Artists and animators create the graphics that bring video games to life. Part of the process of turning game designs into animated reality is using three-dimensional modeling software to create digital frames. Animators then "wrap" those digital frames with two-dimensional textures to create the graphics that players experience. As of 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 3,620 artists and animators are employed by video and computer-game publishers.
As of 2011, the BLS found that animators working for software publishers earn an average of $64,820 per year. Game Developer Magazine, which conducts an annual salary survey for the video game industry, found a similar average salary of $63,214 in 2011. Breaking down the numbers further, Game Developer Magazine reports that female artists and animators make an average of $52,875, while male artists and animators earn an average of $79,124 per year.
Animator Pay by Experience:
According to Game Developer Magazine's salary survey, animator salaries are heavily dependent on level of experience. Artists and animators who have less than three years of experience report an average salary of $49,481 per year. Those with between three and six years of industry experience average $63,214 per year. Those with over six years of experience report significant salary gains, with an average annual salary of $97,833.
Regional Pay Variations:
As of 2011, Game Developer Magazine finds that animators working in the western states earn the highest average salary, $81,229 per year. Animators in the South earned the second-highest average wage by region, $71,818. Those employed in the Midwest average $68,676 per year, while those employed in the Northeast report the lowest average by region, $64,235 per year. Game Developer also reports that the two highest-paying states for video game industry employees are California and Washington.
Benefits and Royalties:
In addition to their salaries, 95 percent of video game animators receive some form of benefits through their job. Eighty percent reportedly receive medical benefits, while 76 percent get dental benefits through their employers. In addition, 83 percent of video-game artists earn income in addition to their salary. The average amount of additional income earned, through compensation such as royalties, profit sharing, stock options and bonuses, is $16,163 per year.