What Does A 3D Animator Do?


A 3D animator is an expert who creates third-dimensional (3D) animations and objects using specialised 3D animation software and design tools. Every day there are more shows, video games, advertisements and even architectural projects that require the presence of this professional. It is a role with a future, but what opportunities does 3D animation have and what is the role of the 3D animator? Let’s find out!

What is 3D animation?

A 3D animator is a professional who is trained to take digital objects and make them look real by generating an illusion in which they move through a three-dimensional space i.e,  they bring characters, elements and objects to life in a 3D environment.

Here, experts can make the elements of a 3D animation rotate up to 360 degrees from any angle. These types of effects are used in high-grossing animated films, such as Toy Story.

A 3D animator converts environments and character shapes into a virtual representation of the director’s vision within a video game or film.

The trajectories and movements are inputted by a 3D animator into a computer along with mathematical equations that are interpreted by a graphics processing unit. The result is a final animation that is approved after a thorough quality inspection.

Role Overview - 3D Animator
Role Overview – 3D Animator

3D animator vs 3D modeller: What’s the difference?

The role of a 3D animator and a 3D modeller are different within the animation and graphics industry.

While a 3D animator brings 3D objects to life, a 3D modeller is in charge of creating and designing those objects with which they work. Both professional profiles collaborate to ensure that the animations are aligned at the end of the project.

When 3D animators encounter difficulties with regards to movement of generated models, they must make adjustments with the help of modellers. For example, in order to make an eight-armed creature move naturally, both animators and modellers must work to find a solution.

Where does a 3D animator work?

A 3D animator can work in various different industries. Initially, this profile was very focused on video game design, but 3D animation can now do so much more.

It is currently used in advertising, VFX, videomapping, applications and even in scientific and medical sectors.

The following are some of the industries in which 3D animators work:

  • Video game
  • Advertising
  • Marketing (previous experience of the final product)
  • Architecture and interior decoration
  • Film and television (realistic effects)
  • Medicine
  • Industrial processing (prototypes)

What is the role of a 3D animator?

The main objective of a 3D animation expert is to make their target audience forget that the 3D elements they are seeing do not exist.

To do this, 3D animators use three-dimensional geometry to create models that use textures and adequate lighting to represent settings, elements, etc. In this way, 3D objects become real objects.

This professional is responsible for giving life to 3D models using techniques that give the sensation of movement to make them look real. They also synchronise the other elements of the environment, such as the ambient sound or the characters for better results.

Responsibilities Of A 3D Animator
Responsibilities Of A 3D Animator

3D animators add special effects to raindrops, fire or explosions and also choose the intensity and colour of the lighting to use. Additionally, they are involved in the graphic design, video editing and development of each project.

They also use specialised software such as 3DS Max, Blender and Autodesk Maya to create 3D models and are also expected to be updated on new techniques and work tools in the industry.

What are the responsibilities of a 3D animator?

  • Create 3D animations of characters, settings, objects, etc.
  • Give the sensation of movement to objects produced with 3D animation programs
  • Synchronise all elements of the environment with 3D animation
  • Add special effects to animations (explosions, rain and fire)
  • Define lighting and rendering of 3D scenes
  • Texturing and shading of 3D objects and characters
  • Editing and post-production of the created animations
  • Maintenance of libraries and 3D files
  • Support in graphic design, video editing and project development
  • Plan the design and programming of the work team

Find the right 3D animator for your project here

Knowledge and skills

A 3D animator needs to have a strong understanding of animation principles such as anticipation, squash and stretch, and secondary action, and also be creative enough to generate original ideas in 3D animation.

To produce 2D images and 3D iterations on storyboards, this professional needs to be familiar with audiovisual production and concepts such as synchronisation and editing cuts and movement.

3D Animator Skills
3D Animator Skills

In addition, they must have extensive knowledge of cinematography techniques, visual narration, storytelling and acting.

An expert in 3D animations must also know the laws of physics, such as acceleration, gravity, laws of energy, etc. and have basic knowledge of physics and anatomy.

