A cartoon animator creates animation for cartoons, animated feature films, advertising, or video games. There are many different jobs in animation. An animator for a web cartoon might be the only person working on that cartoon, while an animator for a big-studio feature might be one of dozens. What a cartoon animator does depends on which job he or she has.
A lead animator is essentially the project manager for the animation process. This person supervises a team of animators and artists, and makes sure the project is on track and consistent. The lead animator is responsible for making sure the project follows the established storyboard, and might have some say in staging and acting. A large-scale animation project might have several animation units, each led by its own lead animator.
The animators on the team translate drawings into two-dimensional or three-dimensional animation, either by hand or using computer animation software. In either hand-drawn or computer animation, animators generally use sketches that they translate to animated figures. In hand-drawn animation, a "key" animator draws key frames of each character, and other artists called "inbetweeners" fill in the frames between to provide the illusion of movement. Cleanup artists go in and make sure that the transitions between frames are smooth and fluid. In computer animation, animators create the key frames in the software, which then fills in the frames in between.
A cartoon animator in the television or film industry must have a great deal of artistic skill and, usually, formal art education. Most cartoon animators have at least a bachelor's degree with a specialization in animation. They have extensive knowledge of animation software. They usually work as part of a creative team, so animators must work well collaboratively and be willing to take direction and make modifications.
These professionals often work long and irregular hours; few computer animators work on a nine-to-five schedule. Many animators for television and movies work for large animation studios, but an increasing number work on a freelance basis. Web animators, game animators, and some computer animators are especially likely to work as freelancers or independent contractors. It takes a lot of people to put together a large project, so there are usually plenty of opportunities for a beginning cartoon animator to get started in the field. The traditional entry-level job for someone who wants to be a cartoon animator is inbetweener, but many now get their start in computer animation, especially for the web.