Animation Mastery Roadmap: The Animator’s Blueprint

So, you’re interested in becoming an animator, but there’s still a lot you need to know. 

Animation is an exciting, fast-growing industry creating a lot of job opportunities. It’s a creative career that is highly skilled and sought after right now. 

As an animator, you can earn good money while expressing your creativity. If you’ve been looking for a promising career to make the most of your artistic side, then read on. I’ll share how to become an animator, no matter where you’re starting from.

I’ll cover everything you need to know, from animator requirements to jobs, salaries, and more. Read on for my top animator tips for growing your skills and getting hired.

What does an animator do?

Animators create all sorts of animation, mainly using computer software. A range of industries needs animators for various purposes.

Animation most often starts off with drawings (by hand or digital). These images are then animated with software to move and look realistic. The result could be an epic Pixar movie, an advert, or a YouTube video. 

Animators may work on animations for websites, movies, games, mobile apps, and much more. The main types of animation include 2D, 3D, and stop-motion animation. 

There’s a lot of variety within this industry and many different roles. You could work as a 3D modeler, compositor, special effects animator, or game designer. And these are just a few examples of the various jobs within the industry. 

Some animators work full-time for movie studios, animation, or marketing companies. But almost 60% of animators are freelancers. Working as a freelance animator provides more flexibility but can be less stable. 

As you can see, there is such a rich breadth of opportunities in the animation industry. You can find out more about the variety of roles available and decide which one appeals to you! 

With so many options, there’s sure to be a role that suits your skills, strengths, and interests. Each job differs according to the requirements, tasks, and salary, so make sure to do your research.

How Can You Become an Animator

One of the first questions you’ll have is how to become an animator. In this section, I’ll cover the education and skills you’ll need to become an expert animator. 

Animator Education Requirements

There are some basic animator requirements to break into this industry. The most common and straightforward route is to get a degree in animation.

So, what degree do you need to be an animator? Many animator jobs require a degree, and not just any degree will do. There are some very specific degree programs, depending on what type of animation you want to do.

Animator education requirements

(Image credit: Lewis Keegan)

You’ll find degrees in 2D and 3D animation at many reputable universities, or a combination of both. 

There are also specific programs if you want to go into animation for game design or movies. So, if you want to know the exact route you want to take, you can specialize early on.

Having a degree in animation will give you a solid education and a headstart in the industry.

How to Choose the Best Animation School

With so many colleges and programs out there, it can be hard to choose where to study. I recommend looking at ratings and reviews to help you narrow down the selection. 

The Animation Career Review is one of the best places to research your options. Check out their list of the 50 best animation schools in the US to find the most reputable universities.

How to Cchoose the best animation school

(Image credit: Sincerely Media)

But going to college full-time for an animation degree isn’t the only option out there. So if you’re older, working already, or don’t have the budget, don’t despair. 

No matter what your situation is, you can become an animator. There are other ways to learn animation than a full-time, 4-year degree. 

Some schools and universities offer more flexible, online programs. You’ll also find one or two-year programs to kickstart your animation career in less time.

You can also take animation classes online. I’ll share some of the best places to learn animation online below, so keep reading! 

Animator Requirements: Soft and Hard Skills

Beyond the animator requirements and qualifications, there are other skills you’ll need. For example, you’ll need to know how to draw and master the basic art fundamentals.

Some knowledge of geometry can come in handy and is necessary for many 3D animation roles. 

You’ll also need to master the software used in your industry. The specific software may vary depending on the type of animation you’re interested in. 

But a good place to start is learning to use After Effects, Studio Max, Maya, Premiere for video editing. Once you’ve got the hang of these apps, you can transfer your knowledge across to other programs more easily.

Animator requirements: soft and hard skills

(Image credit: Mark Cruz)

Acting experience is useful for creating compelling storylines and realistic emotions. It also provides a solid understanding of movement so that your animations look true to life.

Hard skills are essential but don’t overlook the soft skills that will make you a fantastic animator. The best animators are: 

  • Patient
  • Determined
  • Motivated 
  • Perceptive and observant
  • Creative and innovative
  • Skilled communicators
  • Excellent storytellers
  • Good time management
  • Team players 

If you can cultivate these soft skills, it will make you a credit to any animation team. You’ll bring fresh ideas to the table and work well with your colleagues. Plus, you won’t get dispirited on those long projects where you spend weeks on a 20-second scene. 

How long does it take to become an animator?

The path to becoming an animator can vary hugely depending on which route you take. If you enroll in a 4-year degree program, you’re looking at up to 5 years before you get your first paid role. You need to factor in your education and time gaining work experience.

If you’re self-taught, you could start working in a much quicker time. Especially if you’re transitioning from graphic design, illustration, or video editing. 

You could take a one-year online program. Or for an even shorter route, you can take classes online. That allows you to specialize quickly, and create an impressive portfolio. 

The more time you devote to becoming an animator, the quicker you’ll see success. But you’ll need to factor in your circumstances, experience, budget, and availability.

