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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Adding it All Up
by Shannon Muir

In a prior column, I mentioned a past experience doing a virtual chat for young women interested in animation. To prepare for that chat, I researched the going salary ranges for many of the areas I cover. Now, a year later, I decided to revisit some of the same ground I covered regarding salaries, and look at how things are in 2002.

My research also did not seem to bear out any disparity between women and men when it came to salaries in these areas, but instead solely based on experience level, what the market generally dictates, or amounts arranged by union contract. It all depends on the position. Most of the salaries this column deals with (all quotes are US dollars) I originally researched in 2001 for the chat, with the majority updated to figures for 2002. In today's recession economy in the United States, expect that figure ranges may generally lean toward the low end.

The writing track for shows basically is to write episodes, then become a story editor (where you oversee others scripts and make sure they conform to what the executives want), and eventually have the opportunity to become a producer. Today, even more established writers are finding it extremely difficult to get jobs. According to recent figures I'm hearing, today a television script in the United States for twenty-two minutes of animation averages $6,000, but some of them can go as low as $5,000 (though I have heard a report of a script sale for $7,500, but that is very rare). A story editor can make $3,500 to $10,000 per episode freelance, at least by 2001 numbers, and since not many story editors are on staff I don't have comparable numbers. Starting amounts for animated films that go direct to cable or video are quoted about $15,000. As far as animated features intended for theatrical release, these scripts can get paid comparable to their live-action counterparts, but bear in mind that it is just the flat script fee; live-action screenwriters also have the potential for additional revenue from residuals or videocassette sales that animation writers currently do not.

If you lean toward voice acting and directing, as of 2001 Screen Actors Guild rates in the United States were $617 per each recording session for the first two voices, plus 10% for the third voice. It's a complicated formula after that, based in part whether the piece is less than 10 minutes, or 10 minutes or more. Generally speaking, animation voices tend to pay at current scale. Voice directing estimates start at $1,500 per episode, I'm informed.

The production track starts at practically minimum wage for Production Assistants, but proving yourself can pay off, but I've heard quotes that average about $26,000. The Production Coordinator level has been known to range from $32,000 to $39,000 per year. Associate Producers or Production Managers (which aren't used on some productions, I learned, as we didn't have one on INVADER ZIM) I'm told comes out to a range of about $41,600 - $78,000 yearly. Lastly, line producers can bring in between $78,000 to $109,200 a year. However, it ultimately depends on the company structure and what that company is willing to pay; there are no hard and fast rules.

Best guesses that I received for animation development assistant pay was $28,000 to $32,000 per year. One source thought salary could go as low as $25,000 for a smaller, boutique company. Most jobs I've run across in my own job searches for in 2002 match this low figure.

Two areas I did not cover in 2001 were those of timing and post-production. Timing rates I found were $3 per foot freelance, and $1,500 per week the last known quote I could find for a staff gig (though sources on that hadn't done staff work timing in a while). A post-production supervisor in animation doesn't get paid as much as a live-action counterpart because the live-action post-production supervisor is more involved from the beginning of the project. Also, I found the animation post-production supervisor doesn't necessarily come from the editing ranks; I know of cases where people came up to the position through being Production Assistants and Coordinators. My quote research turned up a post-production supervisor salary range of at least $900 to $1,500 per week, possibly more, but it really all depends on the production.

As I said, some numbers are current while others reflect a year ago, when the economy was better. I've made sure to indicate when rates in this article are 2001 rates versus 2002 ones, and did my best to obtain current rates. Take them all with a grain of salt. It does, however, give you some idea as to what to expect in terms of the numbers and how to plan a long-term career in the animation industry. If you're from another country reading this, I know this month's column may not be as helpful as some of my others; hopefully you have at least found it educational and at least give you a direction to do research in your home area.

Shannon Muir is known in the animation industry for her work as a production coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She also served as a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters and a Production Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series. Muir is an accomplished writer and often participates on panels or as a guest speaker at conventions like Comic Con International.

Muir moved to Los Angeles in 1996 from Cheney, WA (population approximately 8,000), knowing she wanted to be part of the animation business. Since then, she's never strayed far from making that dream reality, whether it be actively working on a production or writing articles about the industry.

You can email Shannon Muir at

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