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The Ultimate Guide to a Freelance 3D Animation Career

“As a 3D animation artist, you get to be a part of a creative industry with plenty of exciting projects and perks.”

Jasmine Katatikarn, Technical Arts Manager

Being a 3D animator is exciting! You get to bring images to life through movement and create life-like renditions for films, games, or even advertisements. 

Many animators opt to become freelancers because of the freedom it offers. Whether you’re a professional looking to start a 3D animation career or a new animator eager to jump into your freelance 3D animation career, this choice can create a lot of uncertainty and doubt. 

In this blog, we’ll give you a detailed guide on everything you need to know about starting a freelance 3D animation career. 

As a freelance 3D animator, your typical day at work can be characterized by the following activities: researching projects to get animation ideas, reading scripts and storylines to understand animation requirements, storyboarding, synchronizing frames and audios, and developing models, drawings, and illustrations.

This role requires individuals with an eye for detail, as well as expert knowledge and mastery of animation software, like Blender, Adobe Animate, Maya, and Cinema 4D.

Is a Freelance 3D Animation Career a Good Choice?

animator wondering if 3d animation is a good career

GIF by Olia Gozha via Dribble

The first thing you might be wondering is if a freelance 3D animation career is even worth it. Luckily, there’s no need to worry about this, but let’s take a look at some statistics to ease your doubts. 

The field of animation is more popular and in demand than ever before. Based on the 2018 - 2028 projection range by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the animation industry has an expected growth rate of 4% and produces 3,000 job opportunities across the United States.

The potential for growth in the film animation industry is evident in the box office statistics from 2021. According to Box Office Mojo, some of the top-grossing movies in 2021 were animated films like “Sing 2” which has a box office of $411.7 million, and “Tom and Jerry” with a total box office of $133.3 million.

If that’s not enough to convince you, the global animation market size grew from $254 billion to $270 billion from 2017 to 2020. That’s a 6% increase over the span of four years!

Not only that but the employment of multimedia artists and animators is projected to grow by 10% by 2026. 

The estimated growth for the animation industry is much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth will be due to increased demand for animation and visual effects in video games, films, and television.

Another important factor in the growth and development of the animation industry is consumer demand. With the advancement in animation techniques that produce increasingly realistic animations for video games and films, consumers will continue to demand more realistic animated content.

Because competition runs high in the animation and VFX industry, it’s vital to get a solid start, such as specializing in a specific field, developing an artistic eye, and mastering the right tools. Some fields you can specialize in high demand include character animation, mobile game development, visual effects, and advertising. 

In short, the animation industry is showing no sign of slowing down its growth, and 3D animators are especially valuable. For more information on the animator’s job outlook and the state of freelance animation, check out our blog. 

How to Start Your Freelance 3D Animation Career

an animator starting their freelance 3d animation career

Image via Creamy Animation

The first thing you need to consider before starting your freelance 3D animation career is how much it will cost. 

The cost of starting an animation studio is outlined on our blog, and it is important to note that the cost of building an animation business can vary significantly and depends on your animation equipment requirements, such as:

  • Small Animation Hardware, like a stylus pen, graphics tablet, and animation gloves
  • Large Animation Hardware, such as an ergonomic chair, animation desk, or table, and powerful computers
  • Animation software, like Adobe After Effects, Plastic Animation Paper, and Pencil 2D

The animation equipment and software prices will vary depending on your animation niche and the animation services you provide.

If you’re looking to elevate your career, you can look into starting an animation business or studio by doing the following: 

As your freelance business grows in popularity, you’ll have the option of hiring employees to help you keep up with the workload. But that’s a decision you’ll make later down the line, and at this point, it’s completely fine to do solo freelance work and sign up on websites like Fiverr. 

Next, you should determine the skills needed for a 3D animation career and work on developing those skills. 

Skills Needed For a Freelance 3D Animation Career

  • Technical Animator Skills
animators need technical skills for a freelance 3d animation career

Image by Lizzie Horrocks via Hot Courses Abroad

Being a successful animator requires learning about and mastering several essential animator skills. These include both hard technical skills and business skills. 

Technical skills are practical animator skills used in conjunction with your artistic talent and creative ability to bring life to every animation you work on. 

Hard animator skills also include computer literacy and familiarity with graphics software. Most animators rely on computer programs to create their animations. These include Maya, 3D Studio Max, Adobe Flash, etc. Some familiarity with graphic design is also essential as this forms the foundation for character design and visual effects.

Other important hard animator skills include knowing how to do research for character design, editing and writing skills, and being a jack of all trades when it comes to animation jobs. 

