Animation School and Career Guide for Students

As a field, animation has come a long way. After all, it simply started out because traditional artists wanted to experiment. They wanted to see if it was possible to make a film and tell a story by animating a bunch of hand-drawn illustrations. But what started out as experimentation soon became much bigger than anyone thought.

Nowadays, you see products of animation everywhere. You see them as films, TV shows, video games, and many more. In fact, the growth of animation is impressive, especially for a field that only officially began not even a century ago yet.

And of course, the rise in popularity of animation comes with the rise in the number of aspiring animators out there. But pursuing education and, eventually, a career of animation is not an easy task. There are so many things to remember that it will easily get overwhelming.

However, if you’re an aspiring animator yourself, there’s no need to worry. This is the purpose of this post: to help you get the information about animation, industry trends, available careers, and the education that you’ll need.

So, here are the things that you need to know about animation, animation school, and animation careers:

What Makes a Good Animator?

Let’s first begin with the basics, and that would be what skills and innate traits that an animator should have. After all, not everyone can become an animator because animation is a challenging profession. So, if you’re really serious about pursuing a career in this field, you should have these traits and skills.

As an animator, you should be:

  • Artistic
  • Creative
  • Coordinated
  • Visual
  • Logical

In addition to those traits, you should also have these skills:

  • Good communication skills
  • Computer and graphics skills
  • Good decision-making ability
  • Good problem-solving skills
  • And excellent time-management skills

If you have these traits and skills, pursuing a career in animation will be less daunting to you.

What Area of Animation Should You Focus On?

As was mentioned earlier, animation has become a very broad field, so it has a lot of areas that you can focus on. That is why as early as possible, you need to figure out where your talent lies so that you can determine which area of animation you’d like to study. Here are some of the most common areas of focus in animation:

Fine Arts

In Fine Arts, you’ll typically learn the fundamentals. It’s here where you get to learn about colour theory, architecture, character movement, layout, composition, and lighting. aside from learning the theoretical side of things, you will also get the chance to apply everything you’ve learned into practice. In other words, in the fine arts area of animation, you will focus on the application of art theories that are a solid foundation for animation careers.


Modelling is the process of developing a mathematical representation of any surface of an object in three dimensions. As such, it is considered as the crux of animation. After all, to make a successful animated film, TV show, or video game, you need to have realistic and believable models and characters. So, if you think that you’re good at creating realistic models for a project, you can consider focusing on modelling when you study animation.

Computer Animation

Simply put, computer animation is a process that allows you to digitally generate animated images. It is essentially the digital successor to the stop motion technique of animation, and it uses both 3D models and traditional animation techniques, particularly the frame-by-frame animation of 2D illustrations. As a result, if you focus on this area, you’ll learn both 2D and 3D animation techniques and, eventually, how to apply both in any animation project.

Special Effects

Special effects, often abbreviated as SFX, SPFX, or FX, are essentially just illusions or visual tricks to simulate the imagined events in a story or virtual world. In the world of animation, one of the most commonly used special effects technologies is the computer-generated imagery (CGI), which is the process of creating either static or dynamic images. But aside from CGI, which is undoubtedly popular, there are other ways to achieve special effects, and you’ll learn all about them in this area of animation.

Related article: Game Design School and Career Guide for Students

Common Topics Across Specialties

Once you’ve finally decided on which area you want to focus on in animation school, you will delve deeper into a curriculum that will eventually help you become proficient in that said area. However, even though you’ve already chosen a specialization, that doesn’t mean that that area will be the only one you’ll get to study. You’ll also get to learn about some aspects of the other areas since your curriculum will allow you to study common subjects. Some of the common subjects that you might study include:

  • 2D and 3D animation
  • Cartooning styles
  • Colour and composition
  • Drawing skills
  • Depicting emotion
  • Lifedrawing
  • Filmmaking techniques and elements
  • Storyboarding
  • Storytelling
  • Shading and lighting
  • Rigging
  • Motion capture
  • History of animation
  • Marketing
  • Creating a portfolio or demo reel
  • Software training

So, even though some of these animation courses may not be your specialization, take advantage of them nonetheless. You’ll discover in time that these classes may turn out to be influential in your own work as a future animator.

