Good News, Bad News for Interns

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that, according to a study by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire 8.5% more interns this year. This data is based on a poll of 280 companies, “most of them large firms that recruit on campuses, between November and January.” While American companies plan to hire more than 40,000 interns this year, the projected average intern wage will fall to $16.20, from $16.70 last year.

If you’re working in animation and have interned at a company recently, share your experiences in the comments. Is your studio paying you at least $16 an hour to intern? We already know that many unpaid internships in animation are illegal, and that some studios pay professional full-time employees less than average intern wages. Knowledge is power, especially in the animation industry.


  • Past Animation Intern

    Interesting news, Amid. I almost feel that the WSJ article has absolutely nothing to do with animation internships. The average of $16.20/hr is an interesting figure, but I think the median wage would be a lot more telling. Three years ago I interned at an animation company in Los Angeles after college. The internship was unpaid with the understanding that we were earning school credit – I believe this is a state mandate. Truth be told, I was happy to have any position in my chosen field. It was mid-recession and I had just earned a very pricey BFA. The experience was a rich one, but not monetarily. In fact, even after I came on as a production assistant at said company, I was receiving less than the $16.20/hr wage mentioned above (I stayed at this rate for a year). Currently, I am looking into MBA programs (I know, interesting career move) and the employment statistics for many of the summer internships that students secure between terms have an average wage in excess of $1,500/week. As I said, I think the median wage for internships would be a more telling figure (and probably a lot lower). For instance, I bet there are two MBA candidates earning $40.5/hr and three animation interns going completely unpaid (mean: $16.20, median: $0). But such is life, and such is the opportunity cost we are willing to pay for experience because we want to work in this industry.

    • amid

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just to be clear, the article reported that “nearly all respondents said they plan to pay their interns.”

  • George Zaleski

    Wow tell me where these place are/ I am constantly asked to do 20 dollars an hour! and the is for full time work!

  • http://whartonanimation.com Brett

    My studio in NYC (Buck) pays $12/hr. I know a lot of recent grads living in NY from Ringling and SVA. The really talented people are making $200/day freelancing at places like Framestore, but then have gaps when they’re not working. Panda Panther is infamous for paying $50/day if you’re willing to work at that rate and have a fairly good portfolio. A lot of companies will offer unpaid internships, even when they use most of your work in production.

    If any professionals reading have any advice for us, it’d be good to hear. It seems to me most people have to put up with a year or two of internships and lower-paid opportunities in order to gain experience and build a great portfolio.

  • dbenson

    Colbert Report on Feb. 28 featured Ross Eisenbrey, who talked about unpaid internships as a growing problem. Colbert’s mock rebuttals included a reference to “cotton-based internships” in the old south.

  • Past Intern

    I interned at one of the “big 5″ animation studios back in the summer of 2010, and I only made $10/hr. It was enough to make the trip out to Los Angeles possible; I about broke even at the end of the summer with all of the living expenses.

    Nickelodeon is infamous for offering an unpaid internship 4 times a year. They give “college credit” (which amounts to basically nothing). Unless you’re already living in LA, it’s not a viable option.

    BUT I will say that having an internship while I was in school has made a huge difference for my professional career. It gives me credibility. Most internships are not very well paid, but they’re basically essential to breaking into the industry–especially at the bigger studios. If you’re offered a low paying (but decent) internship, suck it up and find a way to make it happen. At the end of the day, the studio is probably doing you a favor.

  • http://Dwoodling.blogspot.com Dwoodling

    I was lucky enough to intern last summer with Leapfrog and although it wasn’t what students expected for an internship, it was nothing short of incredible. The work was fun and diverse, the responsibility was real, the pay was well above the average, and all of the employees were wonderful, friendly people. I highly recommend that any student should check it out!

  • http://JohnTravieso.blogspot.com John Tallacksen

    If you aren’t in school or a recent grad it seems like internships are next to impossible to get (especially since they can’t offer you college credit).
    Has anyone who wasn’t in school or a recent grad landed an internship in the industry? Were you paid? If so, how much?

