Freelance animation is an exciting and challenging career. As an animator, there are so many areas you can experiment and specialize in, including 2D animation, 3D animation, whiteboard animation, motion graphics, storyboarding, and more.
Before you fully dive into being a freelance animator, there are some points you have to remember. Here are our top 6 tips for starting your own freelance animation career.
1) Develop an Impressive Showreel, Portfolio, and Website
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As a freelance animator, you’ll probably consistently apply for gigs and jobs. When applying, you must have a showreel, portfolio, and website that stand out. Your showreel should only be about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Post your showreels on Behance and/or Vimeo. When you display your work on a public platform, you increase your chance of being noticed and reached out to for animation work.
Before posting your showreel online, have a colleague or mentor critique it and cut it down. Remember to add music to match the animation in your showreel, so it’s more engaging.
Keep your website short; one page is good. Studios receive many applications and requests for internships and animation jobs, so it is best to keep your website brief and to the point.
Make sure you include important information in your website like the animation software you use and your skill level. Include any area of design, illustration, or animation you have studied.
Finally, add any animation industry experience you’ve had, including personal projects, freelance work, internships, etc. Also, make sure your website is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
As you gain work experience and new skills, remember to keep your showreel, website, and portfolio up-to-date.
2) Get More Work Experience
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No doubt, all animation studios, advertising agencies, marketing agencies, and businesses need experienced animators for their animation projects. They want to manage their budgets well and have high-quality projects delivered in a timely manner.
It’s safer and quicker for studios to hire an experienced animator when they have an upcoming deadline for an important project. For a less important project that isn’t on a tight deadline, animation studios, agencies, and businesses will likely hire a junior animator.
However, some small studios still aren’t that keen on bringing aboard fresh graduate animators until their studio has gotten a bit bigger; small studios don’t have the same resources to use towards training less experienced animators and often do not want to gamble on hiring fresh graduates.
If you want to increase your chances of getting hired by clients as a freelance animator, you have to gain animation industry experience and sharpen your skills.
Improve your drawing skills. Whether you’re a 2D animator, 3D animator, motion graphics designer, or storyboard artist, you should keep drawing. Watch TV series, shorts, and feature films that inspire you to practice your own art styles and techniques. By drawing regularly, you will definitely improve your drawing and design skills.
Also develop your animation software skills. You may have learned how to use a specific animation software in school, and that is great! Unfortunately, only knowing how to use 1 to 2 types of animation software may limit your opportunities in the animation industry.
There is a variety of animation software you can learn through online classes. If you’re a 3D animator who wants to work for blockbuster movies, learning Maya would be beneficial for you. Many animation companies use Cinema 4D or 3ds Max for 3D animation. For 2Danimation, you should practice with Toon Boom Harmony and/or TVPaint.
If you’re interested in storyboard illustration, you should master Photoshop, Procreate, and Boords. If you want to work for marketing and business animation studios, you should learn how to use Adobe Creative Cloud and its 3rd party plugins for After Effects such as Element 3D, Particular, and Stardust.
Lastly, if you want to work on computer game animation or virtual reality, you should know how to use Unity and Unreal Engine.
3) Reach Out to Animation Studios and Potential Clients
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Reach out to the animation studios, businesses, and agencies you want to work for.
Research potential clients. You can find clients through job boards and through looking at the websites of agencies and studios you admire. Make a list of each agency, animation studio, and video production company you could work for or that you want to work with.
Then send out a polite and compelling email in which you state your intent to apply as a freelance animator. Alternatively, if they don’t have open job postings, you can cold email, offering your services if they ever need them.
When sending emails, be humble about your work experience and accomplishments, but also tell your potential client why you are a good fit for the job. Include a link to your showreel and website, so they can easily view your best works.
After sending your emails, see to it that you make yourself accessible to clients. Respond to their emails promptly, but also remember to have boundaries and to not sit at your computer all day checking your inbox.
