How To Become An Animator Without A Degree [Complete Guide]

Although a degree can open doors, it is not always the only way for you to show your worth and your abilities.

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Only 26% of freelancers in the United States have a college or associate degree. 

This means that you do not need to have specific studies to be able to work as a freelance in an area that interests you. 

If you are passionate about animation, it is possible to become an animator without a degree and here you will find the complete guide to achieve it. 

You should delve into the industry, specialize in an area, study that area by taking online courses, and practice to make a place for yourself in the animation industry.

1. Have the Right Mindset

When starting a new project it is normal to feel uncertain at first, especially if you are not sure of having enough skills to be able to work as a freelance animator. 

First of all, it is important to remember that even the professionals you admire the most were once beginners, and they all had to start somewhere to progress and become respected professionals.

To start the journey of your career as an animator you must have the motivation, encourage yourself every day to achieve your goals, and work hard to improve yourself. 

To get projects, jobs, and be an animator without having a degree, you must be patient and dedicated, strive every day to learn new things, and promote your work. 

Having the right mindset will keep you encouraged in each phase of your career, even in difficult moments where you feel that everything is very complicated. 

Animation is a work that mixes a lot of art with techniques and requires many hours to carry it out. 

So, to carry all this well, what you really need to have is passion. If you truly like this profession and are willing to do your best to succeed in the industry, go for it!

2. Get to Know the Animation Industry

What Do Most Employers Look For in Employees?

1. Talent and Qualities

Animation is an artistic work that can improve with consistency, but it is always preferable to have initial skills for animation. 

Having an exceptional ability to imagine and create stories will undoubtedly be a plus for those who wish to work as professional animators. 

Of course, these qualities are nothing if you do not have perseverance and discipline.

2. Practice

Animation is a difficult discipline to master. Drawing over and over again (until it seems spontaneous), creating your own sketches and storyboards are good exercises to start with. 

Practicing your skills and experimenting with techniques, new resources, and new software are things that an employer will value.

3. Discipline

Passion for work is important but not enough. In the animation career, it is essential to have a result-oriented work behavior. 

Planning the work is a good step to achieve it. It is necessary to be disciplined, set times, and set goals in order to meet the milestones that animation jobs constantly set.

4. Imagination and Ability to Tell Stories

It is important to be able to artistically represent events, stories, or images of things that do not exist in reality. From this base, innovative ideas, projects, or creations can be conceived.

5. Technological Curiosity

In animation, it is essential to always be up-to-date. There is constant innovation in this field and it is necessary to be aware of changes and improvements. You must always be ready to continue learning.

What Skills are They Looking For?

1. After Effects

Adobe After Effects is a motion graphics and digital composition software published by Adobe. 

It is primarily used for moving image post-production, animating, altering, and composing creations in 2D and 3D spaces with various native tools and third-party plugins. 

This is one of the most popular programs in the Adobe suite and there is a high demand for this ability, especially since this program is used to create a large number of types of animation and contains many filters and effects.

2. Maya

It is an animation, modeling, and simulation software in 3D, one of the most used in its category and has been used in movies like Captain America, Interstellar, and Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Maya is characterized by its enormous power and its customization options. It is open-source, which means that it can be customized to create your own tools. 

The program has different uses and also some interesting tools such as the simulation of clothes and hair, which give the characters a realistic design.

3. Adobe Animate CC

It is a 2D animation program developed by Adobe. Allows you to design animations for video games, applications, and websites. 

Its tools make it possible to easily animate characters and create scenes or splash screens. It is available for Windows and Mac.

4. Cinema 4D

It offers a wide range of animation tools and functions. Its advanced features allows to record mouse movement as position data and automatically redraw to create dynamic IK (Inverse Kinematics) settings, streamlining the workflow of animation artists. 

Also, thanks to the Pose Morph tool, you can create facial expressions and define the moods of your character. Cinema 4D is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Apart from all these tips, another highly recommended is to read ‘The Animator’s Survival Kit’, an ideal book especially if you are starting out. 

It is a document developed over several years by Richard Williams, one of the greatest animators of all time. 

A document that serves as the link between the golden age of traditional animation and the new techniques of digital animation. 

You will learn the 12 basic steps of animation, among many other useful lessons.

