Snow White biting the ruby-red apple. Woody challenging Buzz Lightyear to fly. Maleficent transforming into the dragon. All of these scenes were brought to life by animators. But these days, animators produce a lot more than just kids’ cartoons. They are responsible for special effects in big-ticket action films, the vivid details in video games, and the uncanny clarity of virtual reality.
What are the Best Cities to Work as an Animator?
Most animation jobs are located in California, New York, Washington, Texas, and Georgia. Specifically, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Atlanta are the top cities for animation careers.
Top Cities* for Job Growth (2012-2017):
Los Angeles: 1,260 new jobs (24% growth)
San Francisco: 618 new jobs (33% growth)
Atlanta: 341 new jobs (42% growth)
San Jose: 319 new jobs (44% growth)
Seattle: 316 new jobs (24% growth)
Top Cities* for Pay (Average Hourly Earnings):
San Francisco: $42/hour
San Jose: $40/hour
Los Angeles: $39/hour
San Diego: $37/hour
*Note: We looked at cities with at least 500 animators employed.
Typical salaries across the nation range from $60K to $81K, the median being $70K.
Skills & Education
To be a successful animator, you need a unique mix of technical know-how and creative ingenuity. Employers look for creative individuals experienced in the leading animation software: Maya, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk 3DS Max, and Adobe Illustrator. These are also the kinds of software that real animators commonly list on their résumés. But employers are also looking for people with less technical (but crucial) skills like communication, management, innovation, problem-solving, and editing.
Typically, animators have their bachelors in graphic design. Students considering animation as an occupation should check out the programs offered by Full Sail University, Savannah College of Art and Design, The Academy of Art University, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh online division, or The New School. Not only do these schools offer programs ranging from associate to bachelor’s and from on location to online—they are also the schools most frequently listed by currently employed animators.
Who Do They Work For?
There are currently 31,000 animators in the US. According to our résumé data, most work in the motion picture and video industry (no surprise there) and are employed by Disney, Activision Blizzard, DreamWorks, Sony, Electronic Arts, or Pixar. All of these are either movie or video game production companies, and most of them are headquartered in California.
The companies posting the most jobs ads for animators include Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Amazon, and Creative Circle (a staffing company for creative careers). Like most jobs, animation positions go by a slew of different names. They are typically listed as graphic design, animation, 3D art, or design positions.
The Creative Difference
Animation is a creative career, which means it doesn’t follow all the standard employment patterns. Here are two examples.
1) Lots of animators are independent contractors. A freelance career like this does provide a lot of the freedom and variety that creative types crave—but heads up, it also requires incredible self-discipline and independent savvy. The freelance artist must plan their own insurance, retirement strategy, and schedule. For students who are strong self-starters, this career might fit the bill. Just make sure to know your tax laws or someone who does!
2) There is a huge disparity between the number of job postings and actual hires. In the past year, there were only 1,097 postings, but a whopping 2,503 animation hires. That is a ratio of 2:5. This low postings- to-hires ratio is quite common in creative occupations. What does this mean? At the end of the day, it’s more about who you know than which job site you search. So this is another good reason to take seriously the institutions and programs we listed above—they are more likely to provide the networking you need to land a solid job.