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Artist Rights

Vancouver Animation Industry Survey Reveals Alarming Low Wages and Unpaid Overtime Practices

A new artist-run survey of Vancouver animation industry employees has revealed stunning low salaries that in some cases barely reach Metro Vancouver’s baseline standard for a living wage.

Another key revelation from the survey, besides low wages, is that over 90% of animation workers in Vancouver have reported not being compensated for overtime work, a major violation of British Columbia labor law. When the unpaid overtime hours are factored into the salaries, many Vancouver artists earn below a living wage for Metro Vancouver.

Here is the survey’s overview to date of median wages in the Vancouver industry. Bear in mind, these figures are in Canadian dollars, which is significantly weaker than the U.S. dollar. (A layout artist’s CAD$875 weekly wage is only US$673.)

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The results of the survey are being updated weekly and shared publicly on AnimationWageShare.tumblr.com. The artists who organized the survey told Cartoon Brew that they launched it because they are “currently in the process of organizing a grassroots movement to improve our working conditions,” with the belief “that transparency in our jobs will help us understand our present situation and empower us to change it.”

Everyone involved in the initiative has chosen to remain anonymous. “As you know with the Sausage Party animators, blacklisting is a real concern for us,” they told Cartoon Brew. “Some of us have already been anonymously harassed on social media for speaking out about our working conditions.”

Besides the wage sharing survey, the artists are posting commentaries that defend why unionization is currently their best option and explain what to do if a Vancouver artist learns they’re being underpaid. They point out that all of the thousands of live-action film workers in Vancouver are unionized and receive overtime compensation.

Below are more preliminary wage survey results for different positions at major Vancouver studios, including Atomic Cartoons, Bardel Entertainment, Big Bad Boo Studios, DHX, Rainmaker, Bron Studio, 9 Story, and Titmouse. Vancouver industry artists can anonymously complete the survey here.

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  • Tigeroovy

    I guess I just had too much time earning clearly less than I should have been in retail because despite my wage being apparently lower than the industry average, I feel like I’m making a decent wage as an animator.

    Less than average it seems, but still way better than the garbage retail wage I had earned for years.

    • AmidAmidi

      Comparing animation wages down to retail is a disservice to yourself and the industry. Animation is a specialized creative profession like architecture, film, graphic design, and industrial design. If someone is making less on average than people in those other industries, then serious questions must be asked.

      • Tigeroovy

        Oh I agree, I’m not really comparing them so much, just kind of realizing just how used to shitty low wages I became.

      • Eddie

        So what if it is specialized creative profession, the market set’s the value of such jobs so what they should pay is what value the market should determine. You can not demand the wages be the same across all of these areas as the value will vary according to market forces. Market should set demand and value.

  • Ceebs

    Dang that’s low…

  • Randy

    As a long time 2-d man, I think this has been a long time coming. Bravo to all who get involved in this and improving work standards and proper regulation. For the great talent that comes out of Vancouver, it’s long overdue. Maybe sooner than later, the day will come where a few more people will be allowed to go home for dinner after a good days work, instead of hearing, “Well, it’s crunch time and we would like to buy you dinner to show our appreciation for working so hard”. Hope the game industry follows too. Thanks for reporting, Amid and to Cartoon Brew! Keep it up!

  • There are cities in the US that already have a $15 minimum wage. That’s $600US for a 40-hour work week with no overtime work. The median wage between all the medians listed in the first image is about $20US/hr, though it’s going to be skewed higher by the medians of the higher-wage positions, which tend to employ fewer positions than other categories.

  • VANimator

    The perpetual overtime is caused by people in higher up production positions that generally have no idea how an animation pipeline should run in an efficient manner, & yet, you see these people in these positions all the time. Producers getting bonuses for early delivery of projects only fuels the fire.

  • Jai Mico

    Modern day sweatshops !

  • TheMaskedAvenger

    It’s about time! Vancouver animators have been putting up with this abuse for decades. Enough is enough.

  • Elsi Pote

    I remember hearing a girl from mpc exactly say: “at least is not retail, I don’t have to stand on my feet for 8 hours straight”.

    Now I know she was making a self deprecating joke about her working conditions, with this coming out to the light.

    Talking about the blacklisting: will there be an initiative to prosecute those who are blacklisting workers?

    I happen to know a victim of the Nitrogen fiasco to be in such apparent situation and might need some help with it.

    To all of those affected, my sincere words of support and encouragement. Justice will be served, don’t despair! However be mindful that work discrimination and malpractice lawsuits might take up to seven years to resolve under the Canadian justice system.

    Also be mindful that threats and intimidation tactics will come your way. This is something well documented in the many many strike and labor conflicts across all the previnces of the big white north.

    To those with working visas, never fear, you have rights and laws that protect you. Just have your consulate phone numbers handy because you never know.

