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How to become a 3D Art Director

4 minute read

If you’re an artistically creative person, one of the potential avenues open to you is a job in the world of animation. The peak of such a career is attaining the position of 3D Art Director – but what does that involve, and how do you get there? 

What is a 3D Art Director? 

Art directors in animation are the people who oversee the whole style of an animation, making creative decisions on everything from the characters to the colour palette. 

3D Art Directors are experienced at reading scripts and working with other directors to come up with creative concepts and designs. As well as being a creative role, it’s also one that involves collaboration with numerous other professionals, from concept artists to the end client. 

How much does a 3D Art Director earn? 

According to Glassdoor, 3D Art Directors earn an average of around £45,700 a year. Totaljobs gives the average starting salary for a 3D designer as £32,000, while Art Director salaries in the UK can be as high as £121,000 a year according to Reed (figures correct as of August 2021).

What does a 3D Art Director do in a typical day? 

You might think that 3D Art Directors spend their days creating animations, but the reality is that at director level, you’ll be spending a lot of your time in a more managerial and administrative role. You’ll be the one with overall responsibility for delivering the required creative work, as well as making sure it stays within budget. 

While you may create preliminary designs – either as 2D drawings or digitally in 3D – you’ll likely spend more time supervising other artists and working with crew members such as the producer and director. Ultimately, it’s the 3D Art Director’s responsibility to make sure the team delivers high-quality animation work that aligns with what the director wants. 

Skills you need to become a 3D Art Director 

3D Art Directors are often experienced animators who’ve been promoted to a director position, bringing with them skills they’ve acquired throughout their careers so far. Those skills typically encompass far more than just the animation itself, and tend to include leadership, communication, project management, negotiation and other skills picked up ‘on the job’. 

As a 3D Art Director you’ll need to be comfortable communicating with lots of different people, from the artists and animators whose work you’re overseeing to the end client whose animation you’re creating. You’ll need to be adaptable and to be able to keep projects running smoothly and within budget.  

With your background in animation, you’ll also have the creative eye and technical ability needed to make changes to animations to keep them in line with the director’s vision. 

How do you become a 3D Art Director?  

To become a 3D Art Director, you’ll need to start out as a junior animator, as directors usually get to where they are by being promoted rather than being hired straight from university. You’ll likely spend several years gaining experience as an animator before you’re in a position to get promoted to director level. 

Though there are private courses available, such as the beginners’ animation course from CG Spectrum, the majority of animators have studied animation (or a closely related subject such as film and animation, game art or computer animation) to bachelor’s degree level, and many employers require this.  

Animation degrees often come with internship opportunities that allow you to start gaining hands-on experience, and these may even lead to your first full-time employment. With an animation degree under your belt and the beginnings of a portfolio, you’ll then learn the skills needed to be in the running for an eventual promotion to 3D Art Director ‘on the job’.  

You can supplement the experience you gain in full-time employment by taking other courses along the way. Marketing courses will be useful, as will anything to do with management and leadership and other aspects of business. You’ll also need to stay up-to-date on the latest industry developments, such as new software and techniques. 

Career expectations for 3D Art Directors 

Most 3D Art Directors start out as animators, and you’ll find entry-level positions in a number of different areas, such as advertising or PR firms, software publishers and video production companies. Starting at a junior level, you’ll rise through the ranks as you grow in experience until you reach director level. 

If you’re looking for a challenging career that will exercise your creative skills, animation is a growing sector that gives you plenty of choice in the kind of companies you work with. With employment in this line of work projected to grow 6% from 2014 to 2024 – and 9% for directors – now’s a great time to get into this exciting industry!

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