3. Pick Your Niche

The world of animation is very broad, so to know where to move forward and establish a growth plan for your career, you must specialize in a specific niche. 

A mistake that beginners usually make is wanting to do a little of everything because they think that this way they can reach more clients. 

While it is true that knowing a little about everything is useful, the best thing you can do to grow your career is to focus on one area above the others, so you can invest all your efforts in the same direction and you will become an expert in that area.

The most popular niches within animation are:

  • Traditional Animation
  • 2D Animation
  • 3D Animation
  • Typographic Animation
  • Stop Motion Animation

In the beginning, the best thing you can do is try different types of animation to define which one you like the most, the one that you would like to develop above others. 

Over time, as you study, practice, and work on various projects, you will develop your own style. That is important because your particular style is what sets you apart from other animators. 

Most likely, your style will be a mix of the types of animation and animators that inspire you the most and you admire the most, but be sure to create your own mark.

4. Take Online Courses

As you already know, it is not necessary to have a degree if you want to work as an animator. 

However, there are two very important things that you must keep in mind: practice and experience, and one does the other. 

If you cannot access formal education or if you just do not want to, there is a more versatile, comfortable, and practical way to learn and develop your skills: online courses.

Online courses are much cheaper than doing a formal study, you can see your classes at the time you want, repeat the lessons, take courses to develop specific skills and some courses even give you a certificate when you complete all the lessons. 

Online courses are key to your career because they keep your knowledge up to date and it is necessary to never stop learning.

Here are some online platforms and courses that you can take:

5. Practice

When someone dedicates themself to a sport, what they should do most of the time is to practice, to be a better player or athlete each day. 

With the animation, although it sounds strange, something very similar happens. 

You must practice constantly to develop your skills, especially since within animation there are many things you must do, such as drawing, modeling, and finally animating. 

You can do many courses and study a lot about types of animation and skills, but if you do not practice you will not be able to memorize what you learn or improve your skills. 

If you are an animator who does not have work experience, your practices will help you to get your first projects. 

Through the result of your practices, you will demonstrate how skilled you are, and your knowledge regarding the programs and techniques you use. 

Practicing will make you stand out from other animators who only put their skills to use when they have a job to do.

6. Build Your Portfolio

Today it is essential to have an online site with your portfolio, be it a web page or a profile on one of the platforms available for this. 

This is so that anyone who sees your work on another site, just looking for your name can reach your portfolio and most importantly, your contact.

To present your projects in any discipline of digital art, it is very important to select the best you have, although it is not the latest. 

Many times animators become obsessed with showing the newest of their creations, however, if the newest is not of the highest level, it is better not to show it. 

Keep in mind that the more you practice and work on your skills the more samples you will have to show, so you could specifically develop some projects for your portfolio and thus impact your clients.

Employers pay a lot of attention to the portfolio because that is what it will show if you do have the experience or talent that you say you have. 

There they will also be able to appreciate what softwares you handle and what is your style of animation or influences. 

The person who is going to be looking at your portfolio probably has to see many more throughout the day. 

So it is important that you take advantage of the opportunity, that you show exactly the best you have, and that you do not make your portfolio too extensive. 

It is better to put little and that it is interesting than to put many pages and that it is boring.

Obviously, it is super important that your name and contact information are very visible, and that if the person who is looking at the portfolio wants to contact you, they can find that information very quickly. 

If you have more questions about how to build an excellent portfolio website, you can check this article on how to build a portfolio.

7. Join Animation Communities

Another key aspect of becoming an animator without a degree is connecting with animation communities. 

These are forums or groups on the internet where you will find many other people with similar goals and who also work in the animation industry. 

In those places you can give and receive feedback on your work, they can give you very useful tips and advice. There you can also post questions that you have that can only be answered by experienced animators.

Another benefit of being part of a community of animators is that you will be aware of interesting and useful events and work proposals. 

Being in contact with other entertainers will help you keep up with market trends and important news. It is a great way to get to know yourself and others. 

In these communities, users also often share resources that can help you with a project or you can also collaborate with others. This way you make yourself known and you also increase your chances of finding new projects to work on.

