3D Animator

Learn about the role, salary, software and skills needed to become a 3D Animator

Student work by Elena Knoll

3D Animator Job Description

A 3D Animator interprets concept art into its three-dimensional realization and creates moving images using digital models via CGI software. They may be asked to create animation and special effects for film, television, video games, advertisements, websites, etc. 

The first step in the animation process is storyboarding, that is, visualizing the story (see Storyboard Artist). Here, each scene is sketched out and the action is mapped over a sequence of panels. This serves as a guide for the production process. 

The characters and backgrounds are then modeled in three-dimensional forms using virtual rigs which are then textured to produce an outer layer.

Their movements and trajectories are then inputted into the software as mathematical equations which are then rendered via a graphics processing unit which outputs the final animation.  

Role and Responsibilities

Animation is the creation of a virtual world in which everything must be visualized and created from pure imagination. The 3D Animator brings an imagined universe and the characters that inhabit it to life. Everything within frame has scope, weight and meaning. Animators need to be able to visualize new worlds into being. 

The responsibilities of a 3D Animator may include:

  • Liaising with animators and concept artists regarding the requirements of the project
  • Working from concept art to create characters, objects, layouts, backgrounds, etc
  • Researching visual style, genre and technologies to produce each individual project
  • Sketching storyboards based on the script
  • Identifying key scenes and sequences
  • Transforming storyboards into animated sequences
  • Recreating real world environments and layouts
  • Creating illustrations, scanning and photo retouching
  • Animating characters, creatures, props, vehicles, weapons, objects, etc
  • Developing animation composites
  • Calculating and enter algorithms for final renders
  • Amending artwork as per instruction from designers and developers
  • Working with programmers on software and design issues
  • Adapting to software upgrades and stay up to date with new technologies
  • Managing files, asset libraries and update procedures documentation
  • Working to a tight schedule
  • Integrating sound, sync dialogue and add sound effects to visuals
  • Collaborating with compositors to deliver all assets required for final render
  • Applying motion capture to animation

Software and Other Tools Used

The software used for 3D animation is highly specialized. The more platforms you are trained in, the more valuable you will be to an employer.

  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Java
  • Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, Flash
  • MotionBuilder
  • Mudbox
  • Premier
  • Cinema 4D
  • LightWave

Skills Required

The role of the 3D Animator requires strong technical knowledge along with a highly creative sensibility. Rendering 3D animation sequences involves complex mathematical calculations, a career in 3D animation necessitates both left and right brain sensibilities. 

Employers may look for the following skills in 3D Animators:

  • Strong artistic skills
  • Ability to visualize 3D iterations of two dimensional sketches and artwork
  • Good instinct for timing, movement, editing cuts
  • Training in animation, computer graphics, graphic design or fine art
  • Experience in 3D modeling
  • Understanding of acting techniques, cinematography, interactive storytelling and graphic art 
  • Understanding of movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Talent for visual storytelling
  • Knowledge of film and animation genres, and ability to create within their styles
  • Advanced concept of visual language - perspective, point of view, proportion, color, composition, framing, etc
  • Basic knowledge of anatomy, how humans and animals move
  • High level knowledge of lighting, shadows and textures
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to work under pressure and deliver to tight deadlines
  • Basic understanding of aesthetics of visual communication
  • Knowledge of character rigging
  • Working knowledge of the laws of physics - gravity, acceleration and the laws of energy

Average Salary

From now to 2028, 3D Animator jobs are expected to rise by 4%, making it a great career choice with growth in opportunity and advancement. The average salary for a 3D Animator is around USD $69,851. (Source: ZipRecruiter)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Animation?


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