    Stay strong people, this is a battle worth fighting for.

  • matt shepherd

    How about you start posting some relevant information. You’re listing Television studio wages. Everyone and their dog knows that TV pays LOWER than feature. If you want to jump start a real conversation then you need to stop comparing apples to oranges.

    It’s very frustrating to see this post. Does everyone think a union means you will all make 1000+ a week? will they magically produce more money to equalize wages across the board?

    DHX-Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver
    Titmouse-LA, New York, Vancouver
    9 Story-Toronto
    Bardel-Vancouver, Kelowna
    Atomic-Vancouver
    Rainmaker-Vancouver
    Industry Standard-Nation wide….

    First things first, union in Van? Ok Im DHX, what do I do? I send the bulk of my work to Halifax then…union averted. No? I send to Toronto…Ok…No? I send to Quick Draw overseas to whom I’m already sending my animation to.

    You cant stop the rain, where there’s a will there’s a way. People MUCH smarter than us are figuring this out everyday, it’s their job to find economic solutions at all costs. Do I think its fair? No. This is NOT a unique situation, this exists in EVERY industry in some form or another, some of which HAVE unions and still suffer from the same challenges as animation/wages.

    -Matt Shepherd
    Its cool to disagree with my opinion, I’m speaking from experience. I’ve been the recipient of good and bad in this industry. Animation is NOT for everyone. Its a tough industry and you need to be able to adapt to survive. Ive witnessed fair more talented people than I quit the industry because of the pay and how unstable it is. It is cold, ruthless and it will win if you let it.

    Words I live by “Never wait for a corporate hand to wipe your ass” a line a former Production Manager told me once when I was waiting around for a contract extension.

    My other favourite line, “Don’t like the pay? Don’t do the job” same manager, told me this when I bitched about not getting a raise because I thought I outperformed everyone else.

    Harsh realities.

    • TheMaskedAvenger

      OK, but who is going to do the work in Halifax and Toronto? It takes skill and training to work in animation and there’s so much work in Vancouver alone that studios are foregoing tax credits to hire foreign workers to move here.

      If DHX moves to another city, the workforce moves with them and we form a union there. Overseas may sound like an attractive option, but the language barrier and time zone make it a huge, expensive headache and honestly, the workers in the Philippines and Korea are already way cheaper per hour, so why is any animation done in North America?

      The fact is we’re valuable. The studios are invested in telling us we can all be replaced, but I don’t buy it, and neither should you. After working here more than a decade, just having a job is not enough for me and it’s not enough for the talented artists here in Vancouver. It doesn’t have to be this way anymore.

      All of live action in Canada is union. We have so much film and TV work that the CBC put out an open call for crew a couple weeks ago. Animation voice actors are union, writers and directors have guilds. Animators and production artists are the only ones getting screwed. Let’s put an end to it.

      • Eddie

        So maybe the issue is foreign workers and high taxes in Vancouver? If foreign workers our out competing local residents for less pay and taxes our forcing your income to not go as far as you want it to, perhaps this is government created issue?

    • Steven Koshin

      And it’s this exact mentality that has to end. Matt, this way of thinking only exaserbates the problem instead of solves it. Plus if you relocate because of unionization, that’s what wal-mart does. If the Canadian animation industry wants to behave like wal-mart, you’ve already shown how flawed your ideology is.

  • AnimatorGuy

    These companies are all the lower end TV shops. As someone at one of the larger name feature film shops I make double what it lists for my category in this “survey”

    • alt animation podcast

      I know people at these lower end TV shops that came from mexico that produce WAY more work at a higher quality than some animators at the bigger feature studios. Its not like we work less by any means. A lot of these people are just as talented, but couldnt afford the fancy schools or online programs where you get the contacts needed to jump into feature work. *also language barriers and work permits cause issues

      • AnimatorGuy

        90 percent of what matters is your reel… If they’re as awesome as you say they can get in no problem. And they seemed to be able to get a work permit for the crappy studio they’re at, so I’m sure the larger higher paying ones will get them one.

        And most people I know in the industry didn’t go to a fancy school or do animation mentor for “contacts”

    • TheMaskedAvenger

      Good for you? You know that you can improve the results of a “survey” by responding to it, right?

      • AnumatorGuy

        Just pointing out that the low numbers here are skewed and the article inflammatory because these types of studios are well known to pay less.

        • Feature animator

          Animator guy is right, most feature shops pay animators double what they are suggesting, in most cases. The salary range is quite large. Anywhere from 52k to 130k for an 3D animator position on feature. Non union as well. Benefits and ot pay….

        • Jiff

          That’s the point.

