As the world of animation expands and the importance of animation in business increases, it should come as no surprise that the demand for quality freelance animators has escalated too.
In recent years freelance animation has become a very popular practice among the modern workforce.
Currently, 57 million Americans have selected freelance work as their primary source of income, with 25% of freelancers able to find work in less than 24 hours. Since 2019, 71% of freelancers have noted a major growth in online work.
With stats like these, it should come as no shock that freelance animation is one of the most sought-after online jobs out there.
As a freelance animator, you are spoiled for choice in terms of areas of specialization and expertise from 2D animation and 3D animation to motion graphics, storyboarding, and whiteboard animation.
However, the world of freelance animation can be overwhelming insofar as starting your freelance animation business is concerned.
Fortunately, professional freelance animators are open to sharing their freelance animation tips that can assist you in running a successful freelance animation business.
While freelance animation comes with perks like managing your own schedule and professional freedom, it does come with a set of challenges that can be easily maneuvered by following these freelance animation tips and tricks.
In this blog post, we’ll identify some of the animation industry’s top freelance animation tips from taking advantage of social media to developing your website and showreel. Here are the top tips for animation shared by freelance animation professionals:
Freelance Animation Tip 1: Create an Outstanding Website, Showreel, and Portfolio
This is the first impression that potential animation clients will get of you when considering whether to hire you or not.
As a freelance animator, you should keep your website short, sweet, and to the point.
Potential animation clients receive hundreds of applications so include only essential information such as your contact details, skill level, your experience with various animation software, your education level as an animator, and your animation industry experience.
This includes freelance animation work, internships, personal projects, and animation studio experience. Be sure sure to include these animation tips when cultivating your showreel, website, and portfolio:
- Limit your showreel to about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes and get your work out there. When you display your work on a public platform like Vimeo or Behance, you increase your chance of being noticed and approached for freelance animation work.
- According to professional freelance animators, one of the most important freelance animation tips is to keep your showreel and portfolio up to date with your most recent animation projects.
Would you hire someone who only presented dated projects using outdated software?
- Constantly refreshing your portfolio and showreel sends the message that you are in demand and have your finger on the pulse of the latest animation trends.
Freelance Animation Tip 2: Work Experience is Key
It goes without saying that potential animation clients are looking for freelance animators with some degree of experience to ensure that they receive a high-quality animation project with money well spent.
One of the main freelance animation tips agreed upon by professional animators is that gaining as much animation experience as possible and improving your animation skills is the best way to increase your chances of being hired by potential clients.
Here are a few animation tips for improving your animation skills:
- Advance your drawing skills by watching films, shorts, TV series, or YouTube videos and practice the techniques that inspire and influence your animation style.
- Try to avoid limiting yourself to 1 or 2 types of animation software. Instead, stay up to date on new animation software and take the time to learn how to use a variety of popular and innovative animation software.
- Take in-person or online animation software classes. Approach local universities and colleges to learn what animation software learning classes are on offer. Alternatively, the internet offers a wealth of online classes focusing on animation software.
- 3D animators would benefit from learning Maya, while 2D animators should learn how to use Toon Boom Harmony or TVPaint. Storyboard illustrators should learn Photoshop, Procreate, and Boords.
- If you’re interested in animation for businesses and marketing mastering Adobe Creative Cloud, After Effects, Element 3D, and Stardust would be particularly useful. As for computer game animation or VR animation, Unity and Unreal Engine are the way to go.
Freelance Animation Tip 3: Put Yourself Out There to Potential Animation Clients
GIF by whichjohn via Tenor
Another of the freelance animation tips encouraged by professional animators is to research and reach out to potential animation clients you would like to work for.
One of the challenges of being a freelance animator is that often you have to work to get clients rather than the other way around. Researching on job boards, agency websites and studio sites is a good way to find potential clients.
Once you have made a list of potential clients, reach out to them either by sending emails listing your services or cold calling the agencies or animation studios you would like to work with.
Once again, when sending emails keep it short and to the point. Share your work experience, why they should hire you, and links to your showreel and website.
Respond to emails in a timely fashion by periodically checking your inbox several times a day. Be mindful of different industries and timezones to ensure that you make your clients a priority.
When it comes to cold-calling animation studios and businesses, be professional by enquiring as to whether they have any job openings. Unlike emails, which can get lost in a sea of junk mail and spam, cold calling is an effective way to show initiative and stand out to potential clients.
Freelance Animation Tip 4: Network, Network, Network
As a freelancer one of the best animation tips is networking. As a freelance animator, regularly networking is essential to the survival of your freelance animation business. Networking not only gets your name out there but also puts you in contact with potential animation clients.
