Here is a comprehensive list of where you can work as an animator. Keep in mind, some places like generalists (can do it all) vs. specialists (rock stars of their craft). Some industries are more specialist oriented, while others are less so. Knowing these will give you insight in how to learn animation and which paths interest you.
This is the sexiest and most sought after field of both 2D and 3D animation. This is the “names in the credits” and IMDB bragging rights section. This includes both feature animation and blockbuster visual effects. While sexy, it’s also one of the most segmented areas of animation. This is the land of the specialist, like character animators, character effects artists (fire, scales, smoke, clothing, feathers, etc…), riggers (they set up the models to be animated), lighters, modelers, environmental fx, roto and paint, shader writers, pipeline technical directors (computer science grads who write tools for the artists), texture artists, and a host of others.
Each discipline requires you to be one of the best in the industry, unless there is a crazy crunch going on around certain films, then you might get in with slightly less skill.
Broadcast and Streaming Television
This is very similar to film but with much shorter turn around times. In addition, you could get by being a generalist here as sometimes the schedules are so short that you can end up doing everything on your shots. (depe
Like film, there are both 2D and 3D applications. Animated shows like Family Guy rely on 2D flat techniques and are produced as episodes whereas visual effects can create anything from painting out wires and coffee cups left on tables in shots, to entire monsters. There is a whole spread of choices and applications for animators and artists here, and many career paths within those applications.nding on 2D vs. 3D.) This is a sexy place as well, with bragging rights. The other benefit of TV is that you can do more work in a shorter time and have a show reel much quicker than in feature films, where the turn-around time is longer.
In the last 30 or so years, video games have gotten HUGE. In some respects, it’s every bit as sexy as feature film and TV. Like film, the turn-around time on games is longer, and in many cases, longer than film as lots of artists might get to work early in the game as opposed to crunch “post” time.
This industry is also segmented like Feature Film. There are teams of artists including modelers, texture artists, character and prop animators, lighters, fx artists, riggers, and a host of support staff. There’s a good intro course from CalArts here.
This industry, arguably, has the shortest turn-around time of any application of animation, and is often a pressure cooker. Ad agencies live on pressure and often like to exert it on anyone within range.
That said, you can do some real cutting edge work and have a show reel really quickly in this industry. It’s worth playing in that arena for a little while to get really, really good, really really fast. Of course, not every ad agency is neurotic, and you have some good ones, but know that it’s a pressure cooker going in.
Oftentimes, the ad agencies outsource the work to the same visual effects facilities that produce vfx for film and TV. They often have separate departments for film, TV, and commercial work. You can do 2D, 3D, hybrid, and play to many specialties, although turnaround time and the size of the facility may have you wearing many hats. Being a STRONG generalist may have its advantages here.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
AR and VR are a new field. Much of this falls under the video game model at the moment, with many generalists working in the field. It helps to know game engines like Unity or Unreal, and a bit of scripting like C# as well. You can be purely artistic in this field, but being so new and tech driven, it helps to know your math or coding a bit as well.
This field is in flux and suffered a bit when the great recession hit. Housing and development took a nose dive, and architecture with it. That said, it’s made a comeback, and there is work. It helps to know how to read blueprints and create assets to scale. It’s a bit less technical than AR and VR, but the you’ll most likely be a generalist unless you land at one of the larger visualization agencies.
The work here can be steady or not depending on the residential and commercial real estate markets.
Medical and Scientific
This is an emerging field and can be very lucrative. New medicine, treatments, scientific discoveries, and breakthroughs all need to be explained. You can be a generalist in this field, and it’s not as regimented as other fields. It’s certainly not as sexy as film, but you could actually help save lives here, and that can be worth more than an ego trip.
There is a growing need for animation in accident reconstruction and general litigation. You can be a generalist in this field, and if you’re good at networking, can even form your own freelance business here. It’s not as large as the others, but there is a need, and you might not ever even need to wear a suit, maybe.
This is a hidden gem. Aerospace is huge here. Some of the largest defense contractors have animation in house. Someone needs to animate fighter jets and weapons systems, and defend the “free world.” This industry also has a hard time getting artists to work there due to the perception of their “right wing” political stance. This is largely a mis-perception as these companies employ very diverse work forces, especially lately. They deadlines are more relaxed here as well, and the hours are good for family life.
Teaching is its own reward. Once you get a degree and some experience, you can often find work teaching. Most of this is part-time lately, as far too many professors are not getting tenure positions, and some are freeway fliers working at multiple campuses to make ends meet.
Internet and Your Own Content
This is one of the best opportunities for anyone in the field. Creating and owning your own content is way better long-term than working for anyone else. Especially with global wage pressure pushing animation salaries down, this is a great way to not only support yourself, but leave behind a legacy. It’s also the hardest of them all to pull off. Look at Lucas the Spider.