Is it True? Everyone Working in Anime is Poor?

Blogger’s/Translator’s introduction: This is the followup post to an earlier translation of 30-year veteran animator and director Yamasaki Osamu‘s blog post regarding the financial situation of the animation industry and animators in specific. Again, this post was originally posted on his blog on the JAniCA (Japan Animation Creators Association) website. Again, I would like to thank Yamasaki-san and Nekomiya-san from JAniCA for allowing me to translate and post the following article.

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It seems like some people misunderstood my previous post about the disastrous situation going on with new animators, and thought that everyone involved in anime production is in the same situation, but the situation isn’t that miserable… at least, that’s how I feel.

To put it better, whether you’re someone making a decent living or if you’re someone sliding into poverty, two groups of people who coexist in the anime industry, depends on what department you’re working in, not your experience or your accomplishments… would be the way to put it.

I wrote that if you halved the unit price paid per drawing for painters, then inbetweeners could make a living. However, if you wanted to adjust the budget in other ways, I can come up with a lot of ways to do it.

I’m not sure if I should write something like this in a place like this, but… In the anime industry right now, production supervisors, the people that ought to know how to allocate a budget, have no idea what’s actually going on in the studios. As a result, I think that this is causing the state of the industry to grow worse and worse.

And so… I’ll take it upon myself to say this here:

“A lot of anime production staff are making plenty of money!!”
“What’s more, all that’s needed to save inbetweeners is 500,000 yen ($5,500 usd) an episode from a 10 million yen ($112,000) TV series episode budget!”

How much money is needed to raise the unit cost for an inbetweener from 200 to 300 yen? How much are we missing? An average episode uses 4000-5000 in-between frames. Looking at those numbers, how short are we falling? All you need is 500,000 yen an episode to give this raise.

Is it really not possible to raise this amount of money?

Last time, I wrote about reducing the unit cost for painters, but I think there are plenty of other places where you can find the money.

To give one example that I’m aware of, let’s look at sound director pay.

A sound director for a TV series makes an average of 150,000-180,000 yen ($1,675-$2000) an episode.
The director for the same episode makes 200,000-250,000 yen ($2,200-2,800).
The animation director makes around 300,000 yen ($3,350).

On first glance, these numbers might look fair, but in reality, that’s not the case at all. I wrote about this last time, but an animation director is bound for about a month and a half to the job he’s paid 300,000 yen for, so that comes out to making around 200,000 yen a month.

For directors, it might take six months preparation to begin work on a 25-26 episode (half-year) series, so you could calculate their monthly pay to be about 500,000 yen ($5,600).

In comparison, a sound director takes two days to complete an episode, including preparation time. Therefore, a lot of sound directors work on 2-3 titles at a time, for a total of 3 episodes a week. Taking on 12 episodes a month isn’t hard or uncommon.
Monthly pay: 150,000 yen x 12 episodes = 1,800,000 yen ($20,000).
Sound directors who make over 20,000,000 yen ($223,000) a year are common.

As for scenario writers, they make around 180,000 yen ($2,000) a script and work on 2-3 at a time, but unlike sound directors, it’s fairly unheard of to write a completed script in 2 days. We can say that they finish an average of 1-2 scripts in an average month, putting their monthly income from manuscript fees at about 300,000 ($3,350) yen.
Whether you think this is a lot or a little, depending on the show1, a writer may be paid script royalties if the work becomes a hit, making millions of yen without doing any extra work. Since one could be working on three or more shows each month, the chances that a writer will write a script for a hit series increases.
As a result, a writer who does proper work would reach 10 million yen ($110,000) a year.
Of course, there are writers who make more, and I’m sure there are writers who don’t make this much.

One thing you can definitely say, though, is that a series becoming a hit or not isn’t necessarily linked to the quality of the script.

Besides these examples, 800,000-1,000,000 yen (~$9,000-$11,000) an episode is allotted to cinematography an episode. A cinematography team is made up of 4-5 people, and complete one TV episode in 3-4 days.
Aside from this, other “sentori” jobs for the team such as inbetween photography, keyframe photography, and storyboard photography2 may arise if there isn’t tight control on the schedule, and these jobs are included in the pay.
Even so, the 4-5 person team ends up making a total of 4 million yen or more a month. ($44,500)

Looking at the numbers I’ve written above, you could conceivably compare the level of each section’s pay to the average in other industries and say something like “Well… around 20 million yen a year seems normal.” After all, that’s around what the salaried employees at the TV stations and the ad agencies make, so people involved in anime making that much doesn’t seem too strange.

However, when you think what it takes to actually produce a given anime, how much does each of these groups contribute? How much should each section really be paid?
I think that producers ought to think about these things.

