That’s not to say all anime artists are rich, however. In fact, as we’ll find out today, many anime artists make very little for the jobs they do and the amount of work involved. Whether or not that amount is worth it is up to you. So, is animation a good career? Let’s learn the ins and outs of the lucrative animation industry in Japan and around the world.
How Much Money Do Anime Artists Make
It’s a common misconception that anime artists, especially those based in Japan, have some deep wallets. Some certainly do, but in most cases, these artists were the original creators of their series and have struck their gold in royalties and licensing rights.
When it comes to the artists tasked with the nitty-gritty of bringing a show to life, their salaries aren’t so glamorous. There’s a lot of complexity to the staff and hierarchy of an anime, especially a popular one. This factors in as well. It’s also important to consider that anime, in comparison to other animated shows or styles, is much costlier to produce and takes longer.
An episode of anime is produced frame by frame. A single episode may be composed of hundreds or even thousands of frames. A key-frame animator is one of the top positions available. These artists are responsible for the most important snapshots in the episode and the leading frames.
They typically work with lower-level animators, sometimes termed in-between animators. These animators handle the short frames in-between shots to animate the scene. This work is tedious and time-consuming for hand-drawn anime.
Many anime artists work late nights and overtime in order to finish all their frames. However, an anime artist’s salary isn’t typically very stable for a number of reasons. Most in-between animators actually aren’t salaried or even paid by the hour. More often than not, these artists are freelancers and are regularly picked up (and set aside) by animation studios.
Key-frame animators are usually contracted or salaried, but their earnings don’t outweigh in-between animators or assistants. That’s true even for some of the most popular animes. Even the biggest names in the industry are paying their artists a minimal amount to save costs. But this begs the question, why?
If there’s anything anime is known for, it’s for being hugely popular and quick to go viral. The merch of popular shows and even smaller ones are endless. Don’t those earnings go to the artists? It turns out, no.
Typically only the creators of anime get a cut of the check, and the majority of the profits go to the studio (in fact, many creators of anime and manga see little to no of their merch profits–but that’s another story for another day). It seems that anime studios are keen on holding onto as much the profits as possible, even if that means severely underpaying their staff.
Is this a core issue in the anime industry? That answer is complicated. Some argue that this issue with burnout and underpayment stems from Japan’s work climate and existing issues with employee-employer relationships. You’ll find this exact issue in any industry in Japan.
You can test this by examining the salaries and incomes of animators (in the anime style) in other countries. The USA, for example, where anime is also popular, has a medium-income of around $60,000 USD for its animators. An entry-level animator in Japan makes around $10,000 USD a year, an amount hardly enough to live off (Vox).
How Much Anime Artists Make In A Year
In most cases, anime artists aren’t paid yearly. However, for our intents and purposes, let’s consider an animator’s income accumulated over a year. Because many anime artists work as freelancers, their yearly income is dependant on a steady stream of work or projects.
In this example, we’ll consider an artist who has a partnership with an anime for at least one year, full time. This isn’t uncommon among key-frame animators and even some in-between animators.
News site Vox did some digging and found that new names in the anime industry can expect to make around ¥1 million per year, or around $10,000 USD. Animators in their 30s, on the other hand, make around ¥2 million, which is an increase of $19,000 USD. But as Vox also points out, Japan’s poverty line starts at ¥2 million, if that’s any indication of how much an anime artist makes.
Many animators are forced to take second and third jobs in order to support themselves. This burden is even heavier when you consider that the majority of anime in Japan happens in busy urban centers, such as Tokyo, where costs of living are exceptionally high.
In contrast, anime artists in the US make an average of $68,238 (Comparably). Notice that that’s for anime artists, not just animators. Like Japan, US animators have to diversify their portfolio with freelance work, commissions, and graphic design. The higher cost of living and labor laws in the US could contribute to this higher salary. The majority of this sample group seems to come from metro areas, which could also factor into the large difference.
Another important thing to consider is the US networks make more money off shows via sponsorships and ads. It’s rumored that some animes in Japan barely break even because of how entertainment networks earn a profit. According to Vox, even the legendary creator of Astro Boy was expected to make a loss from his show.
Do anime artists make a lot of money? Truly, the answer lies in your cost of living. Many animators work part-time on top of their more stable, full-time jobs. The money they earn from animation, while a small amount, is extra income. These artists are fueled by their passion for putting their creativity to use and be a part of a major production. Artists who animate full-time may find that living in the metro areas where studios reside can be costly, and the amount of work required to feed oneself is an extraordinary task.
Many animators work overtime, not only to complete projects with strenuous deadlines set by studio executives but to make enough to feed themselves as well. Many have come forward saying that this dynamic in the industry is unethical. It’s unethical, but it’s expected, and the same goes for many Japanese industries. It’s considered a cultural no-no to even leave work early, and this leads to many animators feeling burned out or even develop mental health issues.
Why Are Japanese Animators Paid So Little
There’s a lot of speculation as to why Japanese animators are paid so little. One theory is that the standard in the industry has long been to make as much a profit as possible. Costs for staff and production are kept low, and any potential revenue is eagerly divided among the studio executives and network. This is further complicated if the anime has been adapted from manga because then the publishing company will receive royalties as well.
In order to maximize their profits, studio executives allot very little salary or budget to the staff behind the anime. This means that key-frame animators have a heavier load on their shoulders, as they are often unable to hire assistants for coloring or other tasks. At first, in-between animators were hired alongside the key-frame animators, but even they were delegated to freelancing and paid significantly less.
