work may be unpaid or qualify for a stipend. Some schools offer assistance with internship placement and others do not. Completing an internship at an actual animation studio is ideal for this career. The junior year is the most common time to meet the internship requirement. This gives students the opportunity to learn advanced skills during their senior year having already had the experience of working in the field.

Volunteering is another great way to gain experience as a computer animator. Many organizations would welcome assistance with website design or a related skill, especially charities and non-profits. The student should make it clear that he or she is looking for a professional reference in lieu of financial compensation. All experience matters in the eye of the employer or client, whether paid or not. It also shows that the student takes the initiative to advance his or her own career.

Continuing Education / Advance Your Career

Software programs can become outdated quickly and new technology emerges all of the time. More than many other fields, continuing education is an essential aspect of working in computer animation. Many online colleges offer certificate programs that enable people to master a specific skill or software program. Obtaining an advanced degree is another option to gain upward movement as a computer animator.

Colleges offering a Master of Fine Arts or a Master of Science in this field require completion of a bachelor’s degree in computer animation, art, graphic design or a related field. Submission of a professional portfolio, letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and previous college transcripts are also common requirements. MFA courses focus more on the artistic aspects of computer animation, such as graphics development. A Master of Science is more concerned with the technical aspects of animation, such as digital page formatting.

Where Does a Computer Animator Work?

Computer animators can be either self-employed or employed by an organization. Those who are self-employed, also known as independent contractors, may work from a home office or rent studio space elsewhere. They meet with clients regularly, either in person or by using technology such as Skype or Zoom to show their designs at various stages. Occasionally, they may hire other independent contractors to help meet the specific requirements of a project or a deadline promised to a client.

Those who are traditionally employed work in offices or studios surrounded by equipment they need to get the job done. This includes a computer, a variety of software programs, a large desk space for drawing, and possibly an area devoted to storyboarding. They normally work in close physical proximity to other members of their creative team so they can stop to seek input as needed. Whether self-employed or working for a company, most people in computer animation work full-time with the expectation of overtime when the workload or a pending deadline requires it.

Related Articles

UI UX Designer Salary & Job Outlook


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes computer animators in its classification of multimedia artists and animators. According to its 2017 report, people in this general field earned a median income of just over $73,530 that year. That equates to roughly $34 per hour for full-time work. Workers at the lowest 10 percent of the wage scale earned $39,330 annually while those who reached the 90th percentile earned close to $123,060. Pay largely depends on the area of specialization and general industry. Technical and computer skills also make a big difference. Compared to multimedia artists and animators, general art and design workers average $20,000 less per year.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the general classification of multimedia artists and animators is expected to see a six percent increase in demand between now and 2024, which is one percent higher than the expected growth for all occupations. While it doesn’t keep separate statistics for computer animation, industry consensus is that the demand will be much higher. Multimedia artists and animators held approximately 73,700 jobs in 2017. The reason the demand is expected to be especially high for computer animators is that people expect increasingly complex character depictions in the movies and television shows they watch in addition to the video games they play.

Another big factor driving demand is that smartphone users expect to be able to access the same things on their mobile devices as they can with their laptop or stationary computer. Animators will be needed to create graphics and sound that give mobile users a realistic and satisfactory experience. Growing consumer expectations will also create a larger need for new computer hardware and software development.

Additional Careers in Computer Animation

Literally dozens of career options exist for people with experience and education in computer animation. Below are just some of the possibilities.

Compositing Artist

The role of a compositing artist is one of the most important in the entire production process. This person’s main responsibilities are to assist in the creation of the final animation project by developing compositing strategies and finding and correcting errors. They work with lighting directors to achieve a balanced and aesthetically pleasing look for the animation project before it goes into mass production. Compositing artists also work with elements of digital and live action. Most work in the movie and television industry, although some are employed in advertising or game design.

Flash Animator

A flash animator creates the animation needed for websites, video games, advertising and marketing material, movies, educational material, and more. They work in partnership with creative directors to make sure that the flash animation works well with the technology and design that will be part of the finished product. Some of the specific industries a flash animator may work in include advertising and public relations, educational publishing, game design, and software publishing.

Graphic Designer

graphic designer uses a combination of artistic and technical skills to create logos, website design, commercial packaging, and several other endeavors for a wide variety of industries. People employed in this field create graphics according to the specifications of their client or employer. Their daily work involves working with art, photography, computer software, sound, color, and animation. Popular industries for graphic designers to work in include television and film, manufacturing, advertising, and computer system design.

Storyboard Artist

storyboard artist draws a sequence of pictures for television programs and commercials, animated features, films, video games, music videos, and advertising campaigns. Before starting on the storyboard, they meet with their creative team to determine the story they need to tell through a series of advancing pictures. Each panel of the storyboard features sequencing scenes so the entire production team knows what to expect from the final product. The storyboard artist may draw these scenes by hand or with the aid of a computer software program.

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

Related Digital Arts Careers

Consider these additional careers in Digital Arts.