Animation School: Campus vs. Online


Just like any school out there, of course, the first thing that will come to mind when we think about attending an animation school is the traditional one. And by “traditional,” we mean the typical university or college setting, complete with campus and various classrooms that you can go to.

Obviously, the greatest advantage of attending an on-campus animation school is the fact that you’ll get a hands-on, experiential kind of education. In a classroom setting, you’ll learn about the theoretical aspects of animation while also engaging with the teacher and the other students. In other words, there’s an active communication going on in this scenario. And aside from the active learning, you’ll also have access to the technologies needed in your chosen area as the school definitely has them.

In other words, in an on-campus animation school, you will get to learn about animation theories as well as apply those theories into practice in the same setting. The campus is very conducive to learning all about animation.


However, even though an on-campus animation school is a great idea, not everyone has the chance to get to one. For one thing, it costs a lot to attend an on-campus animation school, and not everyone is capable of that. And for another, not everyone has a school near them to attend to. So, for some aspiring animators out there, an on-campus animation school is out of the picture.

Luckily for them, they have an alternative solution, and that is to take an online animation program. Essentially, the curriculum in an online animation program is almost similar to an on-campus program. The primary difference between the two is simply the fact that the scheduling for online animation schools is more lenient and flexible.

In an online animation school, you can complete your coursework anywhere, so long as there is an Internet connection. Sometimes even, the programs are structured in an asynchronous way, which means that you can view lectures and do assignments whenever you’re able. Basically, an online animation school is a perfect choice for those who are working students, as well as those who aren’t capable of attending an on-campus school.

But although an online animation school proves to be a great choice for a lot of people, it does have its own downsides. For one thing, you won’t have the same active learning classroom experience you’ll get from an on-campus school. Plus, you also won’t have access to the school’s technologies, so you have to either buy them for yourself or find another way.

Other than these differences, you’ll still learn the same things. So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you choose to go to an on-campus animation school or an online one. Both have their pros and cons, and you need to figure out for yourself which is the better fit for you.

Related article: How Much Money Does Animation School Tuition Cost in Canada?

After School: Working as an Animator

Job Roles in Animation

So, let’s say you’re finally done with your education in animation. What now? You obviously have to look for a job to officially start your animator journey. But you’re probably scratching your head now because you don’t know what kind of jobs are available out there in the field of animation. You’re not even sure if there are actually animation jobs out there.

But don’t you worry. There is undoubtedly a demand for animators in our world right now. So, one way or the other, you’ll definitely become an animator in your own right. To help you narrow down your options, here is a list of the most in-demand job roles in animation:

  • 2D Animator
  • 3D Animator
  • Key Frame Animator
  • Art Director
  • Character Technical Director
  • Scientific Visualization Developer
  • Image Editor
  • Modeller
  • Character Animator
  • Compositing Artist
  • Texture Artist
  • Layout Artist
  • Lighting Artist
  • Story Board Artist
  • Background Artist
  • Clean Up Artist
  • Rigging Artist
  • Rendering Artist
  • Digital Ink and Paint Artist

Factors That Affect Animator Salaries

Animation may be a multi-billion dollar industry right now, and it does offer a great employment scope and career opportunities for everyone. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to pinpoint the exact salary of animators. After all, there are a lot of factors that can influence animation salaries. The following are only some of these factors, though they are the most common ones:

  • The kind of company you work for: Are you working for a large studio, like DreamWorks? Or are you working in a small studio? The prominence of the studio you’re working on may influence how much you will get paid.
  • How much experience you have: Have you been in the animation industry for years now? You’re definitely receiving more for your salary.
  • Your education level: If you’ve studied college in an animation school, chances are you’ll also get a bigger salary.
  • Where you live: Some places have a high cost for living, so to counter this, the companies in that particular place will also give out a higher salary for their workers. Usually, these places are big cities.
  • Whether you work on a contract or full-time/permanent basis: With a contract, you may only receive a fixed amount for your salary. However, if you work full-time, you have more chances of growth both in your salary and in your career in general.

An Estimation: How Much Are Animators Getting Paid?

Even though it’s difficult to determine the exact salary of those people working in animation, we can at least make rough estimates. It’s pretty crucial for aspiring animators to know the rough estimations of their possible salaries at the very least. After all, they want to pursue a career in this field, and understandably, they’d want to know how much they’re going to get paid.