Aren’t sound directors being paid too much?
If you’re going to pay screenwriters royalties, do you really need to also pay guarantees?
Do you really have to pay so much to low-level writers whose involvement amounts to being middlemen for the person doing series composition?
Aren’t cinematographers being given extra work because production managers are careless?

And while I’m at it, “Animation directors are even worse off than inbetweeners!!”

I really think about all of these things.

Working in the anime industry today, the job I want to do the least is working as an animation director.
You take the blame when things turn out poorly, and even though you have to fix every layout and keyframe, inexperienced keyframe artists make 4000 yen a cut. If you break it down, animation directors don’t even get paid at the level of 1000 yen a cut.
If you break it down by drawing, it’s less than the inbetweeners, despite making as little as they do.
For veteran animation directors who might be responsible for almost half a work’s perceived quality, there’s far too wide of a gap between labor done and money paid.

When sound directors who don’t know what’s going on come up to me and tell me like they’re stressed out from working, “Hey, we can’t do any sound work because we don’t have any proper drawings, just keyframe photography,” I want to tell them “okay then, why don’t you quit?”
How much weight are you pulling, and how much of the budget are you given?
Do you know how much the animation staff puts into those drawings and what they’re going through?
Are you saying what you’re saying with all of this in mind?

The main staff of a work should be people who newcomers look up to.
If they work hard and give their best, they’ll be able to become like their seniors.
It’s thoughts like this that cultivate talent for the next generation.
That’s why I’m not going to say that making a lot of money is a bad thing.

But… There’s a but.

What about the new animators, who can’t even properly support themselves, having to work next to equally green painters who are making more than the animation director?
What about the sound directors being paid 150,000 yen for 2 days of work?
What about the unnecessary sentori work that keeps increasing?
If you redid a budget so that you minimized waste and paid people for the work they do, there couldn’t be any way that you can’t find another 500,000 yen for inbetweening.

There are people who say things like “Well, budgets haven’t really changed in thirty years, so…” or “Raising just the inbetweening budget isn’t feasible…” I wish that these people who don’t know anything about the actual condition of the industry would stop pretending they did and shut their mouths.
That’s to say nothing of the people who say “It’s Tezuka’s fault!” These people aren’t just ignorant about the condition of the industry, what they’re saying is so stupid that it doesn’t even make sense!

I believe that directors, as the individuals who represent anime productions, ought to raise their voice and ask these questions.

The anime industry is by no means poor.
It’s the animators who are.

Industry insiders, please realize this!
Please have the courage to improve this situation!

I ought to back up and acknowledge that there are sound directors and scenario writers who are commendably good workers deserving of praise.

But even so, sound directors get paid a lot… at least, that’s what I think.
(I don’t know what to make of the fact that I’m saying this while having worked as a sound director…)

A better way to put it might be, “Budgets are clearly not balanced!!”… why don’t the producers at the studios who are associated with the AJA think this?

Do they really lack the imagination to see how leaving this situation as it is will lead to not being able to make works in the future?

The reason that work gets held up when it goes to the animation director is because of the rapid decrease in key animators who can do a proper job…
And the cause of this is the inattentiveness of production supervisors, who should be looking after the young animators who have no bargaining power.

I’m certain that this is the truth.

  1. tl note: I think this means “if it gets a dvd” []
  2. these are used during recording sessions []

9 Responses to “Is it True? Everyone Working in Anime is Poor?”

  1. duckroll says:

    Certainly a very interesting look at how he feels about the industry as a director. His point about animation directors is very interesting, because it then brings up the question of how the workload of the main animation director for the series is different from the animation directors of a given episode. Who would be responsible for the majority of frame corrections? There are some main animation directors who never work as episode series directors ever. But clearly that doesn’t mean they don’t do any work. So how would that work out?

    Another issue I have with his opinion is that he seems to have the view that low level script writers do not really contribute much creatively to a project since they’re just “middlemen”. That’s not an incorrect viewpoint, but personally I feel inbetweeners are the same thing. They’re just middlemen who fill the blanks left by the key frame animators and the animation director.

    Yes, the script writers are paid more, but it also only takes one person to write a script for an episode. You need many more animators, so they all get paid less. Certainly, paying more per frame for inbetweeners is not a bad thing, but if you’re stuck inbetweening for your entire career I also think it’s a sign that you’re not progressing and probably should look for a better job. The driving force of a piece of animation is divided between the art design, the storyboarding, and the key frame animations. The inbetweening is grunt work, and everyone knows it is grunt work.

    Just my two cents.