A 3D animation career is highly technical, so you’ll work with different software tools as part of your job. Some of the best 3D animation applications you’ll use as a 3D animator are:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Houdini
  • Cinema 4D
  • Autodesk 3DS Max
  • Blender
  • Lightwave 3D
  • ZBrush
  • Business Animator Skills
a 3d animation career requires you to learn business skills

Image via Goodwin University

Other skills you’ll need as a freelance 3D animator are essential business skills. After all, you will be running a business, so knowing what skills you need to develop is essential. Check out our blog on the best business skills animators should learn to learn why business skills are important for animators as well as which business animator skills are most important. 

With the many challenges freelance animators face from day to day, they must be equipped with the business skills and proper know-how to build and sustain a successful animation career. These skills are essential considering the fast-growing and competitive animation industry.

Investing time and energy in expanding your skills will make you learn the basics of business and help you navigate your way in running an animation business, whether as an individual freelance animator or an animation studio owner.

It automatically gives you access to a wide range of knowledge and serves as a training ground for you to learn from your mistakes and try out all sorts of techniques.

Additionally, pursuing an education in business improves productivity through its courses. It can turn anyone into a smart and skillful entrepreneur.

There are many important business skills to learn for your freelance 3D animator career. These include general skills like having attention to detail, handling criticism, organization, communication skills, decision-making skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, knowing how to work well under pressure, and time management skills. 

We’ve discussed these at length in various other blogs on our website. This blog is particularly important as it goes over 8 essential animator skills you need to learn

Other important business skills include financial, marketing, and negotiation skills. 

  • Financial Skills 
3d animation careers need financial skills for their business

Image by Hitesh Bhasin via Marketing91

Becoming financially literate is of utmost importance when running your animation business. This means understanding the value of money in your business and knowing the best way to manage and invest it.

You’ll need to learn how to do basic accounting like balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements, and much more. Keeping track of these records will allow you to see how well your 3D animation business is doing and keep you in the loop of the financial standing of your business. 

It’s also important to know how to budget your finances. Having a budget drives and determines key business decisions like purchasing new equipment or hiring more people.

Always track how much money goes in and out of your business. If you need extra help, you can use many accounting software to monitor your business expenses.

Mastering this skill will keep your business afloat, keep you out of debt, and prevent you from engaging in risky business ventures.

  • Marketing Skills
freelance 3d animators need marketing skills for them

GIF via Digital Scholar

Obtaining the right marketing skills means you can empower your clients and raise the profitability of your animation business. This skill is about building brand awareness and promoting your work and its unique offers and features so potential animation clients can understand its value.

Business networking helps you attract more clients and even enter a new marketplace. This refers to maintaining contact with certain people to help you expand your animation business and gain opportunities you might not have discovered on your own. 

Here are some tips to help you network more effectively:

  • Identify and reach out to the people who are involved or interested in your field 
  • Use your social media accounts
  • Attend all sorts of events related to business and animation
  • Negotiation Skills
every 3d animator needs to learn negotiation skills for their business

GIF by Laurène Boglio via Giphy

Whether or not you are an expert at sales, it’s a crucial business skill that you know how to reach your clients and navigate the negotiation process so you develop better techniques on your own.

Negotiation skills will help you when you encounter a difficult client who is unwilling to pay your rates. 

To aid in your negotiation with a client, you can research other 3D animators’ rates to give you a comparison to show the client. This will show them you know what your work is worth and what they should pay.

Your animation clients will most likely negotiate with you to lower your prices, so aim to agree with your client on a price in the middle. If you ask for 20% to 30% more money than what you want or need for your services, this can ensure you are still paid for your value even after negotiations.

Part of developing your negotiation skills is knowing how to set up an animation contract. Creating an animation contract is essential to protect yourself and your freelance 3D animation business. 

It’s important always to consult a lawyer to ensure you cover all the basics and don’t have any loopholes for your clients to exploit. 

Getting Noticed and Finding Work in Your Freelance 3D Animation Career

it can be difficult to get noticed when starting your 3d animation career

GIF by Mary Halton via Ideas.Ted.Com

The best way to get noticed and impress potential animation clients is by creating a winning portfolio and posting it on your website.

As a freelance creative and a freelance animator, one of the best ways to ensure a high chance of getting work is through your 3D animator's portfolio.

Your animation portfolio contains the essence of who you are as a 3D animator and is one of the best ways to show off to the world just how good you are at your job.