Some animator communities you can try are:

  • Increases the visibility of your personal brand.
  • Helps you meet potential customers, suppliers, investors, or companies that can help you.
  • Increases sales opportunities.
  • Make yourself known as a professional and thus get a new job or achieve better jobs.
  • It helps you exchange knowledge or collaborations.
  • You can acquire more knowledge about the environment of your career as an animator: competitors, risks, or new opportunities. 

8. Network

This is a way to contact other animators in your niche and thus boost each other or work together to have profitable results. Networking is a very profitable alternative. 

In fact, it is one of the most frequent practices within the business world and among entrepreneurs and freelancers. It does not matter what you do or what sector: networking benefits everyone.

Networking is based on establishing beneficial relationships for both parties with the purpose of creating synergies and generating job or business opportunities. 

Working in your network of contacts is important and necessary to expand the possibilities of both professional and business growth in the short, medium, and long term. 

First of all, you should start building your network as soon as possible. That is before you need it. Do not wait to be looking for work or to have a specific need. 

To do effective networking it is essential to achieve empathy and trust with people. Therefore, it is important to maintain a positive, warm, and enthusiastic attitude. 

You must know how to listen and communicate effectively. Have confidence in yourself, be sociable, patient, and offer your help without expecting anything in return.

Networking Benefits

  • Increases the visibility of your personal brand.
  • Helps you meet potential customers, suppliers, investors, or companies that can help you.
  • Increases sales opportunities.
  • Make yourself known as a professional and thus get a new job or achieve better jobs.
  • It helps you exchange knowledge or collaborations.
  • You can acquire more knowledge about the environment of your career as an animator: competitors, risks, or new opportunities.

Networking is one more strategy that leads you to achieve professional and business success, in fact, 70% of people who have found work in a company have done so thanks to having a connection. 

It will open doors and give you access to many possibilities that, perhaps, you would not have thought of at the beginning. Working in your network of contacts with an open, participatory attitude, with consistency and intelligence will make you advance in your goals.

9. Seek Out a Mentor

“If when I started I had known X, I had not done that”, how many times have you heard other freelancers say that? 

There are many mistakes you can make early in your career and some are not obvious. Whether it is choosing your niche or knowing that you have to nurture your network from the beginning, knowing how everything works from the first moment is almost impossible.

The good thing is that there are many freelancers who have gone through experiences that you have not yet lived and who can help guide you. 

A mentor is a person who advises, guides, or supports another, a learner or disciple. The mentor always has more experience or knowledge in the field in which he helps the other person. 

However, many freelancers may be reluctant to seek mentors or mentors directly, but they really should not be. 

Something interesting is that 67% of people who run a business and who have had a mentor, assure that they have become much more productive. So it is a good tool to grow as a professional.

Why Should You Have a Mentor As a Freelancer?

1. Learn From the Mistakes of Others Instead of Your Own

Not everyone needs to go through something to learn on their own. Yes, it is true that there are many mistakes you can make when you start as a freelancer. However, each of them has already been experienced by another freelancer before you.

Learning from your own failures is one way to make experiences really grow you, but you do not always have to stumble to learn. Sometimes you just need a person you trust to tell you that it is not a good idea.

2. Have a Second Opinion

As an animator, you will have to constantly innovate, regarding your techniques or programs you use. Especially when starting your career, there will be many new situations that will force you to make a decision. 

While trusting your instincts or weighing up the pros and cons can often lead you to the right solution, getting a second opinion is just as valuable, and if that opinion comes from someone who has already experienced what you are going through, that is even better!

3. Benefit from the Network of Contacts

Mentors are by definition more experienced than you. That means they know people in their field of work – they have connections. 

If they are willing to use those connections to your advantage, in addition to direct learning, you can benefit from new professional connections that could give you work in the future.

Study, prepare, connect, and become the animator you want

It is clear that to become an animator you do not need formal education, in fact in this niche there are many other freelancers already experienced but who live this same situation. 

However, that does not mean that you should not learn and prepare yourself in other ways, such as online courses, learning from a mentor, or being in contact with a community of animators.

Practicing is also an essential part of becoming an excellent animator but it is also necessary to love what you do. The important thing to becoming an animator is having the desire to do it, the right mindset, and working hard to see results. 

With patience, you will achieve your goal and you will see the reward of all your effort.

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