How to Become an Animator (with or without a Degree)

Animation is an exciting job that allows you to exercise your creative talents by crafting moving images. Animators’ work can be seen in film, television, websites, mobile apps, video games, and more, making for a diverse career field.

If you’re thinking of becoming an animator, you’ll have an exciting career path ahead of you. Find out how to become an animator below.

What Does an Animator Do?

Animators create visual animations using various technologies, including hand-drawing and computer software. Animators use such tools to create individual frames and then put them together in a sequence to create the illusion of movement.


Animators may work with various animation formats, including 2D, 3D, stop-frame, and computer-generated. Many fields need animation. Animators may find work with governments, non-profits, advertising agencies, and film and television studios.

Skills Needed to Become an Animator

Animators need to have a good visual eye and a grasp of fundamental art skills. For 3D animation positions, it’s good to know geometry. In terms of technical skills, animators need to master software like Maya, Studio Max, After Effects, and Premiere.

Think you need a refresher on art fundamentals? Check out our guide on How to Become an Artist without Going to Art School.

In addition to such hard skills, animators will also have soft skills to thrive. These could include good communication, creativity, motivation, and patience. Animators must also be skilled storytellers to create compelling narratives and willing to work in a team.

Animator Career Prospects and Salary

If you’re considering becoming an animator, you will have excellent career prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is expected to grow much faster than average, at a rate of 16%, from 2020 to 2030.

You can also expect to earn good money as an animator. The median animator salary as of 2020 is an estimated $77,700 annually. Of course, salaries can vary significantly depending on the position and your experience.

How Can You Become an Animator?

Convinced you want to pursue animation as a profession. Great. Read on to find out how to become an animator.

Invest in Your Education

You will need specific credentials to start your animation career. Some animator jobs require a degree. There are degrees in both 2D and 3D animation offered at many universities. There are also special programs for fields like film or game design.

Having a degree can jumpstart your career. Check out the Animation Career Review to see an overview of potential programs. That said, a degree isn’t always needed, so don’t despair if you can’t afford one or don’t have time for one. A great portfolio can help make up for it.

Hone Your Skills

You can further hone your animation skills using free or low-cost learning platforms like Udemy or Skillshare. There are world class courses available for very low cost.  Just check reviews and look for at least a 4.6 rating with hundreds of reviews. Even if you pursue a formal degree, these tools are great for keeping up with industry updates and honing your expertise in select niches.

Master Essential Software

Animators need to have keen creative skills. It would be best to be adept in art and drawing, including art fundamentals like proportion, anatomy, and perspective. However, the modern animation field also requires technical expertise.

Take the time to master popular animation software like After Effects, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Studio Max. You don’t need to be a master in all of these programs but should have at least a few listed on your resume.

Not sure if your hardware will keep up with the software? Check out our guides on the Best Laptops for After Effects and Best Laptops for 3D Modeling.

Build Your Resume

Once you’ve gotten your educational credentials and honed your skills, it’s time to start building a resume. Tailor your resume towards future animation jobs, listing relevant software, degrees, and professional experience, such as internships.

When applying for specific jobs, you can also further specify your resume accordingly. For example, if you’re applying for a job in 2D animation, highlight your experience in that field (e.g., by listing specific projects you’ve worked on).

Start Building Professional Experience

You can boost your resume by gaining professional experience early on. Before you get a full-time job as an animator, you’ll need to get some real-world skills. You can do this by applying for internships or entry-level gigs.

Take advantage of opportunities to collaborate, even on all smaller projects. This is also an opportunity to start building your professional network, which you can use to find jobs in the future.

Put Together a Demo Reel

When you apply to jobs, you will be asked to provide a demo reel. This is a two to four-minute clip that shows off your best projects. Choose your favorites and trim them down to the superior snippets you want to show off.

Note that most employers have strict requirements for demo reels. Review the requirements beforehand to make sure you don’t miss any details. For example, the time constraints vary between employers.

Create a Portfolio

In addition to a demo reel, you should also create a portfolio. This will further showcase your talents beyond the two to four minutes a demo reel allows. Most potential employers first look at the reel and then proceed to the portfolio if they’re interested.

Keep Up with Industry Trends

You’ve got your first gig in the animation field. Congratulations! However, the work doesn’t end here. Animation is a constantly evolving field, and it’s essential to keep up with the latest industry trends.

There are a few ways to do this. You can follow trade publications and blogs online and interact with other animators via social media. Industry conferences are likewise useful. Finally, watch other animations! Seeing others’ work will let you stay abreast of current trends.

The Final Word on How to Become an Animator

Becoming an animator requires an investment of time and effort. You’ll also have to put some money towards your dream, such as getting the educational credentials you’ll need to get started. That said, you can expect good job prospects and a solid salary if you go this route.

More importantly, this type of creative work can be highly fulfilling. You’ll get the opportunity to see the things you create in all kinds of formats, from websites to television screens—or even the big screen. This is a fantastic reward allowing for priceless career satisfaction.