5 Differences Between Generalist and Specialist Animators

A major crossroad in your animation career lies in deciding whether you should generalize or specialize. This decision will determine both your education and your career path as an animator. Because you’ve got a long road ahead of you, it will also really help if you make a decision early on. 

A generalist is an animator that has a grasp of how to do multiple things in animation. He or she might be able to do lighting, compositing, modeling, and animating. A specialist animator, on the other hand, will focus on one specific field.

If you’re wondering whether to specialize or generalize as an animator, this article is for you.

1) Variety In Animation Tasks

man looking at paper on a whiteboard

Image by Startaê Team via Unsplash

Specialist animators work only in their chosen niche - this might be in 3D, 2D, hand-drawn, or stop motion. And in these mediums, you can further specialize in roles such as modeler, compositor, lighter, etc.

In recent years, the animation industry’s demands from specialists have changed such that it’s even possible to specialize in something as specific as programming the movement of hair.

On the other hand, generalist animators are skilled in more than one area and get more task variety. If you’re interested in becoming a generalist, you can learn how to do hand-drawn, stop motion, and 2D animation, or any combination of skills you like.

2) Level of Animation Expertise

a man who is wondering if he is an expert

GIF via GIPHY

Because specialists stick to a specific niche, they can focus on honing their skills and eventually become experts in their fields. To dabble in multiple fields of animation, a generalist sacrifices achieving the expertise of a specialist. The saying, “jack of all trades, master of none,” suits the circumstances of generalists.

Because generalist animators take on multiple trades, they divide their time among their different trades. Thus, it takes a longer time for them to get better at all of them.

Professional animators advise that, even as a generalist, you should narrow down your skillset to a point. Studios are keener on hiring generalists skilled at two or three trades rather than those middling at four or more.

3) Sizes of Animation Studios

people working in an office

Image by Israel Andrade via Unsplash

Small or midsize animation studios tend to hire generalists as the cost of hiring several specialists can be expensive. It’s more practical and cost-effective for these studios to hire individuals who have experience in different areas of animation.

Bigger studios are more likely to hire specialists because they have the funds to do so and because their projects often call for a talent pool of many different specializations.

4) Job Duration for Generalist and Specialist Animators

for hire sign

Image by Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash

Because of their very specific areas of expertise, specialists often work shorter gigs. They are less likely to be needed to stick around for the entire duration of an animation project so they can bounce from one job to another.

Since generalists use more than one skill set, they’ll likely work on their projects for longer. In fact, many generalists hold permanent positions at small or midsize studios. Furthermore, generalists can work as freelance animators and set up their own studios.

5) Animation Career Progression

man writing on a sheet of paper

Image by Scott Graham via Unsplash

Because they’re focusing on just one field or skill, it might also be easier for specialist animators to move up in their careers.

It might seem like being a specialist can be rather dull because you’d have to stick to a specific trade for your whole career. But the truth is that becoming an expert even in a very specific trade allows you to build up your animation portfolio faster and makes you incredibly valuable to bigger studios.

But this does not mean that specialists have all the fun. If you decide to work as a generalist, you’ll have more options available to you - and not just in terms of the skills you’ll be working on. You’ll also have the option to choose between working for a studio or freelancing and putting up your own studio.

Generalist animators are often capable of running one-man shops and take on roles in sales, marketing, and bookkeeping aside from animating. It may take you a long time to build your business and get animation clients, as potential clients might be more inclined to choose older and more trusted studios.

But the good news is the progression of your startup can be fast-tracked if you work hard on growing your portfolio and demo reel and marketing your animation services to target clients.

Summary

Early on in your animation career, you will have to face a crucial decision: will you generalize or specialize? In generalizing, you’ll be learning more than one skill in animation at the same time, while specializing involves learning only one specific skill.

This decision will determine the course of your animation education and your career. It will determine what kind of jobs you will book, what studios you’ll be working for, and even your level of expertise. The earlier you make this decision, the better.

So what kind of animator do you want to be? Think of where you want to be several years from now. Where do you see yourself working? Is it at a small, midsize, or large studio?

Or do you want to work as a freelancer and put up your own studio? Specialists often work for larger studios because these are the studios that can afford to pay for multiple animators.

But there are also many benefits to being a generalist. For one thing, you can still make a lot of money. The option to work as a freelancer lets you have control over how many hours you work and how much you’re paid.

You can also choose which projects you can work on. It also means no micromanagers, no office politics and bureaucracy, and you can work anywhere - even from home.

While specialists work for bigger studios, generalists are more appealing to the masses, can find more clients, and make more money. As a freelancer, being a generalist can be a boon to your business. Apart from animation and design, you’ll also be in charge of other tasks such as marketing and bookkeeping.

Regardless of what kind of animator you choose to be, you can find more helpful animation tips by joining our free masterclass and downloading our free marketing handbook.

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