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What Can You Do With a 3D Animation Degree?

A student discovering what he can do with a 3D animation degree by using design software on a computer.

What do “Toy Story," King Tut and the iPhone have in common? The answer: 3D modelers, the artists and animators who use specialized computer software to create visuals and images that appear three-dimensional. These professionals work as part of the teams that helped bring Pixar’s Woody and Buzz to life, put a face on a centuries-old mummified pharaoh and developed the iconic look of Apple’s products.

It’s an exciting time to find work—or advance your current career—in graphic design. If you are interested in how to become a graphic designer, then you may consider earning your degree. Most jobs in the field require a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, media arts or a related subject, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Because the field is moving beyond traditional design, today’s multimedia artists and animators are expected to have cutting-edge technical skills. That’s why Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) online graphic design degree offers a concentration in 3D modeling and animation.

Earning a graphic design degree can help you learn the latest principles and techniques by using industry-standard 3D animation programs, software and tools, including the Adobe Creative Suite and Autodesk's Maya and Mudbox. If you are considering "pursuing a career in animation, whether 2D or 3D, knowledge and experience with the principles of animation is crucial," said Max Callahan, associate dean of game art and development at SNHU.

According to BLS, graduates with an education and experience in 3D animation or modeling can find employment opportunities in a variety of industries, from motion picture to healthcare. A majority 59% of special effects artists and animators are self-employed freelancers, but where you work depends on what fits best for you personally and professionally. As BLS notes, these artists and animators had a median annual wage of $77,700 in 2020.

So if you’re ready to combine creativity with construction and imagination with innovation, then consider one of the following industries for a career in 3D modeling and animation.

An infographic piece with the text Industries Graphic Designers Work. From left to right: An icon of three people talking with the text Advertising & Marketing. A square icon of rulers and a diagonal line with the text Architectural, Industrial & Interior Design. An icon of an open book with the text Education. An icon of a gaming controller with the text Film, Television & Video Games. An icon of a microscope with the text Medical & Scientific Services

Film and Television

A 3D animation degree can be your foot in the door with the motion picture and video industries, the second largest employer of multimedia artists, according to BLS.

"3D modeling and animation is employed in animated television and animated movies, and both are elements of visual effects (VFX) in film and television as well," said Callahan.

You know the dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s "Jurassic Park" or the dragons in HBO’s "Game of Thrones"? Such computer-generated images (CGI) and other on-screen VFX comprise of 3D modeling work. Not surprisingly, animation and special effects studios such as Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic continue to be at the forefront of developing the latest and greatest in 3D animation and modeling technology, and an online graphic design program even helped one Disney Imagineer hone his craft.

Advertising and Marketing

Closely aligned with the film and television industries are advertising and marketing. From the Super Bowl to Facebook, media outlets and platforms provide numerous opportunities for digital designers to work with 3D animation or modeling.

The best advertising and marketing campaigns are memorable, emotional, interactive or some combination thereof. Compelling computer-generated graphics or images can contribute greatly to creating innovative or successful commercial videos—think of GEICO’s flagship Gecko or the enduring appeal of Coca-Cola’s polar bears.

While working on your 3D animation degree you may study both the theory and practice behind multimedia graphic design, including design fundamentals as well as advanced digital sculpting. Meanwhile, you can continue to master the tools of the trade, software and apps designed for creative professionals working in 3D modeling.

Video Games

Video, computer and other electronic games have come a long way since Pac-Man was released over 40 years ago in 1980, CNN reports. Today, the video game industry has grown into an $85 billion market, according to Statista. The industry is continually evolving and now offers features such as photorealistic graphics that simulate reality, Statista reports. Video games are even expanding to include more technologies and platforms, such as mobile devices and social media.

Max Callahan with the text Max Callahan3D modelers and animators "are integral to game development, and the game industry is now larger than both film and television by a wide margin," said Callahan. If you are interested in how to become a video game designer, then learning how to create initial wireframes to render photorealistic effects with the latest software is the next step. A 3D animation education allows you to learn the 3D sculpting process. The hands-on training and projects you complete as part of your education can prepare you for a career in the game arts industry while also building your game design portfolio.

Architectural, Industrial and Interior Design

From the iPhone to I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid, good design balances form and function.All three of these industries utilize 3D technology in a variety of ways. In the architecture industry, they use visualizations with cameras and animated elements to help develop their work, according to Callahan. "Interior design visualization also presents work through flythroughs of 3D-modeled spaces," he said.

The industrial design industry also leverages virtual tools to map out plans. "Industrial design projects are often constructed virtually with 3D modeling and animation to demonstrate the function of products and mechanisms before real-world manufacturing and construction," Callahan said.

Similarly, most people interested in a 3D animation program want to balance their creativity with their tech-savvy. Mastering the ability to visualize and design original concepts using emerging technology can give you a professional edge.

Concentrating on 3D modeling and animation allows you the opportunity to produce multidimensional digital representations of your design concepts. Using wireframe 3D modeling techniques and software, you can learn to render digital designs of prototypes, products, properties and more—for businesses, for clients or for yourself.

Medical and Scientific Services

The entertainment and design industries aren’t the only options for pursuing careers in 3D modeling, especially if you have previous experience, interest or education in the sciences or healthcare.

The medical industry, for example, continues to expand its use of 3D imaging to create detailed models of human anatomy based on CT or MRI scans. Meanwhile, forensic anthropologists work with 3D modelers to reconstruct the faces of deceased people based on CT scans of the remains, according to the Smithsonian. In addition to facial reconstruction, forensic artists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) even use software to create “age-processed” images of missing children in order to help find them.

Education

Online learning has created a new career opportunity for graduates with a degree in 3D animation or modeling: virtual instruction designer. A Digital Clinical Experience (DCE) is a virtual patient simulator that affords healthcare students opportunities to prepare for what they may see in their careers, according to the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (AJPE). SNHU health programs utilize some of these DCEs including software such as Shadow Health and i-Human, which need professionals who design, develop and maintain online tutorials, interactive multimedia and distance-learning courses.

That’s where virtual instruction designers come in. They help people learn better by using research, design and technology to improve e-instruction. This is important with the increasing use of virtual learning technologies and learning management systems, especially in corporate settings and higher education.

So how does this career path fit with a 3D animation program? Online classes and virtual trainings benefit from well-designed 3D animation and modeling, which help by illustrating key concepts or by aiding retention and recall.

If your dream job combines design, technology and teaching, keep an eye out for such opportunities.

Is 3D Modeling a Career?

An infographic with the text BLS reports 59% of special effects artists & animators are self-employedThe need for capable and creative graphic designers with cutting-edge training continues to grow. The world needs digital artists and animators to help tell stories intriguingly, solve problems imaginatively and illustrate solutions effectively.

"Due to the highly competitive nature of these careers, and the degree difficulty associated with the tools and skills they entail, students interested in pursuing these careers should learn to apply these skills to as wide a range of applications and industries as possible," said Callahan. You can create a graphic design portfolio to showcase what you've learned and help get you noticed by potential employers.

If the idea of creating visual content using emerging technology appeals to you, then consider exploring a graphic design degree or 3D animation program. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Graphic Design with a concentration in 3D modeling and animation can prepare you for a variety of existing and future career opportunities, whether in the entertainment or education industry or elsewhere.

Discover more about SNHU's graphic design degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

Sofia Tokar is a freelance copywriter and editor in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @stokar or connect on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, institutionally accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.