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3D Animator

The role, salary, software, and skills of a 3D animator

Student work by Elena Knoll

What does a 3D animator do?

3D animators manipulate digital characters, props, and machines to move through and interact with their environment (digital or live-action) according to the actions laid out in a script, storyboard, or pre/postvis.

They breathe life into characters, creatures, and objects by producing the motions, gestures, and expressions of a rigged 3D model frame-by-frame, which is then strung together to form the actions seen in films, TV, advertising, and video games.

3D animator job description

3D animators bring an imagined universe and its characters to life. Everything within frame has scope, weight, and meaning. Animators need to be able to visualize new worlds into being. 

The movements and trajectories created by an animator are inputted into the relevant software as mathematical equations which are then rendered via a graphics processing unit that outputs the final animation in what's called a 'playblast'. This is then reviewed by supervisors, directors, and clients for approval.

Role & responsibilities of a 3d animator in film and games:

  • 'Breathing life' into 3D rigged models
  • Researching visual style, genre, and technologies to produce each individual project
  • Applying motion capture to enhance performances
  • Identifying key scenes and sequences
  • Transforming storyboards into animated sequences
  • Managing files, animation libraries, and updating procedures documentation
  • Integrating sound and syncing dialogue
Skills required to become a 3D animator

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. 

Film and game studios may look for the following skills in 3d animators:

  • Ability to visualize 3D iterations of two-dimensional storyboards and artwork
  • Good instinct for timing, movement, and editing cuts
  • Experience working with 3D models and rigs (provided by 3d modelers and riggers, respectively)
  • Understanding of acting techniques, cinematography, and visual storytelling
  • Understanding of anatomy, how limbs move, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Knowledge of film and animation genres, and ability to work within these styles
  • Advanced concept of visual language - perspective, point of view, proportion, color, composition, framing, etc.
  • Working knowledge of the laws of physics - gravity, acceleration, and the laws of energy
What software and tools do 3D animators use?

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.

3D animators may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • After Effects
  • MotionBuilder
  • Mudbox
  • Premier
  • Cinema 4D
  • LightWave
  • Real-time engine (such as Unreal or Unity)
How much does a 3D animator make? 

From now to 2028, 3D animation 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)

 

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