What Does an Art Director do in the Business of Animation?

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What Does an Art Director do in the Business of Animation?

When an art director works in the business of animation, most would see this as a match made in heaven. And rightly so. After all, animations are one of the contemporary forms of art that have been on the rise over the past few decades. Merely glancing over the $420 million earned by Toy Story 4 in less than two months is a great testament to the said statement. What a lot of individuals fail to realize, however, is that the art directors who work in the animation sector handle responsibilities that go far outside conventional artistry. The vast majority of their duties are more closely related to management and administrative side of things than the actual art.

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Who Is an Art Director?

Before getting into common responsibilities of animation art directors, it is important to understand who these professionals are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a typical job description characterizes them as experienced leaders who have in-depth knowledge of design, visual resources, negotiation techniques, project management, and employee development. All of those skills are obtained over the years leading up to their big promotion to a directing position. Once they attain this prominent title, their job is to ensure that things run smoothly from an overall perspective of the entire department. To do so, they must possess extremely versatile skills and be adaptable enough to work with dozens of partners, associates, and subordinates daily.

Visual Work, Design, and Layouts

The first duty of an animation art director is to lead sessions related to visual planning, design, and layout of upcoming projects. For instance, when a client hires an animation company to create a hypothetical advertisement for them, they will usually make their inquiry to the art director. From that point on, it is up to the director to build a vision of the final result that they will work towards alongside other artists. Hence why the next set of duties that will be discussed shortly relates to communication. Art directors also have to act as the authoritative figure whose stamp of approval is necessary before any project can move forward. If an artist creates a preliminary animation, it is often up to the director to look over the draft and decide if some changes need to be made. It is also not uncommon for them to be the ones who make those changes since they carry a background in animating. Remember, practically all art directors are promoted to their position, not hired for it straight out of school. That implies that they have enough knowledge about the business of animation to make actual animations from scratch.

Client Communication

As said above, communication is one of the most important skills art directors across all sectors have to possess. The reason why is that their job is going to require constant use of this talent. The same is true for those who are working in the animation market. Some common examples include discussing project expectations and pricing with clients, delegating duties and providing feedback to employees, and leading meetings with senior management on long-term plans of growth. All three of those categories will require a different approach. So, art directors have to know how to strategically communicate in different settings to be successful with different audiences.

Project Management

One of the most crucial job responsibilities of an animation art director revolves around project management. Whilst this is a duty that they share with senior managers and those charged with governance, they still have to be in charge of innumerable employees who look up to them. Day-to-day tasks here include things like making schedules and agendas, assigning artists to projects based on their strengths and interests, and reviewing performances to ensure that goals are met in a timely fashion. Project management is also where they have to keep track of spendings and cross-reference them with expected earnings. Doing so will allow them to perpetuate the required levels of profitability that may be put in place by the company’s executive leaders.


The fact that art directors who work in animation are often generalized as just another form of animators is not too surprising. After all, most individuals who have no experience here will not know about the countless financial tasks that rest on the shoulders of these professionals. Art directors spend a lot of their time working with budgeting where they coordinate expected spendings with senior managers and the company’s accountants. That helps them understand what a reasonable price range for an animation inquiry would be. So, once they meet with a prospective client, they can discuss how much the project will cost and determine if it is safe to proceed. So, becoming familiar with the basics of finance is a very overlooked skill that art directors have to possess to do their job in the business of animation effectively.

Human Resource Duties

Finally, given the director role that is at hand, one has to consider the human resource responsibilities. The vast majority of art directors have a limited number of duties when it comes to hiring, firing, and training new animators. Although it only accounts for a small portion of their time, it is worthy of mention since the human resource responsibilities give art directors the necessary authority to do their job. If an animator fails to meet performance expectations and seldom accepts positive feedback, per se, the art director will be within their rights to terminate them, find someone else, and train them accordingly. Hence why animators and artists across all industries are well aware that they have to report and follow instructions given to them by the company’s art director. In fact, according to Forbes, professionals who have the power to fire someone are viewed as an epitome of leadership.

Based on the discussed duties, it is quite clear that anyone who wants to be successful here must spend enough time perfecting their animation knowledge, leadership, management, and other intangible skills. Doing so will put them in a position where they can transition into the role of a thriving art director who knows all the ins and outs of the business of animation.

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