The typical notion surrounding creative careers is that you simply don’t make much money. If you follow your passion, you won’t be rolling in the dough, and in a lucrative job you’ll be typing numbers into a spreadsheet day in and day out. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in a field such as animation. Just like any industry, animation has both entry-level jobs that start at the lower end of the pay scale, as well as positions that require more experience – and the kind of education you can get at Cogswell – and therefore result in a sizeable paycheck. Aspiring creatives should also be willing to relocate around the country – and possibly the globe – to maintain career trajectory and receive a higher paying position. With that in mind, here’s a list of nine animation-related careers that offer impressive salaries.
Whether traditionally drawing with pencil and paper or using 3D-generated tools, the animator brings each frame of work to life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average yearly salary of $64,000 for an animator. As with many of the jobs listed in this article, that number can veer lower or higher depending on seniority, skill and location. The range is a wide one, on average going from $35,000 to around of $80,000. However, some animator salaries start as low as $30,000 — generally the entry-level animators in smaller markets. Animator salaries can also rise to over $100,000 — but that is mostly for the most senior animators in the most competitive markets. This means places such as Emeryville or Southern California where industry giants like Pixar and DreamWorks are headquartered. In general, the motion picture industry tends to pay a bit more than gaming or design. Animation and design, however, offer a few more geographical areas that are attracting talent such as Vancouver, Sydney, London and New Zealand.
Art Director Salary
Since we’ve equated seniority with higher pay, it makes sense to highlight an animation career where calling the shots goes in line with a heftier paycheck. Several industries, including marketing and magazines, have art directors, but in animation it’s a juggling act of several different hats — creative control, overseeing budgets and training. As a result of taking on these various responsibilities and duties, art directors take home on average $72,000 per year.
3D Modeler Salary
Modelers have the duty of building 3D characters and environments, which means carefully crafting skeletons and frames before wrapping detailed texture over them. As with the animator position, pay for 3D modelers can vary widely — but on average they take home around $68,000 a year. As with animators, the biggest players in the game like Blue Sky or Disney offer salaries of up to $100,000 or even over that for their contracted modelers. Many 3D modeling jobs — especially entry level — pay hourly, with the median pay being about $27 an hour.
Compositing Artist Salary
These artists are concerned with the finish and style of animated works, detecting and fixing errors in animated works toward the end of the production process. They can take home a salary anywhere within the range of $52,000 to $75,000 a year. Like with many animation jobs, entertainment capitals like Los Angeles and New York tend to offer more, upwards of $100,000. But, keep in mind that those are also the most fiercely competitive markets.
Character Rigger Salary
Not to be confused with an industrial rigger (which many career sites tend to do when it comes to job listings), a character rigger works on the skeleton, anatomies and geometries of 3D characters, manipulating how they interact with the 3D environment. As I’m sure you can guess, this position requires a lot of skills and experience that can only be learned over time. The payout for a character rigger fairly new to the industry with about three to five years of experience will be about $46,000 a year. But, as a character rigger acquires skills and knowledge of multiple computer programs over time, he or she can also expect a nearly doubled paycheck after about six years in the industry, hitting at around $84,000 a year.
Texture Artist Salary
This job is all about the blood, sweat and tears that you put into it — along with the fur, wrinkles, scales and other texture details that you put into animated characters and objects. The national average for these technically skilled artists is around $54,000 — though the range can vary from as little as $35,000 to as much as $95,000, which is reserved for the more senior texture artists.
Technical Artist Salary
We’ve established that competitive markets offer higher pay for positions across the board, but that’s also the case for jobs that are in high demand. Animation studios, game studios, tech companies and even television production companies are actively seeking technical artists not just for their artistic skills, but for their technical skills that are only learned through a strong foundation that includes relevant, professional experience. The average salary nationwide for a technical artist is around $67,000. But in a hot market like San Francisco, average earnings increase to around $72,000.
Character Technical Director (TD) Salary
We’re into the big money now. A character technical director (TD) is a heavily experienced, senior role that oversees the entire scope of work on characters, creatures and objects. Average salary nationwide is around $89,000, and in major entertainment hubs like the Los Angeles metro area, the average hits at around $100,000.
Scientific Visualization Developer Salary
For mathematicians who really want to apply their skills to the animation and game industries, there’s a place for you! Scientific visualization developers use formulas and engineering to create models that can calculate the most precise movements in animation, or complex processes for use in academic and high-tech fields. You’ll need degrees in both math and computer animation if you want to take this route, but it pays off — the median pay is around $93,000.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of careers that are available in the world of animation, but whichever route you take, you’ll find it’s going to be both artistically and financially rewarding.
You can find more information about Cogswell-specific graduation rates, the median debt of students who completed the program, and other important information, at this link.