Creating 3-D animation is the main responsibility for 3-D movie graphic artists. But 3-D animation is actually a fairly detailed process, consisting of myriad steps before the animation is converted to a video image. First, a model of the image must be created. Details and textures are then added, as well as movement, lighting and other effects. The image is rendered -- where a computer program calculates the pixels needed for the animation in each frame of the film. Additional textures, layers and visuals are applied to the rendering, and then it’s time to add the audio. With such attention to detail, 3-D modelers and animators often earn above-average salaries.
On average, multimedia artists brought home $69,560 a year in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working in the motion picture industry earned closer to $84,410 annually. A survey by the Creative Group, a national recruiter for design talent, gives a better idea of the earnings for 3-D artists. As of 2014, 3-D modelers, who create the images that are later rendered into animation, started at $59,000 to $82,750 a year. For 3-D animators, who add particle, lighting and physics effects to the 3-D models for the actual animation, starting salaries were $60,500 to $87,000 a year.
As with almost any career, earnings vary by location. In Los Angeles, for example, salaries were 25 percent higher than the national average. A 3-D animator could expect a starting salary of anywhere from $75,625 to $108,750 a year. Salaries in Chicago were 23 percent higher than the average, bringing starting salary for 3-D animators up to $74,415 to $107,010 a year. Salaries in New York were 41 percent higher than average, and 3-D animators started at $85,305 to $122,670 annually. The same, however, can’t be said for those working in El Paso, Texas, where salaries were 30 percent less than the average. There, salaries for 3-D animators started at $42,350 to $60,900.
The relatively high salaries are at least partly due to the skills necessary to work in 3-D animation. Though employers typically seek candidates with a good portfolio, many multimedia artists enter the field with a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics or animation. Coursework provides practical experience in many of the computer programs used to create the 3-D animation for film. Even if a studio has its own software, a background in other applications can make it easier for the candidate to learn the new systems and succeed in the position.
The BLS expects employment for multimedia artists in the film industry to decline by 5 percent from 2010 to 2020. By comparison, this is going in the opposite direction of the national average for all U.S. occupations, a projected growth of 14 percent. With just over 9,000 multimedia artists working in the film industry, the 5 percent decline works out to a loss of 457 jobs over the course of a decade. Opportunities may develop, however, as artists retire or leave the field.
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