3D Lighting Artist Jobs: How Do You Find a 6-Figure Job?

by | Last updated Apr 26, 2022

Looking for a 3D lighting artist job?

3D lighting is a fun career because it’s both creative, challenging, and you can earn very well. And today, you’ll learn how to find a sought-after job in the industry.

Want to learn more? Here’s how to find the best 3D lighting artist jobs. 

What is 3D lighting?

Just as lights are used on a physical set, computer-generated scenes need lighting too.

3D lighting is a process that involves adding real-life light and shadows in a computer-generated environment to set the tone, mood, depth, and atmosphere of the scene. Lighting supports the storytelling and gives the scene its final look. 

Part of the job is using different 3D lighting software applications and tools to simulate light. 3D lighting can be done using various software applications such as Maya, Houdini, Blender, Cinema4D, and 3DS Max. 

The process of lighting a scene involves choosing various sources of light to highlight certain parts of the scene to convey a message, evoke the right emotion, set the mood, and/or represent real-life properties of a shot like the weather or the time of the day. 

3D lighting is needed to: 

  • Elicit the right emotions
  • Support storytelling
  • Set the mood and tone of the scene
  • Focus the viewer’s eye on the most crucial element of an image
  • Depict the time of day, climate, and/or location of a shot
  • Highlight specific characters or objects in a scene
  • Create the illusion of depth and volume
  • Maintain continuity
  • Present a visual style
  • Create lighting design 

Why should you become a 3D lighting artist?

If you’re wondering why creatives are raring to become lighting artists, we can give you three reasons why:

A fulfilling and creative job

Part of the reason why the 3D animation and lighting industry is so competitive is that thousands of artists want to experience working at a top studio, making movies that viewers will love across generations. The idea of creating an animated film by Disney or Pixar is just too good to pass up as an artist. 

Work on exciting projects

This is the kind of career that lets you travel to interesting places, work on amazing projects, meet industry leaders, and learn unique skills, all the while training your creative eye and technical skills. Work doesn’t feel like work because of the many unique life experiences you get from this career. 

Excellent salary

Of course, the pay is just as attractive. According to Payscale.com, the base salary for lighting artists is $91,889. An entry-level position starts at $68,250 per year. Experienced lighting artists could earn an average of $155,000 each year. 

And according to PayScale, the average salary for a lighting artist with 1 to 4 years of experience is about $42,000. On the other hand, an experienced lighting artist with 10 to 19 years of experience makes an average of $125,000. Imagine having a fulfilling and creative job, working on interesting projects, and being paid top dollars for it. It’s a dream job for most artists!

Are 3D lighting artists in demand?

Yes! Top studios are always needing talented 3D lighting artists to work in various industries, including: 

  • Commercials
  • Gaming
  • CGI movies
  • VFX
  • Visual development
  • Architectural visualization
  • Marketing & Advertising

Lighting is one of the most critical elements in animation and visual effects production. The job requires extensive knowledge in color theory, photography, and a bit of science to add realism to CG shots. 

Lighting artists are the most in-demand in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, and the salary is above the national average. 3D artists, in general, are the highest in demand in Los Angeles.

Salary will depend on several factors, particularly:

  • Education
  • Technical skills
  • Certifications
  • Experience

The special effects and animation industry is expected to grow 16% between 2020 and 2030, so there is a high chance that the average rate for 3D lighting artists will increase within this period. 

How do you become a 3D lighting artist? 

You either need to go to college and earn a degree or learn on your own using the right program to become a lighter and accept 3D lighting artist jobs. 

Go to college

You need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field to start your journey into becoming a 3D light artist. Getting a degree means spending at least 4 years earning a bachelor’s degree and perhaps, getting an internship before accepting 3D lighting artist jobs. 

A bachelor’s degree in Computer Animation costs around $40,000 per year. To be accepted at art school, you need to have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA with a master’s level program. 

Unfortunately, most college degrees aren’t created for today’s job requirements. Not all college degrees specialize in specific areas of study. Getting formal training this way is time-intensive and expensive. Also, not a lot of animation schools specialize in 3D lighting. 

Take an online course

Taking an online course, like the ones we offer at our animation school, is a great way to build a career in 3D animation because it’s affordable, flexible, and the quality of the education is top-notch. 