    • Stopmo 4Life

      Yes, I’ve been out of school for a few years(in my late twenties). Didn’t start animating until about 3 years ago(but got totally addicted). I’m currently interning at a very cool animation company in NYC that does big budget commercial work. $10 an hour, full time, not much I know but the job has been great. And by the way I didn’t study animation in school(I’m a stop motion person though so probably not as important). Anyway, if you’ve got a strong reel and a good attitude there’s no reason to count yourself out. Seriously, make your reel awesome and they won’t ignore you.

  • http://www.toonocity.com fremgen

    Back in 1999, I was an art intern on a big cable show (was in school at the time) got paid nothing!

  • Tak

    Everyone’s wallets are puckering up tighter than God knows what. It’s sad really, internships should be plentiful, awesome and at the very least cover the student or grads travel and lunch expenses. And why not simply offer jr position wages and keep the intern for a minimum of a month working full time on a real production or product. And if they’re good, and you can, then why not hire them after that. At least starting part time, or on an initial contract that has the potential to develop into a full time one.

    I guess few places can afford to because no one as any money. Thanks GFC, a lack of economic regulations, a ton of mismanagement, unsustainable levels of “growth” and the Rothschi… sorry, I mean the Banks!

  • Taylor Armstrong

    As a poster child for internships, I’ve fought the urge to comment on any of the various animation-internship posts here, but today was a great day at work, and I’m brimming with positivity and real-world success. This may get lengthy, but its important, damn it. Especially to late teen to early twenty-somethings…..

    I went to SVA for traditional animation. I applied myself and freshmen year got picked by my professor, Biljana Labovic, to help out (paid) on a project for Bill Plympton. She had chosen me and a few other students to help color a History Channel Piece. I excelled. I was chosen again to help out on his next project, for Kanye West (also paid) and this went on part-time and eventually full-time at his studio.

    Meanwhile… from getting in better with Biljana and Bill, I met Signe Baumane. I interned on a film of hers (for home-cooked meals). Signe, being the thread she is amongst the animation community, would introduce me as her After Effects wizard, to everyone we met at the Academy and various animation screenings/events she’d invite me to.

    Through Signe/Biljana (or maybe before hand) I started interning with Andy and Carolyn London (for home-cooked meals, black coffee and indie music). I ended up doing work with the Londons in live action, animation, music videos, even my first festival-screening film I did with them. The growth I had in my years with them is enormous.

    Somewhere sprinkled in all this and because of all this, I ended up interning (unpaid) for a bit at Stretch Films, with John Dilworth. “Dirdy Birdy” was one of the first indie animations I ever saw back on a friend’s older brother’s Spike And Mike VHS. When Dilly was spring cleaning the studio space a bit, and my time was nearing a close, I was able to secure a cel from that short, as well as a Ren & Stimpy one from an episode he’d directed. Two of my most prized possessions to this day.

    I ended up with a full-time gig at Plymptoons, as well as freelance work and TA positions.

    This whole time A LARGE CHUNK OF MY CLASSMATES were barely getting their assignments in on time. Some landed an internship or two, and some actual paying gigs.

    I was hungry. I kept myself busy. I love animation and I love this industry (including film, vfx, design, whatever) and am dead-set on doing this with my life. The experience I got and the friends I’ve made my busting my ass at EVERY SINGLE OPPORTUNITY I could conceive, is priceless. This internship system, as is, may not be the most ethical, but it weeds out the people who don’t have the drive to make it.

    As ANYONE working in this field knows, there’s ups and there’s downs. After moving from NYC and chasing music for a few years, I couldn’t find any respectable animation-related gigs living in Chicago. I knew no one. Had no feet in any doors, and it was a long, brutal low. So I made a film in my “down” time, waited it out a bit more, and all of a sudden, now I’m living in LA working on huge blockbuster films. If you can’t stomache having to cut your teeth, and work for low/no pay as a total green horn, how can you expect to survive when all of a sudden the project your on gets dropped and you and all your coworkers are jobless and fighting for the next job?

