How to Become a 3D Animator (With Skills and Average Salary)

Updated January 26, 2023

If you have creative talents and are passionate about visual storytelling, a career in 3D animation may excite you. 3D animators create mobile characters and objects using animation software. Learning the path to becoming a 3D animator can help you decide on your next career step to get started in this creative field. In this article, we discuss how to become a 3D animator, explain what these creative professionals do, outline the skills and typical salary of successful 3D animators, and cover answers to common questions about working as a 3D animator.

How to become a 3D animator in 5 steps

Explore these steps on how to become a 3D animator if you're creative and considering a career in animation:

1. Earn a bachelor's or associate degree

Completing a university or college program is typically the first step to becoming a 3D animator. Majors to consider include animation, computer graphics, and design. Earning a degree can help you gain the artistic skills to succeed as a 3D animator and learn the technical proficiencies required by employers. You can expect to take courses on modelling techniques, animation technology, computer design, motion graphics, and figure drawing. Evaluate your interests in 3D animation to choose a suitable program that can prepare you for a rewarding career in this creative field.

2. Explore 3D animation specializations

Many 3D animators specialize in creating a type of animated image. For example, you may enjoy developing human, object, or landscape animations. Choosing a specialization can help you advance your career quickly. As 3D animations are useful in various settings, it's also important to decide the field you want to create motion graphics for and why. For example, your animations may be useful for movies, ads, video games, or computer applications. Choosing specializations can also offer you direction when searching for job opportunities.

Related: 5 Types of Animation Styles and Top Careers in Animation

3. Gain relevant work experience

Consider working as an intern to prepare for your career as a 3D animator. This experience can help you apply the theoretical concepts you learned from your degree program. You can also work on personal projects and show them to experienced animators and creative directors for constructive criticism. Depending on your career goals, consider working as an assistant to a professional 3D animator to gain valuable work experience. You may also volunteer to create visually appealing animations for nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, and connections.

4. Build an animation portfolio

As you develop your artistic skills and gain more experience, create a portfolio of your best animations. This document can influence an employer's hiring decision, so it's essential you show appealing and engaging projects. Your portfolio also offers an opportunity to demonstrate your stylistic, artistry, and technical proficiency. You can post your portfolio on a personal website or your profile on professional networking platforms to increase its visibility to hiring managers and clients.

Related: Online Portfolio (With Benefits and Steps To Create One)

5. Engage in continuing learning

Continue to develop your skill set and expand your knowledge to remain competitive. Employers invest in the latest technology for 3D animation projects, which they expect you to know how to use efficiently. You can take courses that cover advancements in technology at technical colleges, universities, and colleges. You also want to improve your artistic skills by networking with other skilled animators and using online resources.

Read more: How to Become an Animator

What does a 3D animator do?

3D animators create motion graphics in three dimensions for businesses and individual clients. Here are the primary duties and responsibilities of these creative professionals:

  • discussing animation ideas with clients and creative directors

  • researching design ideas

  • drafting animation designs, models, and storyboards according to the requirements

  • defining animation proportions and recreating realistic environments and layouts

  • animating characters, creatures, and objects

  • implementing movement mechanics

  • collaborating with storytellers, voice-over artists, graphics designers, and product designers to improve animations

  • integrating sound and visual effects to animations

Read more: What Does an Animator Do?

What skills does a 3D animator use at work?

Here are the essential skills to develop and become a successful 3D animator:


As an artist, creativity can help you express your ideas and understanding of animation requirements. Converting realistic objects and characters into digital images is a common way to apply your creativity as a 3D animator. Creativity is also useful for making animations and their motions memorable. For example, you may use special effects, such as slow-motion, to emphasize actions. Similarly, you may change the view of an animation to highlight its next movement.

Read more: 7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills

Computer literacy

Working as a 3D animator requires you to use animation software extensively. From programs to create game animations to applications for simulating environments, many software programs are available to 3D animators. Improving your ability to use computer systems and software applications is crucial for workplace success as an animator.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is the ability to focus, be mindful, and complete your work thoroughly. Many technologies work on high resolutions, requiring 3D animators to focus on character and object details and ensure they are accurate. For example, if software designers create video games in 4K resolutions, you can expect to be responsible for ensuring the character's details meet the resolution's requirements. Becoming more detail-oriented can help you create more realistic animations.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to examine subjects objectively and generate conclusions or ideas. As a 3D animator, this skill can help you decide on an animation idea and concept. For example, you may use your critical thinking skills to evaluate the strengths of motion effects and their suitability for your project.


Organizational skills describe your ability to use resources effectively. Completing a 3D animation project typically requires you to create multiple files of different characters and objects. Keeping these documents in folders can help you stay organized. Organizational skills are also essential for maintaining design notes and tracking your progress on animation projects.

Related: What Are Organizational Skills? (With Improvement Tips)

Time management

Time management is the ability to use your time effectively. This ability can help you complete tasks quickly to ensure production progresses as planned. Improving your time management skill involves planning your workday and prioritizing animation tasks.


Teamwork is the ability to work as part of a team. As a 3D animator, you can expect to work in creative teams and collaborate with technical professionals. For example, if you're working on an animation for movie production, you often work with the production manager, voice-over artist, and screenwriter. Developing your teamwork and interpersonal skills can help you work effectively with others.

Related: What Are the Qualities of a Good Team Player?

Average salary and work environment

The national average salary for a 3D animator is $84,071 per year. After receiving an offer, you can negotiate your pay and employee benefits to align with your expected contributions. Decide whether you want to work as an employee in a company, get freelance jobs, work as a contractor, or start a business. Regardless of the employment option you choose, you can expect to work extensively on your computer system or with a tablet and stylus out of an office or remotely.

FAQs about becoming a 3D animator

Here are responses to common questions about starting a career in 3D animation:

What is the difference between 2D animation and 3D animation?

2D animations involve drawing frames of key poses. If a section isn't visible, a 2D animator may not include it. For example, if a 2D character's body covers areas of their hand, you typically don't need to draw or animate the hand. In comparison, all parts of a character or object are always visible in 3D animations, and you can expect to draw and animate them. While you can create frames only when a 2D character or object moves, you typically keep 3D characters and objects constantly moving.

What is a 3D animator's typical workday?

3D animators often start their workday by reviewing animation requirements with clients or stakeholders. After brainstorming ideas and designs, they build characters and objects using 3D modelling software. Next, they rig the objects and characters, which is the process of virtually representing them in their natural movements. Then, they position rigs at strategic points to create an illusion of movement. 3D animators may also use motion capture, which involves recording an actor's motions for digital animation. After creating the required animation, they review it with the creative director or client before working with creative professionals to make it more realistic.

How can you develop your animation skills?

Here are the best practices to develop your animation skills:

  • Follow industry professionals and learn from their animations.

  • Get a mentor who can help you improve your skills and provide valuable insights.

  • Practice creating animations regularly.

  • Network with your peers and other 3D animators and designers.

Is 3D animation a fulfilling career path?

3D animation is a career path that can bring happiness. Creating 3D animations can be a fun and memorable way to make viewers connect with a storyline, advertisement, video game, or campaign. 3D animation can also be an exciting way to recreate objects around you and express your creative ideas.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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