You can create a study track that works for you. With some motivation and perseverance, you can make it happen. No matter whether you’re just starting out or you’ve decided on a career change.

But don’t expect to become an expert animator within weeks or even months. It takes dedication and hard work to learn this complex art form.

How hard is it to become an animator?

Becoming an animator isn’t an easy undertaking. It won’t happen overnight. 

It requires a generous time commitment, hard work, and grit to make it as an animator. Plus, a significant amount of money for classes and training.

But more than that, it requires real patience. Learning how to be an animator is challenging and the work can be repetitive and demanding. 

You might work on a 10-second clip for weeks on end. You need to have the determination and patience to keep going, resist frustration, and not give up. 

Sure, there may be days when you want to throw it all in. But if you keep your goal in mind and remember why you want to be an animator. It’s worth it in the long run!

How much do animators get paid?

You’re interested in becoming an animator, but you want to find out how much you could get paid in this role. That brings us to the question, how much do animators get paid?

Being an animator is a highly-skilled job that’s in demand, so it tends to pay well. But there is a range of different animator roles, and some are more lucrative than others.

Major companies like Pixar pay generous salaries, but these roles are super competitive. But there are lots of smaller companies that also pay well. 

Keep in mind that many animators are freelancers and take on project-based work. So, there can be some instability if you’re between projects. 

But if you have the skills and put yourself out there, it shouldn’t be too difficult to line up work. so that you don’t have gaps in your income. 

Let’s look at the numbers! The median salary for an animator is around $75,000 per year. While that may vary according to your experience and role, it’s a good income. Working as an animator will afford you a great quality of life.

The pay is only one aspect to consider when choosing a career path. But if you’re investing in a degree or other courses, you want to know that the job will be worth it financially! 

How much do animators get paid?

(Image credit: Vitaly Taranov)

Where to learn animation online?

If you want to get started with animation, you can try out some online animation courses. This is an easy and affordable way to get an introduction to animation and find out if it’s for you. 

Then, you’ll know whether you want to invest more time and money to get a deeper understanding of animation. 

Here are two of my favorite websites for learning animation online:


Skillshare - where to learn animation online

(Image credit: Udemy)

Skillshare is well respected as a provider of excellent online courses. It has more than 2,500 courses on animation for you to browse. 

You can select your experience level from beginner, intermediate, or advanced. There’s the right course for everyone, whether you’re starting from zero or want to improve a specific skill set.

The great thing about Skillshare is that you can pay a monthly fee to access any of the courses. That makes it super affordable, instead of paying for each individual course.

It costs only $8/month right now, or you can subscribe annually for $29. So, you can dip in and out of various courses to try out different aspects of animation. It’s well worth it for the investment you’ll make in yourself and the skills you will learn.


Udemy - where to learn animation online

(Image credit: Udemy)

Udemy is one of the most well-known online learning platforms. It doesn’t disappoint when it comes to animation courses, with more than 5,000 options to choose between.

You’ll find in-depth courses on 2D and 3D animation. Udemy has filters that allow you to search by level, topic, language, or price. 

You can also search for a course using a specific app or programs like Maya or Blender. That makes it possible to create a focused study track for yourself!

Unlike Skillshare, there’s no ongoing subscription model. You can buy individual courses at very low-cost prices. Udemy also runs seasonal sales when courses are even cheaper.

How to become an animator: 7 steps to becoming an animator

Now you know some of the basics about animator requirements and jobs. Let’s get onto these simple steps to becoming an animator! 

1. Develop your creative skills

It’s essential to work on your creative skills as an animator. You should have an understanding of art fundamentals. You’ll need to master perspective and form (among others) to apply them to your designs.

You can start off by practicing sketching so that you can draw realistic images. That will give you a great head start when working in animation. 

Another key skill to work on is observation. Pay attention to all the tiny details of life, as you’ll need to recreate them in your animations! 

Watch people’s facial expressions, how they walk, talk, and behave. You can notice how trees move when the wind blows or waves washing onto a beach. Then, try to sketch the things you notice. Developing a keen sense of observation will serve you well as an animator.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can start working with animation programs. Start with the basics – you can even find YouTube tutorials for tips and inspiration. Watching the best YouTube animators is a great way to learn without spending any money. 

2. Invest in an Animation Degree or Courses

Now, it’s time to invest in your education as an animator. I covered the animator education requirements above and your different options. You can choose whether you want to enroll in an animation degree or take online courses. 

It’s also fine to start out with online classes like Udemy or Skillshare. Then, you can take a degree program later on (if you’re not already booked out with work!) 

I recommend specializing as soon as possible so you become experienced in that area. The more you can niche down, the better you can become at your role. Don’t try to learn every aspect of animation – it’s such a wide and varied industry! 

Trying to do everything will spread you too thin. You’ll hold yourself back from becoming an expert at any particular area of animation. 

As an animator, you need to keep track of industry trends. That will allow you to stay up to date on the latest developments so you can continue to produce the best work.

