Animation and Cartooning Careers: Options and Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

It may be possible to begin a career as an animator or cartoonist without any formal postsecondary education; however, a bachelor's degree in animation or a related field is typically preferred. Animators and cartoonists may work on motion pictures, in advertising or in publishing.

Essential Information

Animators and cartoonists work in a variety of settings. Many are affiliated with a larger studio in either motion pictures, advertising or publishing. Others pursue freelance work and try to establish a name for themselves independently. A career in animation is good for those with artistic talents who wish to work in visual effects for all kinds of media. Cartooning would be a good career for those artists who wish to work with animation studios but do not wish to work as animators.

Education Requirements Bachelor's degree in animation or art-related field preferred
Other Requirements Professional portfolio
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 4% (multimedia artists and animators)
Median Salary (2020)* $77,700 (multimedia artists and animators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options for Animators

Most animators work either independently or with other animators in a company. Many work with a motion picture company, in an advertising studio or in the design departments for video games or computer software graphics. Animators can find work in a variety of media. Within a larger studio, animators usually specialize in one type of animation; some animators concentrate on computer modeling, while others do backgrounds, character design, hand-drawn animation, storyboarding or clay animation.

Career Requirements for Animators

Though a degree is not necessarily required, many animators pursue a bachelor's program related to art, art history or fine art. These degree programs provide a foundation in the history of the profession, help students gain an understanding of design principles and increase their technical skills. After graduating, some pursue an additional studio degree through 2-year art or design schools. In art schools, mentors help improve an artist's technique, and artists build up a portfolio while networking for possible job opportunities.

In addition to education, animators benefit from having a talent for storytelling, a natural sense of timing and an understanding of acting to make their characters seem more believable. Though some still do everything by hand, most animators have also incorporated digital tools into their work to make editing and production easier. They're familiar with modern computer illustration and design software, as well as 3-D modeling and digital recording.

Career Options for Cartoonists

Cartoonists work independently as freelance artists or through salaried jobs in print media, though those jobs are becoming scarcer due to the movement toward electronic media and away from paper publications. Many cartoonists produce work using computer software and self-publish via the Internet. Cartoonists can also find work as storyboard artists or character designers with animation studios, as illustrators for advertisement agencies or in the publishing industry.

Career Requirements for Cartoonists

Though formal education is not always necessary, more and more employers of cartoonists seek out candidates who have a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as studio art or illustration. In school, student cartoonists add to their technical skills and may take courses about working and historical cartoonists or the evolution of design principles. Like animators, cartoonists benefit from knowledge of how to use computer design software to produce their cartoons.

Many students and recent grads also seek entry-level internships in companies to enhance their portfolios and get a sense of the industry's pacing. Often cartoonists pursue freelance work or contract jobs to earn income and increase their profile for more permanent jobs.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In May 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median wage of $77,700 for multimedia artists and animators. The BLS predicted 4% overall employment growth for multimedia artists and animators from 2019-2029, which is the national average for all career fields.

From 2019-2029, the job growth predicted by the BLS for animators and cartoonists will be as fast as average when compared to all occupations. There may be more job opportunities for those individuals with a degree in animation or a related field.

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