  • NonUnionAnon

    Not that I’m trying to justify or belittle these complaints, but:

    Many non-union studios in LA pay very comparable rates to the ones reported here. I currently work at one. The wages paid here match that graph very closely. (And yes, accounting for the exchange rate.)

    Having said that, though – where I work NEVER asks for extra hours w/o overtime pay. Ever.

    At the end of the day, I hope our northern neighbors get a union too. You guys deserve it.

    I hope more artist at the smaller studios around town here can get union crews/shows as well.
    If your only experience is at smaller houses, it’s really hard to use that experience to try and land a job at the bigger union places, IMHO.

  • OutOfTown

    The amount of time the survey was available (a week? maybe two?) before publishing makes me question the sample sizes and whether these stats can be representative of the local industry as a whole. Also, 3D previs, layout, and asset artists, production staff and TDs aren’t represented here. Need more information for conclusive results.

    • alt animation podcast

      At many of the studios here the 3d animations are previs and layout

  • alt animation podcast

    Its important to note that these are the wages BEFORE taxes. Canadian tax rates can be higher than those in the states.

    • mashed potato

      Do canadians have a portion deducted monthly into employee providence funds? That would make the nett spendable income EVEN lower.

  • Steven Koshin

    What kind of survey would you recommend? It also shows that people who are against this, are most likely those in positions in the industry to lose more than gain. How about if you’re going to be critical against this, don’t be anonymous. Oh wait, it’s harder to bully somebody when you’re not anonymous. And the survey is as accurate as one can be when it’s volunteering information. It clearly states how the information was gathered. But I see you’d rather shoot down what you disagree with then offer solutions to help ensure the data becomes accurate.

  • cesar

    wow, u guys are making 1k per week?!
    here in brazil we dont make this even if we’re talking about our currency
    cut out animators are making per week more like 500-750 brazilian reais (about 150-230 dollars)
    and boarders 1000-1250 brazilian reais (300-380 dollars)
    lol

  • Anonimator62

    Isn’t anyone going to talk about DHX’s little legal scam, “Timesheets”? Or as we called the Liesheets. Fine I will. It was a single sheet document that DHX bullies their artists into signing every week, showing that the artist did not work overtime. This allows them to avoid BC Overtime Law. They told us, even if we worked overtime, just put in that you worked 9 to 6 on the chart and sign it. We were told a varying range of lies about what would happen if we didn’t sign the Liesheet. We were met with disdain and pressure from the production staff suggesting that we wouldn’t get paid or hired back. I was demoralized to have to sign this for over 10 years with that company. I put in some serious OT for them too. INSULTING SCAM. I would love to hear more stories from DHX/Studio B workers about Timesheets. Are they still using them? I haven’t worked there in 5 years since D.reams & H.opes eX.tinguished

    • JP

      Hi Anonimator62 — I’m a reporter working on a story on labour practices in Vancouver’s animation sector and I wanted to see if you’d be interested in speaking to me. I’m at [email protected]
      cheers,
      Jacob

  • TheMaskedAvenger

    The charts that compare wages across studios say they are averages, just the top graph is labeled as medians.

  • AlunClewe

    Why do you say average would be more interesting than median? I’d say the opposite is the case; the median is exactly the right statistic to use. The mean (average) is much more sensitive to outliers; a few atypical examples of unusually high or low income can throw off the average but have relatively little effect on the median. The median is generally a more robust measurement of central tendency for a skewed or irregular distribution (and for a regular, symmetrical, bell-curve distribution, the mean and the median are the same anyway).

  • anonymous_engineer_from_msia

    Just random guy from Malaysia who is not in the animation industry (but a wanabee visual artist)
    Didnt read everything in the comments yet and this is not “‘Our’ situation is worse than yours” thing

    Very commendable efforts by the artists in Canada.
    Wish it were the case in Malaysian industry. (Cant say much about rest of South East Asia)

    Second hand information from a close friend who had worked in two major Malaysian studios, both mostly doing outsourcing work internationally and in 2D:
    Studio A
    -no overtime pay is a given
    -The pay is really low even at Malaysian standards
    -12 hours minimum 6days a week, averaging 15 hours
    -name will never appear in credits
    -abusive/deceitful boss/owner
    -managers who dont actually do anything apart cracking the whip

    Studio B
    -no overtime pay
    -similar low pay
    -apparently had better, realistic working hours
    -name will appear in credits
    -boss/owner actually cares about workers

    Me and my friend make comics, so ive been pestering her about her future abusive animation industry experience autobio-comic, one day it will come to light!

    I urge others to make more art in retaliation to abusive working conditions or what have yous, what else can one do? Hopefully not brandish kalashnikoffs.
    There were others who had worked at Studio A for 7 years and pay had never improved, work had never improved? Why didnt some of them leave? 1) Passion? 2) No way out 3) family lives nearby etc etc.
    People should try to improve their lives (and their work and their art). Maybe fortunately in Canada there are laws in regards to this, in Malaysia (and/or in the rest of Asia) such is not the case

    Obviously this doesnt hold a candle to illegally harsh Japanese anime industry…..