Follow industry trends

(Image credit: SHW)

If you’re just starting out, knowing what’s in demand will help you decide what to specialize in. For example, you’ll find many more computer animation jobs compared to 2D cartoonists now. That reflects the direction the industry and animated films are moving. 

You’ll know what’s sought after and can tailor your learning to these skills and programs. As a result, you’ll never struggle to find a job and can work in the best-paid roles in the industry.

But you need to keep learning, even if you’re qualified and working as an animator. It’s a fast-moving industry with new software and technologies appearing all the time. Honing your skills will ensure your ongoing performance.

There are many ways to stay ahead of the trends. You can read animation blogs and magazines or network and chat with fellow animators. 

4. Boost your resume by seeking out professional experience

If you want to get hired as an animator, it’s not just about the qualifications you have. You’ll also need to show a willingness to learn, adapt, and use your skills. 

Many jobs, even at entry-level, require some experience. The best route into the industry is by gaining work experience. 

You should be looking for ways to get professional experience even as you study. For example, you can apply for internships or apprenticeships with major animation companies. Fancy working at Pixar or Disney? Both companies run (fiercely competitive) internships and apprenticeships! 

But there are other, less exclusive opportunities out there, too. Here are some tips on finding and landing an animation internship

Another way to get experience is through volunteering for organizations or non-profits. You can still put your volunteer work on your resume – it doesn’t matter whether it was paid or not. It all comes down to showing that you’ve gained practical experience as an animator.

5. Master drawing + software

To become an expert animator, you’ll need both traditional and modern creative skills. You should work on your drawing competence as well as mastering computer software. 

You need to be able to draw realistically to be an effective animator. Check out my tips for improving your drawing skills here!

Knowing all the basics of art fundamentals is essential. Before you dive into an animation course, you should work on the basics. Start off by mastering form, perspective, proportion, and anatomy.

Artistic ability will make your animations look more realistic and convincing. It can also help you create good compositions. 

Once you have the basic skills, you can move onto your computer skills and animation software. Find out which programs are used in your animation niche and get the hang of them! 

Some of the most common animation software include:

You don’t know how to use all these programs! As most of these tools aren’t free, that could become very expensive. Some apps such as Adobe offer student discounts, so make sure to take advantage of them to save money as you learn.

Start by mastering one by practicing, following tutorials, or taking a course. A lot of these programs have a similar interface, so you can transfer your knowledge from one to another.

6. Prepare a demo reel for job applications

Now, it’s time to prepare to apply for animator jobs! But first, you’ll need a demo reel to prove you have the necessary experience. It accompanies your resume and cover letter and gives an idea of the work you produce. 

The great thing about a demo reel is that it showcases your skills and is much more memorable. 

A demo reel is made up of snippets of various animations you’ve created. You can show your versatility by including a range of animation styles. Or you could select an excerpt of your best animation yet. 

Companies may have varying requirements for a demo reel. Generally, it should be around 2 minutes or up to 4 minutes if you have a lot of experience to showcase. 

The simplest way to share a demo reel is by hosting it online. Then, you can send a link for employers to click on and see your work. Make sure to start and end with a title card that shows your name and contact details so they can get in touch.

You want to stand out with your demo reel. Think outside the box and get creative so that it doesn’t get lost among all the other applications! 

You should also tailor your demo reel to the company and job position. Choose only the most relevant snippets to include. You want to impress them with your talent and initiative and show how easily you could slip into the role.

Don’t forget to submit a demo reel breakdown, too. It should describe what your demo reel contains and explain your creative decisions.

7. Create a portfolio to showcase your skills

You’ve got your demo reel ready to go. But you also need to create a portfolio to further showcase your skills and talents.

A portfolio holds your work samples and information like your bio and qualifications.

It gives you the chance to show more of your animations than in your demo reel. If an employer loves what they see in your demo, they may go to your portfolio to find out more about you.

Most animators host their portfolios online so they can share the link easily. 

You can take a look at other animators’ portfolios for inspiration. But don’t waste time overthinking it and hold yourself back from applying for jobs. 

Put together a selection of your best work, and then hit publish! Don’t forget to include contact details so people can get in touch with you.

Tip: save the image below to your Pinterest to re-read this article later!

How to become an animator

The Wrap Up

So there you have an in-depth guide to becoming an animator! I hope I’ve covered everything you need to know and answered your questions. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, feel free to ask me in the comments below! 

An animator is an exciting, interesting, and creative career. But you need to have the dedication to get you there, as it’s not easy to master animation. Patience, observation, and innovation are all essential skills to develop.

But it’s a rewarding career and this industry will only continue to grow. So, you’ll know you have an exciting path if you get into animation.

If you found this article helpful, go ahead and share it on social media. Follow me on Pinterest for more tips, guides, and tutorials for creative professionals. 

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, Proactive Creative may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Outmane is the founder of Proactive Creative. He is an artist/designer.

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