By taking an online course, you can learn different aspects of 3D lighting and hone your creative and technical skills. Some 3D lighting courses focus on topics that traditional animation schools do not offer. While training, you can start taking freelancing or take 3D lighting artist jobs on the side to build your portfolio. 

The best part? Taking an online course only costs a fraction of earning a bachelor’s degree at an art school. You can learn 3D lighting on your own using free resources, but if you’re not investing in quality education, it will be a struggle to learn about the subject and get 3D lighting artist jobs.

At the Academy of Animated Art, we offer industry-leading 3D lighting courses that help people get results like this:


How do you get a job in the 3D industry?

So you’re ready to start finding 3D lighting artist jobs, but you’re not sure where to begin. How do you get a job in the 3D industry? At this point, it’s all about looking at the proper channels to seek opportunities and selling yourself properly. 

Here are tips that will help you get the best start in the 3D animation industry: 

Look for opportunities online

Hiring managers often look for potential hires on sites like LinkedIn, Google Jobs, Glassdoor, and CareerBuilder, with LinkedIn being the most popular of all professional networks. Some studios receive direct applications, but they still scour LinkedIn for talents. They also use the platform to check a candidate’s credentials. Some companies also post vacancies, free workshops, and events on various social media platforms. 

Joining professional networks like LinkedIn, posting your updated resume, and showcasing your best work will help you land your dream job. An impressive demo reel, for example, will get you far. Here at the Academy of Animated Art, we can help you create a demo reel that will make a great impression on hiring managers. 

Polish your networking skills

One might think that networking is not a part of a creative job, but it actually is. This goes especially if you are starting out; you have to learn how to network and keep in touch with people that are connected in the industry. Often, studios would ask employees for referrals or engage in online networking. Having the right connections could get you in the door, at the very least. Who knows, the person you’ve met at a job fair might end up being a hiring manager looking for people with your skills. 

Joining the Academy of Animated Art gives you full access to our private group of industry experts and artists alike. Apart from getting insider tips and professional feedback, you’ll also meet creatives who can help further your career. Remember, the animation industry is a highly competitive field, so you need to learn how to market yourself properly to get the best start. 

Customized application

Don’t just send the same application to different studios, hoping hiring managers will give you a chance. Tailor your CV and showreel to the company and role. You need to know how to sell your skills properly. 

When sending your application, your credentials should suit the particular role you’re applying for and the studio you are handing your application to. This is a matter of putting together an application mindfully. You have to do your research, keep the infos clear, concise, and focused. 

The goal is to stand out from the rest of the applicants by showing your best, most relevant work, not all the work you’ve done. Because hiring managers are often busy, they tend to scan a lot of CVs. Give the hiring managers precisely what they are looking for.

A standout demo reel

It’s a video portfolio that will give hiring managers a sense of your abilities as a 3D lighting artist. While it’s tempting to show ALL of your work in one video, don’t. Hiring managers spend hours watching demo reels, so you need to present only your best work. 

Your demo reel should start and end with your contact details (name, address, phone number, email, and relevant links like websites, online portfolio, social media, etc.) How to start creating a killer demo reel? We’re spilling all the secrets in one free ebook. Grab a copy here. To put together a stellar showreel, here is our step-by-step guide

Ace the interview

The final step into being accepted for 3D lighting artist jobs is nailing the interview! Apart from being assessed by your artistic eye and technical skills, hiring managers will also determine your company-fit. 

Learning about the company you are applying to, defining your work process, and demonstrating your abilities as a lighting artist are the three important things you need to prepare for to ensure a successful interview. 

Be mindful of how you present your work, try to be as comfortable as possible as you talk about each piece in your showreel, and perhaps, explain why you approached things the way you did. Talk about the challenge you’ve encountered, how you overcame these challenges, and what you could’ve done differently. 

What different types of 3D lighting jobs are there?

Lighting Artist: Lighting artists are a part of the production team that uses light and shadows to breathe life into characters, objects, and environments. A lighter specializes in color keys, compositing renderings, and rigging to create realistic, richly detailed shots to support the storytelling. 

Texturing and Shading: The texturing and shading artist is responsible for designing shading and textures of a 3D character model. The artist specializes in bringing flat color and texture to an object, character, or environment to achieve the final shot. A texturing artist knows how shaders work, how different lighting situations affect the shot and UV to fine-tune the look of the scene to fit the project. 

