Have you ever watched a Disney movie with three-dimensional characters, and found yourself amazed at just how real the characters look? Sometimes it’s hard to believe they aren't real.

Those lifelike characters are the result of the skill and hardwork of what is known as an animator.

Animators, who are sometimes referred to as multimedia artists, are responsible for the vivid characters and surroundings we see in movies, television and other multimedia programs. They are trained to use techniques and current technology to draft two-and-three-dimensional characters for animated movies, video games, music videos and even commercials.

Education Requirements

Animators must possess incredible storytelling skills, as well as the ability to draw most any character or object requested. Breathing life into inanimate drawings is a major part of the job.

All of the abilities necessary for becoming a successful animator can be obtained at a number of different programs designed to teach the fine art of animation.

The minimum educational requirement for working in the industry is an associate degree. There are a variety of programs offering this two-year degree in both traditional and online settings. The next step up – and the degree level most animators possess – is the bachelor degree. This four-year program will teach the fundamentals of animation, including two-and-three-dimensional animation; stop motion; computer and traditional animation; visual effects; layout and design; visual elements of storytelling;cinematography; and figurative concepts.

Animators also will be encouraged to build diverse portfolios, which can be used to help secure employment upon graduation.

As with some other fine arts programs, animation schools can receive accreditation for their programs, which guarantees students that the courses are of the highest quality, and any credits earned at the school easily can be transferred to another institution.

One of the top-ranked animation programs in the nation is offered at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. U.S. News and World Report awarded CMU the top spot among its rankings of animation programs. Students enrolled in CMU’s animations program will have the opportunity to work on projects which will directly benefit Pixar Animation Studios.

Another top-ranked animation program is offered through the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif. This program has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design since 1972.Faculty members at the school are professionals who work in the business and have included the likes of Henry Selick, who worked on the animated film James and the Giant Peach, and Eric Darnell, who directed Madagascar.

Other animation schools of note include the University of Central Florida, Brigham Young University, Rochester Institute of Technology,and the Pratt Institute.

In addition to having quality faculty and intense coursework, all reputable animation programs also should provide students with the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience by working with another professional in the industry. This can be accomplished through an internship program, which many of the above-mentioned schools offer.

Future Outlook

Employment growth for animators between now and 2020 is expected to hover around 8 percent – which is lower than the average growth for all other business and industry during the same time period. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animation for video games will be in the highest demand, but will be slowed due to companies seeking professionals to perform the work who are outside of the United States.

The average annual salary for animators was estimated at$58,000, with the top 10 percent of wage earners making more than $99,000.

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