Set a specific time to respond to emails. It can be several minutes in the morning or evening, or a few times during the day. Determine the best times to email your prospective clients, depending on their industries and timezones. You have to make time for work, family, and errands, but consistent communication with clients should always be a priority.
You can also call animation studios and other businesses like advertising and marketing agencies, and ask if they have job openings for freelance animators.
Cold calls can be nerve-racking, but they are an effective way to make people notice you. If you emailed the business, you can also ask if they have received your email; this will show your initiative.
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Some people like networking, but some get uncomfortable just by thinking about it. As an animator especially, networking regularly is a vital practice, so you can get your name out there and have more business opportunities.
Being shy or not having enough time are not excuses to avoid networking. If you’re just starting to network, keeping up with people you already know such as former classmates and colleagues is a great way to begin. You can also network by attending animation events and conferences and by actively participating at these events.
Aside from networking in person, you can network online, using websites for professionals such as LinkedIn. Connect with people within the animation industry there by requesting to connect with them and by sending them a clear and professional message about why you want to work with them.
You can also showcase your works there by posting status updates. Regularly engaging on and networking through LinkedIn, you will probably find a studio or a professional who needs your animation skills and knowledge.
5) Be Active on Social Media
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As an animator, LinkedIn isn’t the only social media platform you should be active on. It’s important to be on social media, especially the platforms filled with images and videos such as Instagram and Pinterest.
Spend time each day on social media platforms promoting your work. Schedule your posts at times when your potential clients will most likely see your work. You can also post funny memes and news related to the animation industry to ensure you’re regularly providing valuable content to your followers and encouraging engagement.
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, and followers and friends who can support and encourage you.
6) Plan Ahead
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As an animator, planning out your entire year may be hard to do. But doing so will keep you focused and motivated as a freelancer. You can set short-term and long-term goals that will help guide you to where you want to be after a year.
Consider the different areas of your life, including your financial investments, livelihood, insurances, equipment needs, social media presence, and your specializations as an animator.
Plan out what skills you want to develop and how you want to better specialize your abilities; consider classes you may want to budget for and time you want to put aside each day or week, so you can perfect your abilities. Know what you can realistically accomplish within a year.
To keep up with your finances, creating and updating spreadsheets will be essential, so you can keep track of your expenses, income, and donations. Make new ones every year. This will make it so much easier for you when filing your taxes.
Why is this important? As a freelancer, under tax law, you may be considered to own your own business. Have a basic understanding of tax laws where you live, so you better know what to keep track of and what you can potentially deduct.
For example, as a freelance animator, you may be able to write off certain business expenses for your taxes. Did you buy new animation software? Did you purchase a graphics tablet just for work? You may be able to write off these costs, deducting them from what you owe in taxes.
Also, since you don’t have an employer who takes your taxes from each paycheck, you’ll need to keep up with your income and know what percentage of it you should save to pay back during tax season. Putting aside money for taxes as you earn income will help ensure you won’t get a shocking tax bill.
But don’t just put money aside for taxes, also plan to save in case of emergency or in case you experience a lag in work. Think about what you will do if you aren’t able to get any animation clients for weeks or months.
Not knowing when your next paycheck will come can be terrifying, especially if you have a family to support and a lot of bills to pay. Try your best to plan for this and put aside money when you can.
Don’t just plan your whole year, also plan your daily routine. In order to not miss out on any task, make a to-do list of the things you should do every day, whether the task is work-related or not.
For example, per day you can reach out to 10 new potential clients via LinkedIn or research potential clients on Google. You can post a new video on Instagram about your latest work and answer emails from animation clients.
When you’ve done everything on your list, you can look back at it and feel a sense of accomplishment. As you accomplish these tasks, you’re also planting the seeds to grow your business.
Having a freelance animation career is challenging, yet fun. As an animator, you need to juggle between being an artist, a marketer, an accountant, and even a member of your household.
You should also stay on top of animation industry trends, find ways to get your name out there, and get more work experience.
Hopefully the above 6 tips for starting your freelance animation career can prove very useful for you. Good luck out there!