Modeling: An artist who is proficient in modeling software programs like Maya, ZBrush, Substance,  3DS Max, Pixar’s RenderMan, etc., to create 3D assets or digital characters, props, and environments. A modeler could create surfaces, skins, and wrap 3D textures on a digital frame or model, as well as build character skeletons that animators could control. 

Layout Artist: Utilizes storyboards as a reference to determine the right camera angles for a scene as well as setting the props and environments by the modeler to achieve the proper effects in a scene. The scenes set by the layout artist are then passed to animators, lighters, and compositors for the final shot. 

Character Rigger: A rigger manipulates the character’s geometry – its literal backbone and interaction with its digital environment using a set of computer programs. A character rigger should have a deep understanding of human anatomy, performance, and be adept in coding languages. 

Effects Animator: Add natural or supernatural effects to a character or object using 3D lighting,  visual effects, and compositing tools. The effects are based on concepts and designs from the art departments. The job requires the effects animator to work with other departments to achieve the desired results. It requires a firm grasp on several animation tools like Houdini, Renderman, Mantra, and Nuke. 

Color Key Artist: The role of a color key artist is to create background paintings and develop color schemes and color styling to be used for animated features, television series, and animated shorts. The color key artist will also develop suitable color schemes according to different lighting situations like daytime scenes or underwater lighting. The job requires advanced software skills in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Compositing Artist: The compositing artist takes care of the final finished animation project. A compositing artist brings together all the components of the shot  – sequence animation, graphics, special effects, and background plates, into one film. The role includes detecting errors and developing compositing strategies to achieve a believable, well-balanced shot. To become a compositing artist, you need to be well versed in various compositing software programs like Adobe After Effects, Flame 3D Visual Effects (VFX), Motion 5, and Nuke, just to name a few. 

Lighting TD: TD is an acronym for “technical director.” A lighting TD works with a team of lighting artists to replicate lighting on a digital environment, how light and shadows are applied to objects and characters, and create believable results. A lighting TD should have a keen eye for color, tone, mood, and composition – how light reflects on objects in real life, nature, and various situations. The Lighting TD also sets the lighting and atmosphere in the sequence, starting with a key shot. 

Animation director: It’s the animation director’s job to coordinate with different animation teams to ensure that the production and creative requirements of the project are met. An animation director leads the animation teams from the beginning to the end of the project. For this reason, the role usually goes to someone who’s a veteran in the art and animation industries. 

Animated and CGI movies 

Lighting is vital in 3D animation because it supports the story and visually depicts the atmosphere, time of day, location, even the weather of a shot. It’s a complex process, and most times, people are unsure what it looks like to work on animated movies and what the job entails.

In animated films, light artists are the finishers; they are part of the compositing team, taking the shot to completion. Our co-founder, Jasmine Katatikarn, lighting TD and CG lead extraordinaire, worked on several blockbuster movies, including Epic, Rio, The Peanuts Movie, and most recently, Spies in Disguise. For example…

In this podcast, I talk about what it’s like to animate for a major studio during the pandemic, as well as some tips for anyone who’d like to start a career in animation. 

If you’re wondering how some of your favorite animated movies look like before and after CGI and VFX, including lighting, check out this cool video:

As you know, lighting is one of the most critical elements in animation and visual effects production. The job requires extensive knowledge in color theory, photography, and a bit of science to add realism to CG shots. That makes the job fairly technical yet artistic.


Just like how 3D lighting helps set the mood, tone, as well as the time of the day and weather in a scene, it’s also used to improve gameplay in game development. In fact, the majority of the visual effects applied in games today depend on lighting and shadows. Without proper lighting, 3D games would look dull and flat. 

In-game dev and rendering, artists would develop accurate models to light, and light artists would determine how light behaves and interacts with different surfaces. Because light scatters when it travels through materials, light artists have to decide how lighting and shadows behave when they fall on various materials like skin or water. 

To maintain realism, lighting utilizes different mathematical equations, and for computational power, light artists use various software programs. 

Over to you! 

It will take persistence, preparation, and great timing to build a solid career in animation. And as you gain more experience working on different 3D lighting artist jobs, you can earn a great salary and work in a thriving and creative career. 

Now, I’d love to know:

What type of 3D lighting job are YOU looking for?

Let me know in the comments below!

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