    I would argue that the work ethic one develops when needing to deliver and succeed under deadlines for little-to-no-pay is as important as some of the technical things you first learn on the job. IF YOU AREN’T DOING THIS BECAUSE A PART OF YOU FEELS LIKE YOU HAVE TO, GET OUT! Money is great, but I couldn’t be doing the 70-80 hour weeks I’ve been doing lately if I didn’t love the craft and the high I got of completing a shot.

  • Disney Intern

    I interned at Disney in 2010, and we were VERY well taken care of. We made in the $20/hr range, and our housing was covered. People coming from out of state (like I was) were even reimbursed for travel.

    In fact, since we could grab breakfast at the cereal bar in the mornings, at the production crew let us share their overtime chow, I had almost no expenses for the whole summer.

    Needless to say it was an amazing experience, and the money was the least of it.

  • http://illustrationfeeder.blogspot.com Disney Interactive Intern

    Recently ended my internship with Disney interactive. The rate was 16 exactly and a very respectable wage for the area.

  • Disney Co Op

    I’m with Disney, technically as an intern, but listed as an under grad Co-Op. The experience here is great, they make a very big effort to develop their interns and co-ops with workshops, talks, and in the summer, a huge intern get-together at Disneyland. I would say I am paid an appropriate amount per hour, but personally, the big pay off is that the Co-Op program is intended to develop and recruit full-time employees, in addition to access to a very large pool of incredibly talented people.

  • amid

    Great to hear positive stories and fair pay wages from those who have interned with Leapfrog and Disney.

    Disney Co Op: One of the people quoted in the WALL STREET JOURNAL piece said, “Given the way the labor market is, I wonder if this is not just a form of inexpensive recruiting.” So you’re correct in that many internships are essentially recruiting programs in disguise.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Could this be the most even tempered, sensible and positive collection of comments ever amassed on Cartoon Brew?

  • Tak

    Nickelodeon is looking for Artist Interns (paid): http://www.nickartist.com/index.php

    Well, my hats off to Nickelodeon & Disney, they seem to be setting the right example for internships.

    How do Dreamworks, Cartoon Network & the other fun factories stack up in this regard?

    • http://www.cartoonbrew.com/author/amid amid

      Tak – The Artist Program you linked to hires two artists per year, according to their FAQ. All of their internship positions are unpaid, according to their Intern FAQ: http://nickanimationcareers.com/about/faq/

      • Tak

        Scratch that & check your Facts again Amid:
        Bryan Konietzko has some credentials on & more info about the program.

        “A week ago I posted an illustration by Evon Freeman, who was part of the first year of Nickelodeon’s artist fellowship program. It is a six-month paid internship thingy… I think it is a great idea, as we love to foster new talent in the industry. Believe it or not, it is hard to find enough qualified artists to fill positions in animation these days (perhaps the video game industry has gobbled up a whole generation of artists…), so if you have a passion for animation, this could be a great way to get your foot in the door, and maybe learn something in the process!”

        @Amid: if the movie Inception has taught me anything, it’s that “We must go deeper!”, try getting in touch with him or giving someone involved a call just to triple check if any of the bullsh*t either of us have been spouting here in the comments is at all true. Do it for the children Amid!

      • http://www.cartoonbrew.com/author/amid amid

        Maybe I didn’t word it clearly, but I said the Artist Program hires two artists per year, while their internship programs are unpaid. Nothing in your post above contradicts that.

      • Tak

        Ok, Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Mer

    It’s my impression that the artists’ program is designed to “promote diversity within the industry.” Isn’t that code for “minorities only?”

  • http://amandacarin.blogspot.com/ Amanda Stair

    I am just starting at a 3D commercial studio down the street from my college. Going from disabled with Tourette’s Syndrome on a meager $475/month SSI check to getting an internship, paid or not, is a dream come true for me, but maybe I ought to think about this. They said it should last three to four months. So in February, at least, if I don’t see $16/hr, I’ll definitely pick up my things and move elsewhere.