    • Aliscen Khaw

      I feel you, I was one of the people that went through studio B experience but our bosses doesn’t care about us, despite the fact that the work we are working on is hugely popular in france, and the french side has indeed tried to fight for better wages and working hours for the locals,but to no avail, because we do not have much laws protecting workers in the animation industry, I applaud you for wishing to bring the stories to light through your comic, but I wonder how we can convince the government to change the law to cater for artists.

    • mashed potato

      Hohoho, I think I know who B is, I might’ve spent a stint there.

      Let’s not forget that studio types that fall into B, after much grooming, would often put you in a Stockholm-Syndrome-chokehold with the ‘we are family’ excuse to get you to do unpaid OT. If not family excuse, then passion, “If you’re so passionate, you’ll die finishing it!”.

  • In Taiwan, a 3D animator’s average salary is US$1093.00 MONTHLY….And it’s not cheap to live in Taipei City….

  • Vanbuzz

    I worked at 2 companies while in BC. DHX grossly underpays anyone and everyone whether you have expierence or not…the same goes for Bardel.Grabbing newbies from Capilano college and VFS helps rectify the problem as many don’t know their rights ,take low pay,and are just excited to be working in the industry. When you are in your 40s knowing there a good chance the person beside you in their 20s is making a similar wage things can become a little depressing. Vancouver, Is one of the most expensive cities on the continent to work in,few studios take this into account, many workers don’t receive an annual cost of living increase(which has nothing to do with a raise)…..

  • JP

    I’m a reporter working on a story on labour practices in Vancouver’s animation sector and I’m interested in hearing more. I’m at [email protected] if you want to send me an email.

  • mashed potato

    FOREX equates into it too. Outsource and foreigners can take a hit and still stay in the black or skirt the edge of red when Dollar, Pound and Euro can fetch 2x – 5x more in native currency.

    $200 could keep a small Indian or Sri Lankan dev studio operating for a few weeks.

  • Patrick Reyntens

    So, is this wage before tax or after? If it’s before tax, what would the nett income per month be for someone who earns 4000 CAD per month?

    • befghist
      • Patrick Reyntens

        Thanks man. I’d find it a bit surprising though. Is the pay really that bad? I know rent is crazy in Vancouver but still…I think you’ll find wages (after tax) to be very similar in Europe for TV projects.

  • Arist

    What exactly is the true Matt?

  • Dinomutt

    DHX’s nickname is Doesn’t Hire eXperience. The Halifax studio is filling up with grads and anyone with experience and backbone are heading west. Based on those charts, that’s the top end of the pay scale for Halifax’s studio. Midrange animators/artists make in the $700 – $800 range per week

  • Aliscen Khaw

    Do they have a survey for asia too??== because the amount of insane low wages and unpaid overtime, and people are too afraid to talk about it or fight for their rights even due to backlash and being blacklisted from animation companies.So i wonder if the surveys are available for asia so people can see what is actually going on.

  • StayedAwayFromNitrogen

    They could avoid a lot of the confusion by replacing the image at the start of the article listing EA, IE, MPC, Method, scanline etc that are vfx studios not TV animation studios.

    I had an offer from nitrogen a couple years back and turned it down for a lower paying vfx job because I knew I would make OT pay and as my salary grew, I’d continue getting ot pay. Nitrogen was quite clear in the interview and offer that they didn’t pay overtime for my position.

    The feature VFX studios do not fit into this grave situation. We would love to support you but what can we possibly do?

    If you work without ot pay that is your choice, intimidation or not. Before ever intimidated you were offered a contract that stated how you would be compensated. You make choices and whether it is shady business or not you make a choice to stay or not.

  • Josh Evans

    Would love to see this study done in Montreal.

  • Jiff

    I work in the industry as a BG designer, and I’m making less now than I did in 2000. Many designers say the same thing. For most of the 2000’s wages have stagnated. If you manage to stay at the same company for a long-ish period and you’re valued, you will get minimal raises.

    I’ve been told in job interviews that my requested wage would be more than they’re paying the art director – as if that’s a valid excuse.

  • RacerX

    A production I’m on was using a Canadian studio but the work we were getting back was so bad we dropped them. They were still contracted for a couple more months to finish what they had, two weeks later they sent back what they had left and quit with no warning. Very professional. Messed up our schedule but brought work back to the States.

    Another production planned on doing everything through a Canadian studio with just production people here, no artists to save money. The funniest part is their work was so poor the production had to keep adding people to fix things and now it’s a full crew.

    So hopefully that’s a sign of working coming back here.