American animator Henry Thurlow (pictured at top) moved to Tokyo to live out his dream of creating anime in the Japanese animation industry. It took him four years to become good enough to get hired at a studio. When he finally achieved his goal, he discovered work conditions that were nothing short of slave labor, with studios paying as low as $25 per week. Says Thurlow to Buzzfeed:
“Let’s just be clear: It’s not a ‘tough’ industry… It’s an ‘illegally harsh’ industry. They don’t pay you even remotely minimum wage, they overwork you to the point where people are vomiting at work and having to go to the hospital for medicine. They demand that you come in whenever they realize a deadline isn’t going to be met. That probably means about a month and a half of nonstop work without a single day off. Then you will be allowed to go back to your regular six-day workweeks of 10-hour days. No one talks, or gets lunch together or anything. They just sit and work in complete silence and seem uninterested in changing this.”
Thurlow, whose credits at Japanese studios include Nakamura-Productions and Pierrot Studios, has ended up in the hospital three times due to exhaustion and illness. Amazingly, he still thinks the experience has been worth it because the anime projects he’s worked on in Japan have been more creatively satisfying than American productions:
“When I was working as an animator in New York I could afford an apartment, buy stuff, and had time to ‘live a life.’ But the artist inside of me was screaming at the fact I wasn’t making really high-quality feature films and series. Now everything about my life is utterly horrible, however the artist in me is completely satisfied.”
In a Reddit AMA that Thurlow did, he gave more details on the poor pay of anime studios:
The amount of money you earn from day to day changes … since it’s based on how many frame you draw. On Monday I might draw simple corrections on a whole bunch of frame (adding effects that were forgotten by other animators, or “Kii energy” or something like that) resulting in me being able to draw 40 drawings in one day and make over $150 depending on the series. Tuesday-Thursday however, I might have to do the trace-back and inbetweens for a super detailed shot from Tokyo Ghoul (which is really fun btw)…but results in me only drawing 5 frames per day each of those days ($12 a day or so). Each month at Pierrot I earn about $1000. Each month at my previous “slave-labor” studio, I earned about $300 a month.