Stay in touch with former animation school classmates or colleagues from past jobs or internships. Research animation events and conferences in your area and attend these networking events as an active participant.
Another animation tip from professionals is to network online. Professional networking websites like LinkedIn or animation-specific communities like The Society for Animation Studies (SAS) and The Animation Network (TAN) are great ways to connect with other animation professionals.
- Reach out to professionals within the animation industry by sending them a business-oriented message outlining why you would like to connect and work with them.
- Posting regularly on networking websites is also a great way to engage with other professionals and maintain visibility in the animation community.
Some useful animation tips from professional animator Matt Walker (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” & “The Penguins of Madagascar”) include doing a lot of research before jumping in; looking into taxes and insurance; and establishing relationships before making the jump to freelance animation.
According to Walker, you should:
- Consider your freelance career as you would starting a new shot. You wouldn’t just jump in; you would plan.
- Make a list of studios you would like to work with.
- Get in touch with friends in the freelance world.
- Research as much as you can and dive into the world of freelance animation with intention.
Freelance Animation Tip 5: Social Media is Your Best Friend
We live in an increasingly digital world and social media is essential for any business, even freelance animation. Platforms populated with images and videos, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and TikTok, are key.
Carve out time each day, for example, 30 minutes each morning, to spend promoting your work on social media. Research the best times for posting when you are most visible to potential animation clients and schedule your social media posts for these times each day.
Although you should center your content on your animation projects, you can also share relatable animation industry memes or news to encourage engagement from your followers and prove that following you on social media is valuable.
Having a social media presence can help you network, as you can follow and be followed by other people within the animation industry. This can help you find clients, other opportunities, followers, and friends who can support and encourage you.
Join and be active in animation groups and forums on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to spread awareness of your freelance animation brand, find potential animation clients and learn from others in the community.
Do research on animation industry-related hashtags to ensure that your posts reach the right people.
Freelance Animation Tip 6: Planning Ahead
Planning ahead is absolutely crucial for a freelance animator, making this one of the most important tips for animators.
It may seem daunting to think about planning your entire year as a freelance animator, but it is essential to keep you motivated and focused as you build your freelance animation business.
Make planning ahead more attainable by setting short-term and long-term goals and segregating them into different areas of your life.
Consider your goals for your finances, insurances, equipment requirements, social media presence, and specializations as an animator (i.e.: courses you may need to complete or software you may need to purchase.)
Put time aside each day or week for honing your animation skills, be it through online or in-person courses, tutorials, or personal practice, and set monthly or yearly skill goals.
Keep track of your income and expenses by creating spreadsheets. This will make it that much easier to control and manage your finances throughout the year.
Carefully monitoring your finances is fundamental when it comes to tax season, especially since you may be able to write off certain expenses for your freelance animation business.
According to professional freelance animator Andrew Conroy (“Life of Pi”, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”, and “Love, Death + Robots”), one of the best tips in animation is to plan your finances and project schedule.
As Conroy says, the anxiety that comes from the absence of a consistent paycheck can be a challenge as a freelance animator, particularly when you don’t know when exactly your funds are going to dry up.
He suggests utilizing spreadsheets to get a clear picture of your finances and alleviate stress and anxiety.
One of the challenges of being a freelance animator is that you don’t have the stability of a set paycheck every month and sometimes you may not have any animation clients for weeks or even months.
As a freelance animator, it is also important to put money aside in case of emergency or during those dry periods when there isn’t much work coming in.
Being a freelance animator also means you do not have the stability of a daily routine, like going to an office, attending meetings, receiving direction from your superiors.
Freelance Animation Tip 7: Be Able to Adapt
One of the most useful freelance animation tips suggested by professional animator Kevin Nguyen (“Scooby-Doo,” “Angry Birds” and “Storks”) is being adaptable.
Different projects require different styles of animation, so Nguyen suggests spending time expanding your knowledge and familiarizing yourself with various types of animation.
As a freelance animator, you will likely find yourself batting many curveballs, from last-minute idea changes to moved forward deadlines.
Therefore, it’s important to always expect the unexpected and be prepared for a variety of scenarios. In these cases, it helps to have extensive knowledge of animation software and other industry standards.
This is what sets freelance animation apart from other freelancers like writers or voice actors. It is fundamental that you are up-to-date and fluent in the latest animation trends and technology to remain relevant to potential animation clients.
If you can’t do it, they will find another animator who can.
As with anything in life, as a freelance animator, you should be prepared to encounter negative feedback at some point. Again, this is where being able to adapt takes precedence. As a freelance animator, you have to be willing to adapt to your animation clients’ demands - even if you don’t always agree with them.
Freelance Animation Tip 8: Manage Your Time
Being a freelance animator presents another challenge when it comes to maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
Lopez shared some of the animation tips he uses as a freelance animator:
- Watch the last review first thing in the morning.
