Maybe you’ve already made a name for yourself as a competent animator. You’ve got the goods, with a highly-valuable array of skills that your employers love to call upon. But, maybe as the daily grind weighs down on you, you’re aching for some variety, a way to spice up your life beyond the confines of an office. The idea is there, half-formed, just waiting to be said out loud. Have you ever thought about becoming a freelance animator?
Or perhaps you’re looking for reliable talent without looking to employ someone directly. Maybe you’ve got that one job that you need done right; an explainer video, a website animation, a company introduction video. Then you’ll find the contents of this article useful as well.
But, what is a freelance animator anyway? Just one of the 57 million Americans who work on their own? A jack-of-all-trades in the field of animation? And how does one find great gigs in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the internet?
Let’s slow down a bit, and try to address all of these concerns one by one. The freelance life, with all its perks and wonderful freedoms, takes some getting used to. And, needless to say, you’ll have to work a bit to get it going. But, with a little gumption, there’s no reason you couldn’t be one of the 25% of freelancers who can find work in less than 24 hours. Even more, 71% of freelancers have said that they’ve had more online work in 2019. After the smoke from the COVID-19 pandemic clears, those stats are likely to trend upwards.
Let’s take it from the top.
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What is a Freelance Animator?
The Balance Careers provides a great definition:
An animator creates an extensive series of images that form the animation seen in movies, commercials, television programs, and video games. They typically specialize in one of these media and may further concentrate on a specific area, such as characters, scenery, or background design. Animators typically use computer software to do their work. They are members of a team that consists of other animators and artists who collaborate on projects.
Of course, this is a very broad definition of what an animator does. They may also work with more traditional, 2D means. But, it’s true that animators nowadays, especially those working remotely, will specialize in skills that require the use of a computer.
A freelance animator, then, is an animator who is essentially self-employed; a specialized, highly-skilled professional who works on a gig (individual job) basis for a variety of clients. There’s plenty to like about being a freelancer, such as:
- Setting your rates.
- Working your own hours
- Achieving a healthy work/life balance.
- Working with as many (or as few) clients as you like.
- Rejecting work you don’t like.
- Being your own boss.
- Working on a per-project, hourly, daily, or weekly basis.
- Working from whenever you choose (as long as the Wi-Fi’s good)
- Let’s take a look at what freelance animation is all about.
Let’s take a look at what’s expected of you as an animator.
A freelance animator needs to proficiently:
- Animate character expressions, with the ability to portray a broad spectrum of emotions.
- Have the ability to create believable, high-fidelity animations both by hand (key animation) and using motion capture data.
- When necessary, recommend and pursue approaches to help in integrating 3-D components into final commercial products.
- Work as part of a larger team. This will require them to be able to provide clear, constructive communication and feedback.
- As an extension of the previous point, liaise and collaborate with additional animators, as well as producers and clients.
- Be able to come up with quick ways to conceptualize and brainstorm ideas, including concept sketches, storyboards, mock-ups, etc.
- Promote themselves over social media channels, freelancing platforms, and more.
- Be up to date with the latest techniques and in constant professional growth.
- Send job proposals over different channels in order to continue getting jobs.
- Maintain clear, open lines of communication with their existing and prospective clients.
- Deliver their work on time.
- Have great time-management skills.
- Maintain excellent quality standards, which will reflect on their freelance animator resume.
You’re required to be creative, to be able to work as a part of a larger unit, to communicate fluently, to understand your client’s needs, and to promote yourself effectively.
Does a Freelance Animator need a College Degree?
Not necessarily. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have had a great education. Some employers will want to hire animators that have bachelor’s degrees, regardless of the content of their freelance animator resume; others will just want to know if you’ve got what it takes, and that’ll be enough.
If you have enough samples of your work that prove you’ve got the necessary skills for the job, then many in the freelance world will open their doors to you. I’ve found that to be true across the board except for professions that require some sort of certification.
