You’ve loved animation for all of your life and have always been wowed by the magic of Pixar and Disney characters as they light up the screen in color.
If you know animation is your true passion, then you’ll be happy to know that it is the best time in history to be an animator with more resources at our fingertips (literally) than ever before.
If you feel this creative profession is your calling, you may be wondering how to break into this competitive industry and what will be required of you to get started.
Do you need a degree to become an animator? Yes and no. You can be a successful animator without a degree, but having one will make you more competitive. Many companies will require a degree in Animation, Graphic Design, or a related field. However, freelancing is a way to build that all-important portfolio.
With fewer companies paying benefits and full-time compensation, fewer employers can expect candidates to have a college degree. It is a wonderful time in the digital age to apply for animation gigs on freelancing sites and not tie yourself down to any one employer.
This guide will cover the degree-debate on how necessary it really is, options if you do want to go to school for animation, and options if you want to self-train and avoid student loans!
Need a Degree to Become an Animator?
Animation is a growing field with more and more channels like Netflix and Hulu, more video games than ever, and a growing number of brands requiring animated marketing content.
We are enjoying more entertainment and animation, which means we need more animators!
These wages are based on most employees that have a college degree but some of the major animation jobs and their average compensations are:
- Animator: $76K on average, ranging between $50K and $122K annually
- Computer Animator: $65K on average, ranging between $22K and $150K annually
- Video Game Designer: $130K on average, ranging between $50K and $400K annually
Although the above salaries assume the animators have degrees, that is not necessarily the case. Having a degree will not make you a good animator. It does show that you are willing to invest 4+ years into the field. Check out this link and this one for more info on the salaries.
Keep in mind that these are full-time positions which will usually require a college degree. Even EDU Choices Organization says that “most employers require that animators have at least a bachelor’s degree.”
Those animators who are freelancers and do contract work are much less likely than a full-time job to require a college degree. If you don’t want a college degree, stick to the freelancing method until your portfolio is built up enough to surpass the requirement of a degree.
People with raw talent cannot be ignored for long, and with the rise of freelance and contract employment, less and less hires are going to school for any degree or certification.
Is Experience Better Than a Degree?
There is a legitimate argument for having an extensive professional background in which you trained at a real animation job, spending the time you could have been getting a degree to get hands-on experience in your field.
Just as an internship is an invaluable part of your college experience, freelancing can serve the same purpose as an internship. And although an internship might not pay (or pay little), contract work can bring in more money.
In addition, fewer employers wanting to pay benefits for full-time employees. According to the Houston Chronicle, contract workers compensation can be as much as 40% more than full-time employees.
Employers want the talent without having to pay benefits – so start by trying to find freelancing animation gigs that will not require an animation degree in most cases.
Applicant Tracking Systems
We would all prefer to live in a world where others judge on talent alone, but sadly it’s not that simple.
The times have changed, and fewer and fewer applicants are sliding through the system without investing in their education.
This is because of companies like Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, or other popular job sites are using tracking systems to track potential candidates. This is another hurdle you have to jump to get a fulltime job. (If you want to see how many systems are in use, check out this site).
An Applicant Tracking System is a computer-based program that uses AI features to sort potential employees. If you don’t have that college degree, the program might immediately reject your resume.
With the incredible amount of applications they get in a day (sometimes hundreds!) employers needed a way to sift through the candidates and throw out the ones that did not match their standards or requirements. In many cases, this requirement is a degree.
Luckily, some have worked to develop a way to get around the applicant tracker robots. With this resource, you might be able to get your resume into human hands. This is the sad and scary truth of the matter but here is a resource to utilize on beating the ATS robots and getting your resume into human hands.
More and More People are Getting Degrees
The percentage of people who have degrees has gone from one-third to one-fourth:
- Ages 65+: 27% have a BA or higher
- Ages 45-64: 32% have a BA
- Ages 25-34: 36% have a BA
The competition is rising, and you will need to do considerably more to stand out against incredible talent.
Some ideas to spice up your ‘Education’ section if you do not have that college degree includes:
- Any certification or animation class you’ve taken (Fundamentals 2D and 3D, Visualization, etc.)
- Being certified in animation software or
- Published animation
- Real client work that has sold
- An impressive portfolio
Financial Aid If You’re Leaning Towards a Degree
In case you want to enhance your animation capabilities (or just avoid the sabotage of an ATS system), here are some resources to get you started on your education journey:
- Animation Scholarship from Collegescholarships.org
- World of Scholarships Animation
- Art Scholarships and Financial Aid
- GLAS Grant Animation
Each school will have a financial aid section on their home page so you can seek out the university you most-favor, then proceed from there.
Self-Teaching in Animation
Not everyone has the funds or time to invest in college at this moment in their lives. And it’s not always necessary. If now is not the right time for college, I would encourage you to teach yourself and learn about the subjects within animation that you want to learn about, instead of the ones you are assigned by a professor that may be far removed from the animation game and contemporary industry.
Sometimes if you want something done right, you have to teach yourself. Some steps to take if you’re ready to teach yourself animation includes:
- Draw – Draw literally all the time. Focus on drawings that create the effect of motion.
- Start reading – here are some books that provide inspiration:
- Invest in Animation software – this software will help you create awesome animations for your portfolio:
- Adobe Animate
- Toon Boom Animation
- Stop Motion Animation
- Adobe After Effects
- TV Paint
- Take an Online Class from Pixar or just scour YouTube for all of the best beginner videos to see it in a visual format (especially if you are a more visual learner).
- Build a portfolio – If you’re utilizing the Above products, you will have a free portfolio through the Adobe page, and here are 10 Free Portfolio Websites for you to display your best work.
- Apply to gigs and start cheap – build that portfolio, and when you’ve proven yourself more, you can raise the price of your work and charge clients more.
- Raise your price as quality increases – know your worth and don’t accept low pay forever. Once your work has reached the level of others or is surpassing their quality of work, raise your prices accordingly.
Whether you have that degree or not, your work speaks for itself. Adjust to the reality that if you apply to 100 jobs, you may get a response from 1% of them. Do you want 1% of 100 gigs or 1,000 gigs? Apply more frequently if you’re not getting the results you are seeking.
Growth in the Animation Field & Final Tips
With all of these wonderful animation opportunities and video game designers making millions of dollars a year in some cases, it’s an exciting time to be an animator.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “Employment of multimedia artists and animators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028.”
There’s no wrong answer because getting a degree will offer you:
- More opportunities
- And a higher
Not getting the degree will:
- Make it easier in the short-term with less on your plate
- Spare you from teachers that may not assign what you want to learn about
- And save you thousands in student loans and debt.
The formula that works for one animator won’t always work for another. Try it on your own and see if you feel the need to invest in your education. It may be necessary to enroll in school, but you’ll never know the right option unless you take that first step in either direction.
If your portfolio is amazing and you’re the most jaw-dropping animator in the world, those who need your work will see your talent, paper or not.