A guide to animation rates, with tips and advice from an experienced professional in the industry
Animators are extremely fascinating professionals, often with a broad skillset and a full range of incredible ideas. They work with static images to produce the beautiful, coloured and smooth works we see animated on social media and ads every single day.
Though a good number of animators works in studio, some choose the freelance life to better manage their workload and have more control over their own professional life. Like all freelance occupations, being a freelance animator comes with its own set of challenges. Often, how much to charge for your projects and services is one of them.
Not being an animator myself, I have reached out to freelance Animator William Davies to better understand how much to charge as a freelance animator. Most of the amazing images on this piece are from the man himself! But huge kudos to Chloe Chamberlain for the striking header image you see above.
How much to charge for an animation project?
As with many other freelance occupations, there are several ways to charge for a freelance animation project. William prefers to charge per project, meaning he would usually reach out to clients looking for an animator with a fixed budget and take on the job from there.
Still, it is important to understand if you can learn a living wage from that project, especially if it ranges across multiple months. “Sometimes a job has been advertised with an unrealistic fee, in which case I would not consider submitting an application,” Will explains.
However, animators can charge in a number of different ways. Some prefer charging per day, which can be relatively easy to do if an animator has worked in a studio before. Some freelancers recommend doubling your day rate from studio work, then multiplying that by 8 working hours, which should give you your day rate. If you earned £12.50/hour working in a studio, you day rate should be around £400.
At the same time, there are animators which work with a lot of different small projects. With the rise of Twitch and YouTube, for example, it isn’t uncommon for animators to work on Twitch emotes or motion graphics for YouTube, leading to a number of small projects here and there to account for.
While some animators would charge per project in this case (thus leading to some cases of overcharging), a great approach would be to apply a fee per second for smaller animations and GIFs. This ensures that your rates will be consistent throughout, and you will be able to charge somewhat fairly depending on the length and complexity of your animation.
So in a nutshell:
- Animators can charge:
- Per project
- Per day
- Per second
- Animators sometimes work with clients on fixed budgets
- If you worked in a studio, you can double your hourly rate and multiply it by 8 to obtain your ideal day rate
- Smaller projects and GIFs (for example for Twitch and YouTube) can be charged a per-second fee
- You should always make sure that you can earn a living wage from any project that you undertake
How do I calculate the costs of an animation project?
Even if you had a rough idea of the project/day rate that you want to charge, it can still be dangerous not to take all the derived costs into account. Just like photography, animation can really get out of hand fast. This is particularly true if you are a stop-motion animator, but other animators can sometimes have overheads as well.
For this reason, Will recommends to create a production schedule in advance. This will help you take all the necessary costs into account, dividing them by production stages, to include materials, hours of work, complexity of animation and potentially the deadline as well.
If you are a stop-motion animator, the cost of materials can pile up pretty fast. At the same time, the complexity of work can require longer hours, and hence lead to additional costs for your project. It is useful to plan at least a rough outline of hours of work per each stage of production. And if the production time is longer or the deadline is tighter, don’t be afraid to charge a bit more.
Will adds: “Plan a production schedule to determine how many days you need to create the film, including post production. Try not to underestimate the amount of time it will take to make the film (it is a good idea to keep a written record of how long previous projects have taken for future record). Also, consider the cost of materials (for stop motion), equipment (including lighting, cameras, graphics tablet for 2D animation) and software subscriptions.”
You can also take the advice of other freelancers in this series of guides and consider the usage of the work. If the work is to be used internationally, your rates may be higher compared to a local project. More value for the client equals to more value for you.
So in a nutshell:
- Create a production schedule to help you outline the project
- Include overhead costs such as materials, equipment, software etc.
- Calculate the hours of work that you think would be required to complete the project
- Take into the account the complexity of the animations
- Don’t be afraid to charge more for a tighter deadline or longer production times
- More value for the client equals to more value for you!
Common mistakes when pricing animation work
As with many other freelance roles, starting animators can feel the temptation to undercharge just to make sure to land a job. You should never, in any case, underestimate your work or somehow convey that your services do not have the value they deserve.
This does not only hurt yourself as a freelance professional, but the industry as a whole. In the long run, it will set lower standards for prospective clients, who will believe that animators are not worth their money. There is already a misconception in the industry as to how much the work of a creative is worth – please do not contribute to that.
On the issue of undercharging, this is what William said: “It is hard for an animator who is just starting out to make a name for themselves, and they may have to expect to do some unpaid/runner work experience to begin with. But with a portfolio, they should expect to receive a fair and realistic salary.” As soon as you have some experience under your belt and you feel confident about your skills, you should always charge your clients for what you feel is your true worth, and ultimately to ensure you can make a decent living out of your profession.
It is also quite easy, especially when starting out, to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a project. That is why a production schedule or plan can be useful; it will enable you to put things into perspective, come up with a scheme or overall plan that you can follow, and give you some structure when approaching the project.
As mentioned, you should also always try to consider all the costs in advance, to avoid having to adjust the fees on the fly. The production plan can help with that too.
Being a freelance animator can be quite challenging, but also extremely rewarding and fun when done right. Follow the above tips and you’ll definitely be off to a good start!
Examples of illustration prices
To help you gain some perspective, here are some handy examples of illustration prices that you can refer to when coming up with your own rates. Some of these come from an amazing thread on the r/freelance subreddit, in which Alpha17x talked about their own experience with animation rates.
- $500/day can be a quite decent day rate to aim for, but it is also quite low when compared to other professionals in the industry.
- Some skilled and experienced animators can charge up to $1,000/day, and work just around 6 hours a day.
- Larger projects may keep you busy for longer. You can consider offering a discount for work that lasts more than one month.
- For reference, an employed animator can expect to earn a minimum of $2,000/week and around $50/hour, according to the Animation Guild.
- Animators in the UK can realistically convert these rates to our local currency, and adjust them accordingly if needed.
There are several resources out there available for animators, and numerous will come from the most established guilds and unions in the world.
If you are in the US, the Animation Guild is the way to go for anything animation-related. The Guild’s website offers support and guidance to all the animators in the United States, including a handy minimum living wage guide to ensure you are paid fairly.
UK animators didn’t have a real animation-focused union until last year. They can count on the BECTU to have some representation as creative professionals and freelancers, but the BECTU itself has just recently expanded one of its branches into the AVU, the Animation and Visual Effects Union. Both of these offer guidance, support and help to any freelancer in the UK.
Additionally, Animation UK is an excellent site for animation resources. Make sure to check it out if you are a UK professional!
I hope this guide was useful and will get you on the right track to start charging for your projects straight away. Feel free to share your own experience with animation rates in the comments section and let us know if there’s anything we missed!