- Spend time reading and understanding notes from the supervisor.
- Plan which shots you intend to work on for the day and in what order.
- Make daily goals that can act as milestones throughout the process to keep track of your progress.
- Lopez’s top animation tip is, to begin with the hardest task on your list and, if you feel you are not working or getting stuck, move on to the next task and try again later.
Setting deadlines for yourself as a freelance animator is key in terms of staying consistent and avoiding procrastination.
Plan your day by the hour. For example, set a specific amount of time to concentrate fully on work, followed by a break free from anything work-related. For example, for every 45 minutes immersed in work spend 15 minutes away from your workspace. Not only does this help you to manage your time productively, but it also encourages creativity.
Another animation tip for freelancers involves tracking your time per project. This will help you price projects as well as give you an indication of how many projects you can take on at any given time.
Freelance Animation Tip 9: Organize Your Business
As a freelance animator, it is important to start thinking of yourself as a business and treat yourself like a business. This involves keeping yourself organized and professional.
According to Roman K (“Hotel Transylvania 2,” “Angry Birds,” and “Love Death and Robots”), you should:
- Keep track of all of the studios, HR staff, and producers you are in contact with.
- You can do this by using a spreadsheet with each studio on an individual tab in one file.
- Under each studio, you can list all the studio contacts, if and when you have worked there, and your pay rate per job.
- Roman K also suggests archiving your studio-related emails in labeled folders in your inbox. This way they are neatly organized for quick reference.
Google Calendar or any similar calendar app is extremely useful in terms of managing yourself as a business. This will help you to know when you are booked or available to take on new projects. This way you are able to track potential jobs, bookings, and canceled jobs.
As a freelance animator, you will often be on the move, traveling between studios. One of the best tips in animation as a freelancer is having everything you need ready to go at all times.
For example, keep your scripts, plug-ins, and hotkeys handy on a USB drive or on Google Drive or any other cloud-based service so you can access them whenever, wherever.
It is also useful to carry your own headphones along with a spare extension cable. Although studios often have an extra pair of headphones lying around, they may be old, damaged, uncomfortable, and not always clean. So, it’s a good idea to always have your own on hand.
Freelance Animation Tip 10: Keep Doing Personal Projects
Another of the important tips for animation as a freelance animator is to set some time aside to focus on personal projects. While there may from time to time be a project as a freelancer that gets the creative juices flowing, it is rare, as a freelance animator, that clients’ projects fulfill you creatively.
Carve out time in your schedule to work on something that interests you to keep animation as a hobby. Use these personal projects to experiment with different styles and techniques, tell your story and hone your talent as an animator.
These personal animation projects are also great to add to your portfolio, showreel, and website and could lead to potential future projects from animation clients that you can get passionate and excited about.
Consider submitting these personal animation projects for competitions or festivals. Sure, winning an award would be a personal victory but could also increase your exposure to potential clients as well.
Perhaps most importantly, though, a creative outlet provides a much-needed detox from the business side of freelance animation and allows you to keep your passion for animation alive.
Freelance Animation Tip 11: Sell Yourself Well
The final, and potentially most important tip for animation as a freelancer is knowing how to sell yourself. There are several tips and tricks that can help you learn how to better sell yourself as a freelance animator.
There are a plethora of books that teach you how to better sell yourself as a freelance animator. For example, “Sell or Be Sold” by Grant Cardone is a popular choice. Download onto your Kindle or listen to the audiobook, if you prefer reading while doing something else.
It is also important to not undersell yourself. Having competitive rates is essential to land potential animation clients. Charge too little and you could be viewed as amateur or inexperienced.
Once you have built your portfolio and have refined your skills and built a repertoire you can start pushing your rates up and be more selective with the animation clients that you charge to work with.
Consider how you can add value to each project and what you can gain from it. Shift your mindset to a problem-solving mentality. This will help you sell yourself to potential animation clients by proving that you can add value to their projects.
For example, if your client is asking to make an animated explainer video, try to understand the objectives behind making this video. Understand who their target audience is, and what you can do to integrate that information into your product.
Why You Should Use These Animation Tips
Although the world of freelance animation can be lucrative and rewarding, making it as a freelance animator can also be challenging. However, having the right animation tips and tricks can make your freelance animation career that much easier.
The above 11 animation tips that professionals swear by, from creating the perfect showreel, website, and portfolio to learning how to sell yourself as a freelance animator, are tried and tested methods guaranteed to steer your animation business in the right direction.
These professional animation tips and tricks will help you save time, stay organized and ensure that your freelance animation career is a successful one.
For more animation tips on how to take your freelance animation career to the next level, we suggest that you watch our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!