Animator Contracts and Pay
Although there are permanent/full time positions in studios, most animators work on a contract basis. This is very similar to how live action actors/actresses work – from project to project.
The reason studios hire production staff on contract is because animation work is project based. It’s a set amount of work – then it’s finished. Studios then have to find the next project. Well established studios usually have future projects lined up.
An employment contract is a legal document which states the terms of your employment including the duration of the contract and your salary. This contract is an agreement made between you and the employer before you start work.
Most studios have a core staff. These individuals are usually the people that were hired when the company started up and have been there since the beginning. Sometimes, they are folks who start later but who are exceptionally talented and/or have something unique to offer the studio. They are usually the last to be layed off in harder times and therefore have a more secure job than someone who was hired after the company was established.
So the best way to get full time status is getting in at the beginning of a start up animation studio. How do you find out about new studios? Usually from other people. Keep your lines of communication open with people in and around the animation industry to catch wind of these rare opportunities. Twitter and LinkedIn are good resources.
I was part of a core staff in a studio at one point. It lasted for a few years but I’m working somewhere else now. The company ended up closing down, but that’s not all that uncommon for animation studios. For many different reasons, some stay around for a very long time and some do not. It’s just the nature of the industry and I’ll discuss this further in future posts.
I wouldn’t concentrate on getting a permanent job in a studio as your first job because you’ll end up chasing your tail and never starting your career. That “permanent” position can come later – a contract will likely come much faster, so for now just try and land your first gig.
Once you’ve gotten through the interview/follow up, and a studio has decided they want to hire you they will extend an offer of employment to you. Basically letting you know how much they are willing to pay you. The offer is usually in the form of an email.
If this is going to be your first job, I suggest you take whatever they offer – don’t try and make a deal by counter offering with no experience because you could loose the opportunity to get your first experience. Now that you have landed your first animation job you will be able to put some production work on your demo reel, and that will help you get the next job.
Sometime after you accept the offer (usually after your sitting at your workstation on the first day of work), you receive the contract. The contract can run for any length of time but are usually between 3 – 12 months long for series animation, feature work certainly goes longer if your coming onto the project at the beginning. Feature animation contracts will be at least 12 months but usually longer.
Most of my contracts have been around 8 months long because I work in television series animation. 8 months is generally the amount of time scheduled for the animation teams to complete a season of a show for television. A season often runs about 24 episodes (22 min. long each). That’s a half hour show without the commercials. Having said that, my last three contracts have been a year and a half each because of the larger budget and higher quality of the project.
What happens once your contract is up? Hopefully the studio your working at has another project to put you on, you should receive another contract or an extension to your existing contract. As long as they have enough work, you’ve done a good job, and have a good attitude they usually keep you on board.
It’s not uncommon to get extended multiple times at one studio. I’ve been extended at every studio I’ve worked for at least once – My longest run is eight years at the studio I work at now and I’ve been extended multiple times. There are plenty of animators who have worked at the same studio on contract for 10 years or more.
Animators Salaries In Canada (similar to U.S.)
All figures here are discussed in CAD, Canadian dollars. And are based on my experiences where I live in Canada, and other research that I have conducted. Salaries are similar throughout Canada and are not too far off from United States salaries.
The amount of your salary really does depend on your experience level, but also the budget that your employer has to work with and what the going rate is.
After your demo reel is reviewed and the senior animation staff has decided you would be a good fit for the project, studios will often place you in a level. There is usually a set salary range for each level which was decided when they drafted the budget/schedule. The annual salary levels for series animation usually look something like this:
junior animator – $30,000 – $40,000 (right out of school/training)
intermediate animator – $40,000 – $60,000 (1 – 3 years experience)
senior animator – $60,000 – 75,000 (over 3 years experience)
They will have their salary amounts locked down tighter than this and you can basically add another 10 – 20K for feature animation salaries. (can even go higher)
Based on your experience they will decide which level they consider you to be in. An offer of employment is then extended to you. At this time they will let you know the salary they’re willing to pay you.
Series animators generally make between 30,000(to start) – 75,000 per year depending on your experience and skill level you will climb closer to (around) the higher amount of 75K. Of course this is very general and there may be some that make less or more than this, but the majority of series animators are somewhere in this range.
Usually, in the first three years you will see your biggest jumps in pay, and then climb to the higher salary range shortly after that. At this point your an experienced production animator and can ask for more, however you shouldn’t try to ask for more than the industry standard as you will become too expensive. They will usually just look to the next applicant.
Feature animators make more and can start around 40,000-50,000 and climb up over 100,000 but work many more hours. It does vary with different studios and budgets for different projects.
So if your just starting out, anything less than 30,000 for series is on the low side. For feature 40-50K . If you do start contract work I strongly suggest you put some money away each pay just in case you don’t get extended or served another contract. You could be off for some time with no pay. This should give you enough time to add the new material to your demo reel and find the next job.