From “Toy Story” to “Finding Nemo,” you could probably make a long list of computer-animated movies that you’ve paid money to see - - but how much of that money goes to the animators? Though the hours can be long, computer animation is a job with a high potential for creativity and generally good financial rewards. Most multimedia artists have a bachelor's degree in a related field, though employers tend to look more critically at portfolios and work experience than relying on any one particular academic background. In addition to movies, computer animators may work on video games and and advertisements.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the average annual salary for all multimedia artists and animators was $68,060 as of May 2011. More than 28,000 animators were included in this survey. The middle 50 percent of all artists and animators earned between $45,750 and $82,860 per year, amounting to between $22 and $39.84 per hour. The median salary was $60,830, or $29.25 per hour.
It could be fruitful to pursue work related to motion picture and video production. Not only did that industry have the highest levels and concentrations of employment, but it also had the highest average salary of $83,250 per year, according to the BLS. Other top-paying industries for multumedia artists and animators included working as independent artists, where they earned $73,030 per year, on average, and working in aerospace products manufacturing, where they brought in $69,440 per year. Though feature films are what often come to mind when discussing computer animation, many animators also work in the gaming industry. According to a 2011 survey published by “Game Developer” magazine and cited by Gamasutra, game artists and animators made an average of $75,780 per year, which was an increase of more than $4,000 over the previous year. Animators in leadership positions, such as lead animators or technical directors, saw larger salary increases than animators in lower positions.
Salaries by State
Of all the states surveyed by the BLS, computer animators in California made the most, with an average annual salary of $83,730. They earned similarly high wages in New York, where the average salary was $70,670 per year. Other lucrative states for computer animators included Washington, where they took home $67,140 yearly; Massachusetts, where they made $64,960, on average; and the District of Columbia, where they made $64,710 each year. Multiple states did not have enough animators to provide a meaningful salary report, including Alaska, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware.
Salaries by Metro Area
Of the 10 top-paying metropolitan areas in the country, seven were in California, including Los Angeles, which was the highest-earning area for computer animators with an average annual wage of $89,860 per year. Areas outside California included Des Moines, where animators earned an average of $73,920 per year; New York City, where they took in $72,240, on average; and the Trenton-Ewing area of New Jersey, with an average salary of $69,870 each year.
2016 Salary Information for Multimedia Artists and Animators
Multimedia artists and animators earned a median annual salary of $65,300 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, multimedia artists and animators earned a 25th percentile salary of $49,320, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,450, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 73,700 people were employed in the U.S. as multimedia artists and animators.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Multimedia Artists and Animators
- Gamasutra:Game Developer Reveals 2011 Game Industry Salary Survey Results
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Multimedia Artists and Animators, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Multimedia Artists and Animators
- Career Trend: Multimedia Artists and Animators
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.