How Much Money Do Animators Actually Make?

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Are you trying to figure out how much animators make? It’s quite difficult to find solid information on salaries, plus there are so many career paths an animator can take that adds to the complexity.

For instance, animators can work full-time at a studio, full-time as freelancers, a mix of both, or something completely different.

The cyclical nature of film and television projects means many animators work on a contract basis, securing work for the duration of a project and then seeking new contracts. Often, animators take on freelance work between contracts to supplement their income. Because of this, an animator’s pay can vary significantly over their career.

On top of this, the animation industry (and the entertainment industry as a whole) experiences ebbs and flows influenced by trends in entertainment, social media, advertising, and the economy.

For instance, when Netflix ramped up its animation studios in March 2018, animators were in high demand and could charge more for their services. A similar trend occurred during the 2021 pandemic when live-action film and television production halted, and animation became the main form of media that could be completed from home. This led to a boom in animated projects, with many animators entering the industry and receiving higher pay.

Unfortunately, recent mass layoffs by major studios like Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony, and others have put many animators out of work and increased competition for low-paying jobs.

These factors make it difficult to find consistent data on animators’ pay. However, there are some good ways to figure out how much an animator can expect to be paid in their career.

How Much Money Animators in the USA are Paid

With major studios like Disney and Nickelodeon operating in the USA, the country boasts one of the most stable animation industries and some of the highest-paying jobs in the field. A recent report published by the Bureau of Labour Statistics in 2023, indicated the median annual pay of the 89,300 animators surveyed was $99,060 USD, or $47.63 USD/hour, far ahead of the national median wage of $48,060.

The Bureau also predicted a healthy increase of animation jobs by 8% over 10 years.

How Much Money Animators in Canada are Paid

In Canada, the median animator wage reported by the government is much lower. Of the 85,900 jobs surveyed in 2023, the median wage was $61,775 CAD (around $45,000 USD), or $29.60 CAD/hour (around $22 USD/hour). However, this data includes illustrators and graphic designers, which muddles the information specific to animators.

Why American Animators Make Much More Than Canadian Animators

Several factors contribute to why Canadian animators are paid less than their American counterparts.

One obvious answer is that the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, but another big reason is that Canada acts mainly as a service industry to the US and even subsidizes studios in order to bring in more work.

Additionally, the Animation Guild Local 839 I.A.T.S.E. plays a crucial role in the higher pay rates for animators in the USA. The guild, which covers all animators in LA working at Disney, Sony, Nickelodeon, as well as other regions, has set guidelines for how animators and similar jobs (like storyboard artists, background artists, layout artists, and even sheet timers) must be paid.

For instance, any animator working on a project for the first six months must make $48.65/hour or $1,946/week, after which the rates increase. This base rate is nearly double the median hourly rate reported by the Government of Canada.

The guild also outlines expectations for things like working conditions, holidays, and dismissal pay, which in Canada are individually dictated by the contracts of studios.

You can find PDF downloads of the wages, benefits, and other expectations of animation roles on the guild’s website here.

Animation Unions in Other Countries

While unionization in the USA has a history dating back to 1937, a few other countries have unions as well.

In Canada, studios in Montreal and Vancouver have been unionized for a few years now

The UK also has The Animation and Visual Effects Union, and France has SACD.

What Animation Pay is Like Around the World

While the USA and Canada have more data on animation rates, it’s much harder to find good aggregate data on wages, benefits, and employment expectations in other countries.

Thankfully, there is a helpful social media account that has been collecting anonymous information from thousands of animators around the globe since 2022.

The account is called Salty Animators, and they operate out of Instagram where they mainly post memes about what it’s like working in the industry.

However, if you click the link in their profile, you’ll be taken to a Google Sheets file they maintain, which shows animation wages around the world.

In total, Salty Animators have collected data from over 3,500 animators around the world from countries like Mexico, Poland, Estonia, India, Italy, Russia, Australia, South Africa, and more. 

For instance, one junior Compositor and Texture Artist in Spain reported an annual salary of €18,000 (about $19,000 USD), whereas a mid-level game animator in Japan reported an annual salary of ¥4,300,000 (about $32,000 USD), and a mid-level 3D animator in Indonesia reported 7,500,000 IDR/month with unpaid overtime (about $450 USD/month).

The Google sheet also lists other information like the studio’s name, the gender of the submitter, and even notes for people to comment on their experience with their studio.

The sheet is made up of anonymously submitted data, so sometimes you have to take the data’s reliability with a grain of salt, but overall it’s a great reference tool to see how much people are paid for different roles around the world.

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