That includes coursework too. While nobody will ask you whether you’ve completed extra certifications or courses, it can’t hurt either. Also, a freelance animator’s education is never complete. You’re expected to maintain a rigorous regimen of self-study. If you don’t keep up to date on the latest techniques, software, or ways to do your job more efficiently, you’re toast. You’re expected, in essence, to be diligent and self-directed.
How Do I Get Started?
As I said above, it’ll take a little gumption. It’s not like you’re going to find signs saying “Freelance Animation For Hire!” as if this were a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. But lucky for you, we’ve got the next best thing.
The internet is a wonderful place. We’ve got all sorts of entertainment, news (both real and fake), and job opportunities just lying in wait for the enterprising freelancer. Freelance animation is no exception.
Over the last decade or so, freelancing sites have become an increasingly popular way for those disillusioned with the 9/5 life to find regular, high-paying jobs. Some, of course, are only part-time, but that’s only a small percentage. 61% of freelancers work on their own because it’s their preferred lifestyle, and that number is only increasing.
One of the quickest ways to hit the ground running as a freelancer is to create a profile on a site such as Upwork. 12 million freelancers call it home, and they collectively made over $1 billion last year (out of the $1 trillion that freelancers as a whole add to the US economy).
I recommend starting out on these sites because, as long as you’re willing to settle lower rates initially, there are guaranteed gigs for you. At first, you’ll feel like you’re making significantly less than as an employee, but as you work your way up and start getting better reviews, things can change. It also helps that clients are required to pay in advance once you’ve settled on rates and contract terms. The money is left in escrow (which is a kind of mediation) until the job is completed to the client’s satisfaction. This prevents the client or the freelancing from taking the money and running, which is definitely a thing that happens out in the freelancing wilderness.
For reference, here are some income statistics for animators:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, salary information for multimedia artists and animators was:
- Median annual salary: $70,530 ($33.91/hour)
- Top 10% annual salary: $123,060 ($59.16/hour)
- Bottom 10% annual salary: $39,330 ($18.91/hour)
A Way Up
Once you’ve bolstered your freelance animator resume with great jobs, then you should consider stepping up your game. Platforms like Upwork don’t screen their content providers before they sign up. They don’t do a thorough background check, nor do they really vet for their previous experience. While this is a great way to get started if you don’t have much experience in a trade, it’s a double-edged sword for clients.
Enter dedicated platforms like Bunny Studio. They thoroughly screen freelancers to make sure they’re truly capable before they become a part of the platform. Bunny Studio is essentially a mediator between the client and the Bunny Pro. That’s why they also have an extensive quality assurance system. In essence, when a client purchases a Bunny Pro’s services, they get:
- The guarantee of a highly-skilled professional working on their project.
- The promise of faster-than-average turnaround times. Bunny Studio prides itself on getting creative projects done quickly.
- A whole team working on the project, not just the freelance animator. There’s a whole QA and customer relations staff working behind the scenes to make sure things keep flowing smoothly.
- They also get a satisfaction guarantee. They’re entitled to revisions, and if they don’t like the result, they can just get their money back.
Another thing about this platform is that it’s not just client-centric. The staff is known for being very personable and treating freelancers humanely at every turn. When projects start to rack up, believe me, that adds a lot. Most sites like this talk big game about treating their pros right, but I’ve seen this over and over from the staff at Bunny Studio.
Being a freelance animator can be a worthwhile, lucrative lifestyle for the enterprising, forward-looking professional. It’s an excellent avenue for everyone to get what they want, not just clients. In this day and age, we don’t want to be crammed up in a crusty old office while we languish, waiting until you’re called to do something productive. By being a freelancer, you can maximize your time, and that of your clients, in ways that are mutually beneficial.
And there are many ways you can get started. It may sound scary at first, but trust me, once you get going, finding new jobs becomes thrilling in its own right. And once you’re working in your PJs, there’s no going back.
When you want to step up your game and come work with the big boys and girls, we’ll be waiting. And the same goes if you’re trying to hire the services of a pro animator without second-guessing whether they’re up to the task or not. We’ve got you covered!