What Does an Animator Do?

Updated November 26, 2022

If you enjoy art, films, video games, cartoons, and related arts, a career in animation could be right for you. The field evolves quickly, and there are always new animation techniques and styles. Animators are in high demand, and typically work in television, motion picture, gaming, marketing, technical consulting, and advertising industries. In this article, we discuss what an animator is, what they do, and how much they make, and list the top skills you need to follow this career path.

What is an animator?

Animators design or draw a series of images to create the look of movement, and they often use advanced animation software and computers. They can create traditional hand-drawn cartoons to two-dimensional or three-dimensional renderings used in video games, commercials, websites, motion pictures, and other digital platforms. These renderings are known as computer-generated animation or CGI.

What does an animator do?

Animators create a series of images and combine them together to comprise an animation. Some of their creations incorporate storyboards for movies and avatars for video games. Most animators work within a team of other creative professionals, and many animators specialize in a specific area. In some companies, animators working on smaller projects also act as project managers, supervising other team members. Some of the most common duties and responsibilities of animators include:

  • Producing high-quality titles, graphics, and animation

  • Creating animations and mock-ups for visual concepts

  • Creating art for video games and software

  • Creating stop-motion videos with movable models and a series of photos

  • Drafting sketches, layouts, and other graphic elements and making changes after receiving feedback from the rest of the creative team

  • Selecting shapes, colours, and artistic styles for scenery items that inform the story and complement the characters and their actions effectively

  • Establishing guidelines for illustrators and photographers

  • Helping the rest of the creative team develop storyboards for movies, shows, and games

  • Consulting with clients to develop content that meets their objectives

  • Sourcing stock photos, illustrations, or videos as needed

  • Estimating the costs of the materials, time, and other resources needed to complete a project

  • Hiring freelance illustrators or photographers as needed

What is the average salary of an animator?

According to Indeed salary reports, the average pay rate for an animator is $42,744 per year. Animators who specialize in three-dimensional animation, computer animation, or related digital fields usually earn more. The location of the job, your years of experience, education level, the company, and the industry can also influence your pay rate.

What skills do animators need most?

Here are some of the types of skills that employers look for most in an animator:

Technical skills

Animators need to know how to use computer-assisted design (CAD) software and tools like digital drawing programs for tablets. Technical skills are essential for creating animation that matches the dialogue and sound effects of a game or film. Some tools and software animators use most include:

  • Creative design software

  • 3D visual effects software

  • User interface (UI) design

  • Three-dimensional modelling

  • Social media platforms

Read More: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Collaboration and teamwork

Animators usually work as a small part of a larger creative team that includes project managers, marketers, and other animators with different specialties. Animators need to collaborate effectively with others, communicate with clients, and provide progress reports regularly. They also need to follow detailed specifications or instructions. Some important teamwork skills include:

  • Friendliness

  • Empathy

  • Confidence and optimism

  • Ability to understand nonverbal cues such as body language

  • Clear, understandable speech and writing

  • Ability to edit other team members' work and provide feedback

Read More: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples


Animators are talented artists with the ability to think creatively. In addition, they need exceptional drawing, digital sketching, and sculpting skills. They typically help others create scripts and storyboards as well. Developing concepts and bringing them to life with visual animation requires a creative mind.

Critical thinking

Animators use critical thinking and problem solving to create the visual effects and images that clients want as efficiently as possible. They need to troubleshoot technical problems with software and hardware and anticipate the requests of clients as well. The best animators are flexible and willing to adapt to a variety of situations and change creative directions when needed.

Attention to detail

When people look at animation, subtle details are important. Even a tiny error could keep an animation from looking its best and engaging audiences. Animators need the ability to catch slight colour variations, catch continuity issues, and make sure the style is consistent and unified.

