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Pricing Animation Services - USD$10,000 Per Minute Might Not Be Enough For an Industry That's Collapsing... Wait, What?

Digital Animator sits at his desk thinking about money.

This post was inspired by an Amateur Animators Facebook Group, public conversation between two professional animators working at entirely different places in their careers but both with at least a decade plus of experience. 

Indy Animator Versus Studio Animator

The conversation centered around an original post by an amateur animator asking if USD$115 payment for a four to five minute, frame by frame animation, was a good deal?

Anyone who has done even one second of frame by frame animation should at least have some concept of how long it would take to make four to five minutes and know that $115 is definitely not a good deal for most people.

However, professional animator one, who I would describe as an independent animator, running a successful content and training business, while not suggesting the deal was good, made the point that there are many factors that go into pricing and that ultimately it is for the individual to set their prices based on what they're happy to work for.

Our Indy animator also questioned the going rate that several other responders had posted of USD$10,000 per minute, and asked if anyone in the thread actually received that rate, bearing in mind the group is for 'amateur animators'. A few respondents said they would be happy to charge that rate but no one admitted to actually receiving that rate.

Both these responses seemed to light a fire under professional animator two, who has worked extensively for various high profile studios (including Wētā FX, Electronic Arts) in senior level roles (senior animation director) on major A-list projects (Avatar 2 and She-Hulk to name drop two), that many an amateur animator would likely intern on in a heartbeat just to get a foot in the door (if you're not familiar with the concept of 'interns'  they're often unpaid trainees).

Our Studio animator indicated he had joined the group specifically for this thread to counter argue our Indy animator's position, which he perceived as endorsing the $115 as a good deal (which he didn't).

The Studio animator's main point was that amateur animators shouldn't be under valuing their work and accepting ridiculously underpaid work from clients who really have no idea of what is involved in actually creating animation.

He argued that the results of animator's accepting underpaid positions hurt the industry as a whole, allowing employers to assume the cost of creating animation is far less than what it actually is.

Which is partly why, if you tell your average independent business owner that their two minute, fully custom made, animated explainer video is going to cost upwards of USD$15-20 thousand dollars you'll see their eyes pop out of their head... "It's animation? I thought it would cost a lot less!"

Our Studio animator was getting increasingly frustrated, and fixated on the idea that our Indy animator was endorsing the original poster's $115 deal for four to five minutes of animation. To the point where he was sure our Indy animator had deleted said posts and was now back tracking... and it all devolved from there into a bit of a mess.

The State of the Animation Industry

Reading the entire conversation I feel there was some context missing as to why our Studio animator may have been so passionate about even amateur animators under valuing their work.

While I can't speak for him personally, it's likely he also feels he isn't being paid what he is worth, because that is the state of the animation industry as a whole - even for animators working on A-list projects.

If you're an industry follower you would've heard about things like Netflix and Disney, in recent years,  laying off hundreds of animators, cancelling projects that have already begun work etc. You may have heard rumors that the award winning Spider verse animated movies were hell for the animators to work on with poor working conditions. You may have heard about a 'live' action Wile E. Coyote, completed movie being permanently shelved.

You may even know that a lot of top level animation projects are outsourced to studios in countries that cost much less to hire.

Then, of course, AI isn't helping with the perception that you can just type a few sentences and you'll (in the near future) get a completed animated scene, no actual animator required.

All of these things contribute to animators finding it challenging to leverage at least getting paid what they feel is a reasonable amount... and then professional animators have to contend with the general perception that animation isn't expensive. Not helped by any animator accepting under valued rates - which clearly is happening at the top level too or successful, award winning animation studios, wouldn't be struggling or even going out of business (remember the VFX studio that worked on Life of Pi?).

If you want actual context for what I'm talking about watch the video below by YouTuber No the Robot. It's much more than an AI is coming for your jobs rant. You'll get a complete overview of what the industry has been dealing with over the past decade since streaming services became a thing, a history of similar issues even Disney's original animators had to overcome, a look at how AI is hurting the industry (it's not how you think), and a look forward at how the industry might rise and, hopefully prosper.

If you've yet to watch the video please take the time to do so after reading this. Initially I was only going to watch the first five minutes, expecting it to be a cynical rant, but it's far from that, and really details everything you need to know if working for any major studios is something you aspire to, or you just want to get an overview of top level animation work.

Pricing to Pay Your Living Expenses (This is Just My Approach)

Getting back to the Facebook conversation, I tend to side with our Indy animator to a point. If you are just starting out as a freelance animator any work can be better than no work. How much you charge or are prepared to work for is very much up to you.

You may even consider working for free, if the experience of what you'll learn is more valuable than getting paid, because that knowledge will let you command higher pay on every job going forward.

However, take the time to know what established animators are getting paid, particularly animators with your experience level and doing the same kind of work. Aim to at least match what they're charging.

More importantly, when pricing your services as a creative freelancer, know what you need to earn annually to sustain your cost of living (including making a profit) and price accordingly.

In simplistic terms this means if your living expenses are $10,000 annually, you'll need to at least do either one minute of animation at $10,000 a year to survive, or two minutes at $5000 per minute, or three minutes at $3333 per minute, and so on and so on.

Right now my animation business is a bit of a side hustle so I could get by easily on producing just three minutes of animation a year at $3333 per minute The hustle is finding one, two, or three clients who respect that pricing.

Realistically, pricing is affected by other external factors including things like, but not limited to, what sector of the industry you work in, and who your target clients are, and what type of animation is required. Throwing out a number and asking if it's a good price is always going to get a wide variety of answers.

For example, nobody is earning $10,000 per minute making one minute animated social media clips, promoting their local Mom and Pop Bakery. Chances are a job like that may be mostly motion graphics with a small amount of character animation that can be made in a day. You don't know.

But, if you are doing frame by frame animation where you're actually drawing each frame. Even at 12 frames per second, that's 720 images you're drawing for each minute of animation. Remember drawing and, animating in particular, is a special skill that you're being paid to provide. At least aim to charge an hourly rate higher than basic task work (a cleaner for example) that anyone can learn.

Footnote: While you may have an hourly rate that you use as a guide for quotes I recommend quoting for the entire job and giving a fixed price. Allow for a certain number of revisions, and then make it clear that you will charge for additional revisions once that number is reached. 

Never lock yourself into a fixed price with no provision to invoice for more than a reasonable number of revisions. That way everyone knows how much the work will cost and what it will cost if the client really needs you to do more than initially asked.

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  1. Leaving a link here to another article about pricing that takes a day rate approach that you may like to consider.

    How Much to Charge for Your Motion Graphic Projects


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