In addition, this professional needs to perfectly understand the movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behaviour of flesh and skin to create realistic and believable animations.

They also need to have a solid handle on visual language such as point of view, colour, composition, proportion, perspective, framing, etc.

Additionally, they need knowledge of animation tools and software such as ZBrush, AutoDesk, Blender, Unreal Engine, Houdini and Maya.

In terms of technical skills, 3D animators need to have strong learning and adaptation skills as well as good organisational and communication skills.

What does it take to be a good 3D animator?

  • Ability to create 2D and 3D images
  • Use of 3D animation tools and software such as Maya and Unreal Engine 
  • Knowledge of visual storytelling, cinematography and acting techniques
  • Accurate interpretation of anatomy in animations
  • Management of different genres of film and television
  • Strong understanding of animation principles Familiarity with audiovisual production and concepts
  • Brief knowledge of physics, such as acceleration, gravity etc.
  • Solid handle on visual language such as point of view, colour, composition, proportion, perspective, framing, etc.
  • Strong learning skills
  • Good adaptation skills
  • Good organisational 
  • Strong communication skills
  • Need to be up to date with the latest techniques and work tools

Discover your next 3D animation project here

What do you have to study to be a 3D animator?

There are different paths to becoming a 3D animator. The most common degrees found amongst these professionals are a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, and Advertising.

However, a degree is not strictly necessary. The most important thing needed here is strong creative and technical skills in computer graphics, animation, narrative and storytelling as well as experience with popular 3D animation software such as Autodesk, Cinema 4D, Blender or Maya.

A 3D animation expert must also have excellent artistic skills and understand the aspects that revolve around virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI).

It is possible to take specific courses and additional training to improve and expand knowledge in specific areas within 3D animation.

Check out options for these courses down below:

Remember, the greater the training of a 3D animator, the more opportunities he or she will have within the 3D animation sector. Since this is a constantly evolving field, it is essential to stay updated and continue learning throughout your professional career.

Salary of a 3D Animator

3D animators earn between $39,000 and $99,000 annually in the US with the average salary being $61,000.

In Germany, animators can earn between €35,000 – €52,000 per year whereas in the UK, they can make £30,000 – £46,000.

In Spain, a 3D animator earns between €26,000 and €34,000 annually.

Because 3D animation has multiple applications, the salary of a 3D animator will vary depending on the sector in which they work, the specific experience of the candidate, the company they work for, and more.

For example, someone who is part of a big audiovisual production company like “Pixar” will of course not have the same salary as a person who is in a marketing company.

How much do 3D animators make?

US$39,000 – $99,000
Germany€35,000 – €52,000
UK£30,000 – £46,000
Spain€26,000 – €34,000

Freelance 3D Animator: Is it worth considering?

With what we have seen so far, perhaps you have already come to the conclusion that 3D animation is an excellent sector to work in as a freelancer. The main reasons for this are as follows:

  • Demand: We have seen that animation is not only being used in classic industries such as cinema or video games but also in other sectors such as architecture, forensic, medical, etc. In these fields, it may not be necessary to hire a full-time professional, but rather one 3D animation expert per project – which is, of course, freelance.
  • Specialisation: As a freelancer, you will be able to work on different projects and with different clients and this will help you develop your skills in 3D animation. At the same time, it will allow you to stay updated and pitch new ideas to new clients.
  • Earning Potential: 3D animation is a specialised and highly technical field, which means experienced professionals typically charge good freelance rates.

How much does a freelance 3D animator earn?

3D Animators on freelancermap charge on average:


Rates in the 3D Animation industry range between $40 and $96/hour for most freelancers.

The daily rate for 3D Animators (8 working hours) would be around:

Stand 27/01/2023

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Stefania Volpe

Stefania joined the international team at freelancermap in 2020. She loves marketing, the digital world, foreign languages and meeting different cultures. She moved from Italy to Germany thanks to an exchange program at the university and worked as marketing manager for several startups. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com.

By Stefania Volpe

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