Read More: Attention to Detail

Time management and organization

Setting reasonable goals, scheduling tasks, and keeping workspaces neat and organized can help animators manage their time wisely and complete quality work under tight deadlines. The best animators avoid procrastination and finish most projects early. That way, they can have some extra time to work if they need to take care of an unexpected problem. They can work on multiple projects at once, balancing many complex tasks, and they can work alone or with part of a team.

Read More: Time Management Skills: Examples and Definitions

Highlighting your animation skills on a resume

To highlight your animation skills on your resume, place them near the beginning, before your work history. Look at the job description of the position you're applying for carefully, and use the same keywords throughout. Including those keyword skills is attention grabbing and makes you stand out among other candidates. In your work experience section, describe accomplishments for each position, and feature the skills you used to make those achievements.

Read More: What to Include in Your Resume Skills Section

Becoming an animator

Becoming an animator is an excellent way to exercise your creativity while earning generous pay. You can work with talented people and contribute to amazing art. Here are some actions you can take to start your career as an animator:

Get a university degree

A quality education can teach you the knowledge and skills you need to become a successful animator. Most employers require a degree in graphic design, visual art, commercial art, graphic communications, cartooning, or a similar field. You can specialize in several areas, including website animation, video gaming, and visual or special effects. People who want to find a job sooner can get a two-year degree, but their starting pay may be lower. You can take classes to enhance your technical skills and your creativity such as figure drawing, colour theory, character design, modelling, motion physics, and filmmaking.

Create a portfolio

Many degrees related to animation require students to create a portfolio. Even if it's not a requirement for graduation, many employers request a portfolio or other examples of your work before they consider you for an animator position. Ask a professor or a mentor who's already working in animation to help you create a digital art portfolio or demo reel that exhibits your skills.

Update your portfolio regularly, and include both individual work and work you've completed as part of a team. You can also include passion projects in your portfolio if you don't yet have a lot of professional experience. As you progress in your career, you can add to your portfolio and impress employers by showing them your past work. A portfolio that includes a variety, like finished animations, illustrations, storyboards, and mock-ups can show companies you can help with every stage of the animation process.

Gain additional work experience

Undergraduates who are almost done with their educations or people who are starting their careers can apply for positions as interns or animation assistants. These jobs offer hands-on experience and the opportunity to learn from experienced animators who are familiar with the current industry.

They also give you a chance to network with other animation professionals and get useful advice about which specializations are in demand most and which ones usually have the best pay rates. When you apply for another, more senior position, you can ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation. Consider gaining experience through small, freelance, or contract projects. You can also volunteer for a nonprofit organization or enter an online animation contest.

Continue developing your skills

The most valuable animator candidates are familiar with the latest animation technologies and trends, and they update their skills often to stay competitive. Many employers offer continuing education classes. For example, some institutions offer postgraduate certificates in three-dimensional animation and other specialties for people who want to expand their knowledge. Many of these certificates take less than a year to complete. You can also read trade publications, attend conferences, and keep up with industry trends.

Consider a graduate program

Depending on your specialty, a postgraduate degree may be useful. You can learn more advanced animation techniques and eventually get hired for more challenging projects and eventually a leadership role. You can even study computer programming to work on developing your own animation software or techniques. Research your options and consult with your network to decide which university, program, or specific courses to complete.

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

Explore more articles

  • What Does a Physician Assistant Do? (With Job Requirements)
  • What Is an Information System Technician? (With Skills)
  • What Does a Science Writer Do? With Duties, Skills, and Tips
  • What Are Leasing Manager Skills? (And How to Improve Them)
  • 12 Entry-Level Financial Jobs (With Average Salaries)
  • What Does a Software Development Engineer in Test Do?
  • 11 Asset Management Careers (With Their Duties and Salaries)
  • How to Write a Job Inquiry Letter (With Tips and Example)
  • 10 Helpful Tips for Finding Jobs for Writing from Home
  • What Is a Digital Marketing Coordinator? (With Requirements)
  • What Is Operational Supervision? (With Tips and Salary)
  • What Is an ER Technician? (With Job Requirements and Skills)