So, if you’re curious about how much you can expect to get paid, read on. These are the rough estimates of the most common job roles in the field of animation:


Whether you’re a traditional animator who draws with pencil and paper or you’re someone who prefers 3D-generated tools, it is reported that the average annual salary that animators get is $64,000 every year. Of course, like what was mentioned earlier, this number can get lower or higher based on a number of factors. In fact, the range is a pretty wide one: some animator salaries start as low as $30,000. But they can also rise to over $100,000. In other words, salaries for animators greatly vary, depending on a lot of factors.

Generally speaking, the motion picture industry tends to pay a bit more than gaming or design. And in addition to that, animation and design offer a few more geographical areas that are attracting talents like Vancouver, Sydney, London, and New Zealand.

Art Director

Art directors are essentially those who have the creative control and whose main task is to oversee budgets and training. In other words, in animation, art directors are those who call the shots. They’re the “senior” employees, basically. And because of this and of the fact that they handle a lot of responsibilities and duties, they get a high salary. The rough estimate for art directors is around $72,000 per years.

3D Modeler

Just like the animator position, the salary of 3D modellers varies greatly as well. On average, 3D modellers take on around $68,000 a year. But the pay can get as high as $100,000 if you’re working for big-time companies like Disney.

That said, it’s been reported that many 3D modelling jobs, especially the entry-level ones, pay hourly, and the median hourly pay is around $27.

Compositing Artist

Compositing artists are those who are concerned with the finish and style of animated works. They detect and fix errors in animated works toward the end of the production process. For them, the average salary is within the range of $52,000 and $75,000 a year.

Like with most animation jobs, entertainment capitals like Los Angeles and New York tend to offer more. But remember that the markets in these cities are also competitive, so it’s really difficult to land a job in either of them.

Character Rigger

Character riggers are those who work on the skeleton, anatomies, and geometries of 3D characters. They also manipulate how they interact with the 3D environment. Because of this responsibility, character riggers should have a lot of skills and experience that can only be learned over time. So, the salary for a character rigger who is fairly new to the industry (with about three to five years of experience) is about $46,000 a year. But as time passes by, they can expect to receive about $84,000 a year after being in the industry for six years and more.

Texture Artist

Texture artists are the ones responsible for putting fur, wrinkles, scales, and other texture details into animated objects and characters. As such, their average salary is said to be around $54,000. But it can get as low as $35,000 and as high as $95,000.

Technical Artist

Technical artists are highly sought-after, not just because of their artistic skills but also because of their technical skills that are only learned through a strong foundation and years of experience. For them, their average salary is reported to be around $67,000 a year. But in a hot market like San Francisco, it can get as high as $72,000.

Character Technical Director

A character technical director is a heavily experienced, senior role that oversees the entire scope of work on characters, creatures, and objects. Because of this, their average salary is said to be around $89,000. But in major entertainment cities, like the Los Angeles metro area, this number can get as high as $100,000.

Scientific Visualization Developer

Scientific visualization developers are the ones who use formulas and engineering to create models that can calculate the most precise movements in animation or complex processes for use in academic and high-tech fields. For this job position, you will need degrees in both math and computer animation. It sounds really demanding, but it also pays a lot: the average pay is around $93,000 a year.

Other Possible Salaries for Other Jobs

Animation Job

Median Annual Salary

Story Artists


Background Painters


Effects Animators


Lead Lighters




The field of animation is a booming industry right now. It offers such a wide scope of employment and career opportunities for a lot of people. And it also allows the inner creativity of people to shine through. As a result, working in this field has proven to be really lucrative, thus making a lot of people to aspire to work in animation someday.

But for newbie aspiring animators, it can get overwhelming very fast just trying to figure out how to start their animator journey. There are so many things to consider.

What school should you go to? What area of focus should I choose? What kind of job position should I apply to? How much will I get paid? So many questions, and in the end, they’ll probably just have a headache trying to answer them all.

So, that is the purpose of this post: to guide you in your animator journey. Of course, not everyone’s journey is the same, but it helps to have a guide. So, read this post thoroughly and start thinking about where you want to be as an animator in the future. Use this guide to help you make some decisions. And who knows — in the next few years or so, your name will be hailed as one of the most beloved animators in the industry.