Since you’re a freelance 3D animator, the way you’re going to get work is by showing others what you’ve done, and what you’re capable of. For this reason, one of the very first things you need to do in your 3D animation career is to create an online animator’s portfolio.

It’s incredibly important to provide as much relevant evidence to your skills as possible, and include examples of your drawing and animating abilities. For reference, Mathias Takacs has a fantastic example of a simple and effective art and animation portfolio.

You should include the following information and examples in your portfolio:

  • Demo reel
  • Composites and rigging
  • Storyboards and character designs
  • Contact details 
  • References and testimonials

Be sure to always show your most relevant, recent, and impressive work first in your portfolio and to keep your portfolio up to date. 

Pricing Your 3D Animations

pricing your 3d animations in your 3d animation career can be difficult

Image via Shawn Casemore

Many freelance animators have a hard time deciding how to price their services.

When you start your freelance 3D animation career, you’ll notice how important it is to determine your rate and ensure you’re getting paid fairly for your work. Many clients will try to take advantage of you, but there are ways to guarantee you get paid fairly and on time. 

Pricing your animation work can be challenging. Figuring out how much to charge for freelance 3D animation can be difficult in many ways and may sometimes seem either egotistical or demeaning. You need to learn to tread the line of accurate and fair charges effectively for pricing 3D animation work.

The first thing to consider is the number of different ways you could charge clients. There are many different ways you can charge for the work you put in. 

There are three main ways you can price your 2D animations, and each has its own set of pros and cons. You can choose to charge per second of animation, per hour of work, or a project. The choice is completely up to you, and if you’d like to weigh the pros and cons of each of these, you can check out our blog, which gives a pricing guide for freelance animators.

You should always consider writing a proposal for your client, regardless of the project.

Doing a single project for a client often requires every detail to be unique to the situation. Paying such intense detail into the work should mean you request more from your clients. 

You can also consider upselling your animation services if a client insists on extra details or effects to be put in or used. You can make a chart of what you will charge for those extras that you can send to a client if they make this request. 

This will not only show a level of commitment to your craft but a keen understanding of your financial worth as a freelancer that will garner a level of respect between you and your client.

How to Speed Up Your Production Time for a Successful Freelance 3D Animation Career

how to animate efficiently in your 3d animation career

GIF by Phyllis Korkki via NY Times

  • Increase your APM (Actions Per Minute)

Measure your Actions Per Minute to be faster at anything in the virtual sphere. Using your keyboard efficiently can get a higher APM than navigating through menus.

You can do this by using shortcuts to complete projects quicker, which is an essential differentiator in an industry where you're likely to do the same things and share similar processes.

  • Optimize your Animation Process

Optimization means effectively using the resources at your disposal and scaling them. Managing your pipeline and starting keyframes are the best ways to approach your animation process speedily.

To optimize your animation production pipeline, you should structure your files is vital to ease project handling. This includes having separate folders for sounds, music, pictures, video references, characters, and project files.

A reliable rig allows you to easily make character changes, reducing time and making your animation more dynamic. You can outsource coming up with a good rig if you can't come up with one. Understanding Inverse Kinematics and having them in your rig can help you know if it is good. Watch this video to understand more about inverse kinematics.

You can recycle keyframes by copying and pasting, and tweaking them. This is much faster than blocking everything and wasting time by blocking the character when the pose is very similar to a previously blocked one. Recycling animations means you don't need to manually add all details in the timeline in a sequence of keyframes. 

You can also try organizing your life so you’ll have more time to produce higher-quality animations. This can be done by 

  • Automating social media and email,
  • having a work cycle,
  • regularly updating spreadsheets,
  • creating a daily schedule,
  • And building a workspace haven

Where to Find Online 3D Animation Work

finding 3d animation work can be difficult

Image via Hostinger Tutorials

Now that you know the top tips for pursuing your freelance 3D animation career, you’ll probably want to know where to find work. 

The best option as a freelancer is to advertise your services on job websites. Luckily, there are a lot of websites where freelance 3D animators can find work. Here are some of the best websites to advertise your 3D animation services to clients:

It’s important to mention that some of these websites have high competition, low-quality clients, commissions deducted from your pay, limits to growing your brand and provide an unstable source of income. For this reason, it’s important to do your research for the best website that will suit your needs. 

Chase Your Freelance 3D Animation Career

Starting your freelance 3D animation career can be scary, especially if you don’t know where to start. But with this guide, you should know what to expect and what to do to prepare for your 3D animation career!

For additional information, you can also check out our free marketing handbook and master class, as well as our blog post on how to start your own animation studio.

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