  2. jpmeyer says:

    Much like when the original “ATTENTION EVERYONE: SEIYUU ARE POOR!” thing came up a year or two ago, I realized something: this is kind of the same way it is in America. Media companies are loaded with freelancers, permatemps, and (unpaid) interns that they pay a pittance too. There’s been a lot of press made about how badly Viacom would pay many of its employees.

  3. hashi says:

    Fascinating stuff. “The anime industry is by no means poor. It’s the animators who are.” It would be great if there were in fact a solution that would give the main cadre of workers a decent living.

    I wonder if sound directors get paid more partly because they have their own shops and equipment to pay for (if they do). Yamasaki acted as sound director for only his own show Toward the Terra, as far as Japanese Wikipedia knows. His loyalties are clearly with the animators, anyway. I guess I have to agree that animation is the biggest selling point of an anime, but without good writing, good acting, good music, clear sound — a well-animated show can certainly fail.

    I’m enjoying Yamasaki’s current anime, Hakuouki. In recent years, he has directed Toward the Terra and Itazura na Kiss.

  4. Shay Guy says:

    For a long time now I’ve wondered about the budget and cash flow for anime series — how the money gets spent, where the bulk of revenue comes from for a children’s series versus a late-night series, that sort of thing. Very interesting to see it broken down like this, especially with the implication that the system could be substantially improved with a little retooling.

    If one studio did decide to make such changes, would they be able to make it work? Could they find sound directors and such willing to make less money than they could at other studios? I imagine at least at first, it’d take a lot of finagling with personal connections and favors.

    Another thing — how does all this compare to American cartoons like The Spectacular Spider-Man or Avatar: The Last Airbender? (I presume both categories are complicated by outsourcing to Korea?)

  5. Simon Jones says:

    I can’t imagine this post will make him very popular in the studio with anyone not in the animation department. Not that I disagree with his central premise that animators are under-payed, but asking for everyone else to take a pay cut is rather daring.

    Salaries aren’t just determined solely by the amount of work involved, but also by the availability of professionals with the required skill set. If sound engineers and painters were as numerous as inbetweeners, or conversely, if animation develops such a bad reputation that the profession suffers a crash in entrants, the market would naturally correct itself.

  6. zer07 says:

    Duckroll,

    “personally I feel inbetweeners are the same thing. They’re just middlemen who fill the blanks left by the key frame animators and the animation director.”

    This statement demonstrates a fundamental difference in understanding what an inbetweener is in japan versus other countries. In other countries the keyframe animator is expected to do alot more and so inbetweeners are what you would consider middlemen. Thats not to say that their job isn’t just as hard as keyframe animators, or just as important. However, in japan inbetweeners are expected to do far more work. Say in the states you have a keyframe animator putting down 6 drawings for a specific action, he’ll then give the inbetweener instruction on how he wants the inbetweens laid out. Comparitively in japan, for the same task, the keyframe animator is only putting down 3 drawings and expecting the inbetweener to do the breakdowns of those and then break down their own breakdowns. Trust me, a friend of mine worked in japan as an inbetweener and an episode director.

    Now heres where both you and the original author are incorrect. Having worked in production I agree with many of this articles points, however, there is no such thing on production as a middleman. Even the guy who goes out and gets your coffee or keeps the supplies stocked is important.(this is in production, i think production management is a different story) Without any cog the machine would eventually break. I think he’s right to call for better evaluation of budget. My thoughts as I finished reading the article were. How come he doesn’t become a producer and actually lead by example?

    It might be harder than that in japan, I don’t know what it takes to be a producer. But I’m sure if one studio started doing it and word spread about that studio there could possibly be a revolution in the japanese animation industry.

    I would love to work in Japan one day so I hope this happens. As the industry stands now I’m definitely not going over there.

  7. VIPPER says:

    I mostly agree with him because animation really is what sets anime apart usually. Sakuga is a key part of the anime process, possibly more important or just as important as many other aspects of the production. Even if you just think about the most popular shows recently, K-on, Haruhi, etc. They have all invested quite a lot in the animation/designs with great results. Companies should be rearranging their focus.

  8. A qui va l’argent des animes ? | Actualité en Asie: Touta l'actualité en Asie says:

    [...] En somme, un gros coup de gueule pour dfendre les animateurs (voir la version anglaise de l’article : http://2chan.us/wordpress/2010/04/15/is-it-true-everyone-working-in-anime-is-poor/). [...]

  9. welcome datacomp » Blog Archive » More Details on the JAniCA/Agency for Cultural Affairs Animator Training Project says:

    [...] as they’ve been one of the most staunch supporters of animators (see translations here, here, and just about every substantial report over the last few years about animator salaries) and so [...]

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