Japanese Anime Industry
With more experience and a finer resume, however, this cost rises significantly. Some might consider any amount of money paid for drawing art to be a lot. However, these artists spend thousands of hours honing in on their craft. They also often attend art school, which brings student loans into question (and that’s on top of living in a metro city).
It’s easy to assume that someone can create their own story, pitch it to a network, animate it as a career, and make lots of money. But it’s much more complicated than that. There are some significant issues with the industry. But those same artists who were delegated to freelance work have taken their creativity into their own hands and started creating their own anime and manga outside of networks, putting the profits 100% in their pockets.
Is The Anime Industry Dying?
On the contrary! The anime industry is experiencing its largest boom yet. Over the past 50 years, since the advent of animation, anime has grown into a $20 billion industry. It continues to reach new heights, including spreading to countries other than Japan. With large growth comes growing pains, but slowly and surely, the industry is learning to adapt.
One of these adaptions is how audiences view and enjoy anime. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have changed the entertainment industry for both the good and the better. These platforms, in addition to anime-dedicated platforms such as Crunchy Roll, offer a new way for studios and anime artists to earn revenue from their work.
It’s also opened the door for independent animes and webtoons to jump on the bandwagon. Animation software is freely available, and many in-between animators have ditched their tedious work to start animating their own stories. With independent animes, animators earn 100% of the revenue. Some independent animators use their revenue to fund assistants who complete in-between frames.
But for many artists, the dream is what keeps the anime industry alive. Anime fans are hugely devoted to their favorite series as well as their artists, and this devotion is what inspires many to continue to create.
Why Is Anime A Huge Industry In Japan?
Anime has become such an influential industry in Japan because its audience has no limit. Anime is by no means a children’s show. It deals with complex themes, and the art is to be both appreciated and admired. Because anime has such a large audience, its relevancy has remained intact over the years.
Anime has grown even larger in Japan after it spread to international countries, further increasing its fan base and demand for more episodes and merchandise. Merchandise is another huge aspect of the anime industry. In some cases, merchandise comprises the entire profits for an anime. Repeated exposure and a large fan base have led to anime’s huge boom in Japan and around the world.
Is Animation A Good Career?
After reading about some of the pitfalls in the animation industry, you might be scared off from pursuing animation as a career. However, it’s important to remember that the animation industry is an exceptionally varied one that is prone to fluctuations. Animation can be a good and stable career given the right position or the diversification of your portfolio.
Are Animators In Demand?
Animators are in high demand among businesses, schools, and networks. Many businesses are seeking out custom animation for their advertisements, as they’ve shown to be particularly effective on social media. Schools are recruiting animators to help them create educational videos and even entire series for their students, which is in even higher demand due to the pandemic.
As an animator, you can find the right place for your services if you know where to look. If Japanese anime is something you’re strongly interested in, then, by all means, go for it! Just remember that as an in-between animator (or key-frame animator if you work your way up), you don’t have to work full-time.
Spend the majority of your working hours on projects that provide a stable income, and divide the rest of your hours into more fun projects. This is the long-held way of the freelancer, and it makes it more than possible to support yourself while doing what you love!
How Much Do Animators Get Paid Per Frame?
The most common way of paying anime artists is by frame. In-between animators and key-frame animators can expect to make different amounts per frame. In-between animators, according to most sources, make ¥200 per frame or drawing. ¥200 adds up to be around $2.00 USD.
Here’s where anime’s distinctive style comes into play. These frames can take up to several hours to complete, making this compensation completely unacceptable. Even for in-between artists who are changing only small aspects of a frame, this amount is hardly enough to make a living. Some animation artists only make $5-10 USD per hour, which is below Japan’s minimum wage. Key-frame artists enjoy drawing more elaborate and important frames, but they are compensated only somewhat more than in-between animators.
Fortunately, innovations in digital art have improved the rate at which artists are able to draw and create frames. Still, some industry professionals point out that this payment rate had remained unchanged since the 60s when ¥200 went a lot further than it does now. As a result, many animation artists have taken to lobbying, unionizing, and even going on strike in order to get the wages they deserve.
Studio executives attempted to deal with high turnover rates and dissatisfied artists by turning to freelancers and contractual artists. Now, these artists are refusing their services unless they are paid a proper wage. Whether or not this up-and-coming movement will be successful is yet to be determined.
Some mangakas have stepped forward in recent years to say that they have not received any royalties from their mangas that were adapted into anime. That’s quite shocking, considering that their idea is being used (and many mangakas, like Akira Toriyama, still have a say in how the series goes and develops). Instead, they are paid an upfront licensing fee and never receive any further profit.
The same goes for animators. Even if their series becomes a huge hit, their pay remains the same. Interestingly, this leads to a strong variation in the style of a series and how it is animated. This is because studios swap out animators often, while key-frame animators typically stay on board for the duration of a project.
But as Vox notes, not all anime artists make such low wages. Animators in their 30s with prior experience can expect to make around $30,000 USD, which seems to be a decent enough wage to support oneself. With enough time and dedication in the industry, one can expect to make a decent wage.
Navigating the Industry
We’ve covered the ins, outs and little-known secrets of the animation industry. There’s certainly a glamorous side to it, but a lesser-known pitfall to it as well. One thing that is for certain is the anime industry continues to grow rapidly worldwide. Anime artists may not make a lot, but to them, it’s worth it. To see your hard work enjoyed by so many fans is enough for them, and it may be enough for you, too, if you’re considering a career in animation.