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Animator Supporters Trying To Improve Unfair Working Conditions

animator anime japan

Animator Supporters Trying To Improve Unfair Working Conditions

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Animators are in a much harder position than you might expect, with low wages, long working hours and common illegal contracting (many of them are hired as freelancers and not given the benefits they would by a full-time job even though they work the same amount of hours or even more). There have also been occasions where animators talked about having to cut sleep to meet deadlines, and even had to think about food in terms of how many drawings it was worth. Sounds unbelievable considering that the Japanese anime industry is worth $18.8 BILLION, right?  

The budget given to animation studios by the big production committees, which consist of TV stations, movie production firms, ad companies, publishers and large anime studios, is often insufficient. This results in studios having to work under debt and being unable to adequately pay their animators. It’s even said that 1 in 4 studios is in debt.

The animators are generally paid by a piece-work pay system, which means their wage depends on how quickly they work. Since new animators usually start off as douga animators (inbetweeners), their rate is less than $2 for one frame, which equals to roughly 300 frames being ~$550 (it’s extremely hard for a new animator to make 300 frames in a month!) This is why the monthly salary for a 1st year animator is often less than ~$270, and also why it’s said that the majority of new animators quit within 3 years of starting.

Another issue is that most studios are located in Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in Japan, which makes it even harder for new animators to live on the low wages.

The Animator Supporters NPO was established by Sugawara Jun in 2011 with the aim to help new animators and establish a new anime producing system. In the first year, they provided each new animator with an annual salary of ~$5500. They had 2 goals:

1. Provide affordable housing for new animators so they can focus on their work
2. Provide a place where they can get experts’ advice from experienced professionals.

In 2014, the first Animator Dormitory was built to house animators with less than 3 years of experience (that’s the toughest period for any new animator as they gain experience and improve). Since then, they have housed about 40 animators, some of who went on to work on some famous shows, such as:
Masaaki Tanaka (Animation Director in “Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3“)
Kawano Tatsuro (Animation Director in “Psycho Pass 2“, Action Animation Director in “Kabaneri of The Iron Fortress“, Opening Animation Director, Storyboard Director and Casting Director in “Boruto“, currently director at Studio Colorido and working on the BURN THE WITCH movie)
Tamagawa Shingo (Animation Director in “Gundam Reconguista in G“)
Hitomi Kariya (Director, Key Animator and Character Designer in NHK’s “Natsu Zora” Opening Animation)

On February 29, 2020, the Animator Dormitory Channel uploaded their first video on Youtube. They used Ryoko, a fictional character, to talk about the life of new animators. One of the reasons they used a fictional character is that anyone publicly talking about the situation might affect their future career prospects. They’ve also said that many people in the industry told them they want to help, but can’t do it directly because they are afraid they may lose their jobs/not get more work.  

They were also featured on Asian Boss, a media channel with over 2.5 million followers on Youtube, and you can learn even more about the project in those videos here and here.

Their current plan is to build a new production studio within 3 years, one which will pay animators 2 to 4 times more than what the current rate is. Additionally, they’re also planning to make a system where animators and other creators will get paid royalties whenever a show gets popular (currently, they don’t get any kind of bonus regardless of its popularity).

With that goal in mind, they need help from anime lovers to crowdfund their start. They’re going to have popular artists from abroad make songs and then have experienced animators (the NPO members along with former dormitory residents) make animated videos. They already have the support of Mason Lieberman (Composer in RWBY), and aim to work with more artists in the future.

To show everyone what they can do, they will first make a 30 second demo video (set to come out soon), and it will be directed by Kawano Tatsuro, with Masaaki Tanaka and Hitomi Kariya as key animators, and Yuuki Funagakure as art director. They’re also planning to welcome Yamashita Shingo, the man who made some of the legendary opening and ending animation videos for “Naruto Shippuden”. With the project being crowdfunded, the animators will be paid appropriately and given enough time to work, and the system promises to return the profit to the animators and other creators directly involved in the process.

How can you help?

– Donate on their gogetfunding page. 
– Watch their videos. They can monetize their Youtube channel if they get enough hours watched and you watching all their videos would be a lot of help (plus you’ll learn more about animation!)
– Spread the word. The more people can find their channel, the more likely they are to meet their goal and change the situation for the better.

It’s heartbreaking to see that a lot of the people who gave us so much fun throughout the years actually did it under extreme circumstances and that they aren’t getting acknowledged nearly enough. We encourage all our fans to support this project and are looking forward to their results! 

Image of Ryoko from the Animator Dormitory Youtube Channel

[Sources: Animator Dormitory YT Channel and their gogetfunding page]

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Marko Jovanovic

Soon a graduated engineer, I like the average weeb stuff and cooking/dancing. Joined AC in January 2020. Feel free to point out any mistakes you find in anything I post or ask if something isn't clear.

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