National Careers Week: Become an Animator

In honour of National Careers Week 2017, we’re profiling some of the latest jobs from Careers 2017.

Next on the list of roles is Animator – download a PDF of this job profile here:

Animator job profile

Qualifications and courses

Entry requirements vary, however you will usually need an HND, Foundation degree or degree in animation, art and design, media production (animation) or a related area for an entry level position. Since animation is a highly competitive industry, a relevant postgraduate qualification in a subject such as directing animation, digital animation or games design and development will almost certainly be an asset.

A portfolio of relevant work demonstrated by a show reel is essential. Some people study a Foundation course in art and design before starting their degree in order to develop a portfolio. 5 GCSEs/National 5s (A*–C/A–C) are usually required for this. Unpaid work experience as a general or animation assistant is also a good way to build up relevant skills, as is applying for a residency.

The usual entry position for animators is studio runner. There are no entry requirements for this position, so candidates without a degree/HND who are particularly talented may still be able to break in, but in practice most runners are graduates. Progression could then be to a junior role such as assistant animator, storyboard artist, inbetweener or digital painter.

Entering animation competitions, submitting short films and ideas to broadcasters or visiting festivals are all good ways to show enthusiasm, develop your reputation and increase your chances of finding work. Building a network of contacts can help you get started and find work in the future.

What the work involves

Animators produce images that appear to come to life on the screen, for use by TV companies, games developers, on websites and in films and adverts.

There are 4 specialisms: traditional (2D drawn), 2D computer generated, 3D computer generated and stop frame or stop motion. In all of these styles you will work to create a continuous story.

Type of person suited to this work

  • You will need strong creative flair and imagination to develop new ideas for animated stories and characters.
  • You must have excellent computer skills; a knowledge of software such as Flash, Maya and After Effects is essential. However modelling and life drawing are still important.
  • You must be patient, have a keen eye for detail and be able to work in a team as well as under pressure.
  • Problem-solving skills are also necessary in a job where you might need to adapt to technical challenges.

Working conditions

  • Your working environment will depend on the type of animation you do.
  • In some jobs, you will work with tools to hand-create images or forms in different materials and you could be on your feet (using your hands) all day: bending, lifting and shaping models.
  • On the other hand, many new animation jobs involve work with specialist computer-aided design (CAD) packages at a computer console; this can be done individually or as part of a team.
  • Most of your work will be done during normal office hours except when projects have tight deadlines!

Future prospects

This is a highly competitive field. Although there are still some opportunities for traditional drawing-based animators, the main area of growth is in computer generation.

The UK is good for stop motion and children’s animation opportunities and the video games industry is also doing very well, however you may have to move abroad for opportunities in other types of animation. Within the UK the best places for opportunities are London, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee and Manchester.

Once in the industry, contracts are usually short term, but it is possible to move from working as a key animator to an animation director role. At senior levels, you would have more creative input and be less directly involved with the technical side. With experience, you could set up as a freelance animator or start your own company.

Advantages/disadvantages

  • This type of work can be highly satisfying, providing opportunities to develop your own creative ideas and style.
  • Animation is rising in popularity amongst the public with many animated films being highly successful at the box office.
  • In more commercial jobs, you would need to produce work under pressure to meet a client’s requirements.

Money guide

  • The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) sets minimum wage guidelines.
  • In the computer games industry bonuses at the end of a project are common.
  • A new animator can expect a starting salary between £12,000 and £20,000 per year.
  • An experienced animator could earn up between £23,000 and £30,0000 and senior animators can expect a salary in excess of £36,000.
  • Contact BECTU for details of current freelance remuneration.

Further information


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