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How to Become a Freelance 3D Animator

Did you grow up watching Pixar movies or playing video games and want to help bring 3D worlds to life? Are you fascinated by the way humans bend, hair bounces, or trees swaying in the wind? Are you savvy with computer software and looking for a career that combines art, design, and an excellent sense of timing? You may have what it takes to become a 3D animator.

What does a 3D animator do?

A 3D animator works with 3D software to prepare and make 3D objects move in pre-scripted or user-controlled ways. This could involve moving each limb of a 3D character model so that they appear to run, jump, talk or dance. Or you might be designing a specific sequence of events such as a plane circling an airport before landing. Without a 3D animator, many 3D projects are left as still as a statue.

What skills do I need to become a 3D animator?

While an associate's or bachelor's degree in Computer Animation, 3D design, or Visual Effects may be the right career path for some to get started, most successful animators find clients because they assemble an excellent portfolio showcasing their skills.

Skills a 3D Animator should possess include:

  • Proficiency with 3D animation software, such as Autodesk Maya, Blender, Cinema4D, 3DSMax, Houdini, or Mixamo.
  • Experience and comfort in manipulating 3D models.
  • Rigging an armature onto a 3D model to prepare animated characters.
  • Managing keyframes.
  • Forward and inverse kinematic animation techniques.
  • Working with animation libraries.
  • Design skills to create appropriate motion styles and timings for each object and scene.
  • Understanding human movement and expression.
  • General knowledge of the laws of physics, such as acceleration, momentum, and gravity.

What are the core 3D animator job responsibilities

3D animators are assigned to develop the motion (or capacity for motion) of a 3D scene. They will take the 3D objects provided to them by 3D modelers and artists, potentially rig those objects to bend specific parts at a time (such as each limb of a walking human), and then script how each part of the object, or the object as a whole moves, from moment to moment.

Animators may be required to bring to life multiple objects that are all moving within a 3D scene at the same time, based on a provided storyboard or syncing the timings to an audio voiceover or music. Or, animators may be working on a project where the animations need to look correct when a user is controlling a 3D object, such as in a video game or interactive story.

More advanced animation projects may include calibrating a character model's rigging to work with motion capture performance data. And, if that motion capture performance data doesn't visually align with the character model, 3D animators are tasked with manually fixing or adjusting those animations so that the digital character performs as expected for the game, film, or other presentation.

Animators work on creative, detail-oriented, collaborative, and forward-thinking job opportunities supporting film, VFX and special effects, 3D modeling and texturing, web design, video game design, and computer graphics teams.

Should I get a 3D animator degree or certification?

While there are online tutorials for different types of 3D software, for many people, 3D animation can be a daunting collection of skills to acquire without organized animation courses, internships, and coaching. Common degree programs or certifications to pursue a 3D animation career include:

  • Computer Animation
  • 3D Design, Art, or Modeling
  • Visual Effects
  • Game Design

There are also skills that crossover from the 2D animation, motion graphics, and graphic design fields.

Jumpstart your freelance 3D animator career on Upwork and start looking for your first job. Eager to learn more about 3D animator jobs on Upwork? Check out these additional resources:

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyse and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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