Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Anime

Tom Sito's blog re-posts an eye opening article on the future viability of anime as a going business concern. While the points on the long term surival of anime may or may not be valid, the points in the article that stood out to me were the stories of what life is like as an artist in the anime animation business.

Full disclosure- I've never been a huge fan of anime. I mean some of it's OK, but a lot of it is violent, disgusting and mysogenistic. But there are some pieces that can be rewarding, yet there's a nagging nag in the back of my mind that always keeps me from enjoying it fully. I have a hard time appreciating the product of an industry that is as blatantly exploitative as the Japanese anime industry is. Anybody who has paid attention over the years has heard the horror stories of working hours and disgustingly low pay. In the article noted they tell of a young lady making 80,000 yen per month working 60 hours a week drawing inbetweens. 80,000 yen per month comes out to ~$800, or €635 euros. These folks aren't working in some dusty little village in po-dunk East Asia. This is the wage paid to people working in Tokyo, the 4th most expensive city in the world. I'm willing to bet that people working at McDonalds get paid better. But it's not like anime as a selling product is a dud. The article also notes that global annual sales for all anime products runs in the 200 billion yen range ($2 billion per year). That's not chicken scratch. That so little of that lucre finds its way to the bottom of the production chain is appalling. It has been and continues to be an exploitative industry. This one fact alone dampens my appreciation for the work of people like Miyazaki, et al.

21 comments:

Madhur said...

This may be a newest thing for the western people. I had worked with the animtors who is paid $ 250 -$ 500 for one month. They need to work including sundays. Their working hours starts morning 9 from ...there is no last hour. If you work till midningt our Bos will be happy. It is not over, even if you work complete day with your project, you are not going to get the credit of your work.

Do you guys have any thing to say? This is happening in India. Rythem and hues is the only exception for this. Rest every studio has the same culture. Animators are just labours here. I do not know who is exploiting us. And Living expense is very high in the indian metroplitan cities.

So here we are working like slaves. So animation is not great career for us. Animator is just like a dishwasher. Even dishwasher has some kind relief in his life...

Robin said...

The way Japanese, and many other "non-western", companies and investors treat animators like factory workers (in fact it sounds like factory workers get a better deal) is appalling.

And the meager wage they're payed for the amount of hours they put in and the content they produce is very saddening.

As someone who downloads a lot of fan-subbed anime, I do feel partly responsible for this. The trouble is that a)it takes years for an anime series to be broadcast by official channels in the western world and b)There are many times when fan-subbed anime has higher quality subbing and interesting cultural notes that official subtitles often don't include.

Once the anime is released here in Australia I usually hire the dvds and just leave them on the coffee table before taking them back, just so I'm still supporting the industry. However there are many, many series that never reach our shores.

I will be checking out the crunchroll.com site mentioned in the linked article though because if I am able to get all the anime shows I want, roughly at the same time as Japan, legitimately with subs and in HD then I'd be quite happy to pay a yearly subscription.

The issue though is more the exploitative work methods of those in management who don't care who they end up killing as long as they make a buck. And when anime stops being a viable source of income for them they'll just shift somewhere else.

Josh Bowman said...

That above post was me, I was signed in under a different Google account.

Tim said...

It's an old, old story dating back to the pyramids. To build an empire, simply hire cheap labor - as close to free as possible.
The people who get rich on these ventures are the business people who buy and sell the product. People who actually make the product rarely are paid much.
(Do you think Rembrandt could ever afford one of his own paintings?)
Even today, diamonds are mined by people who are barely paid enough to eat. Up until 2001 Cocoa was harvested under slave camp conditions in West Africa. Expensive American tennis shoes are stitched together by children in Indonesia and East Asia.

When something gets popular, businessmen find a way to produce it even faster and cheaper to increase their profits, either by automation or by paying laborers less.

When the market slows or dries up, the business men move on to another product, leaving the laborers penniless.

We shouldn't be terribly surprised when the same practice occurs in a niche of our own industry.

How do we stop it? I have no idea.

Mike L said...

Taking this into account along with a response to a comment I got a while back when asking about 321 penguins I really am disgusted with the business and money people from our industry. Regardless of how anyone feels about anime, it is a form of animation and to hear that animators are being treated this way is eye-opening to say the least.
I grew up watching anime and deep thought never went into where any of that came from. As a point of fact, I would go so far as to say that the average anime fan (otaku) has no clue about how these guys are treated.
What's worse is that suits are taking normal animation jobs and sending them to these sweat shops because it's cheaper and faster. That was what I was told about 321 penguins and it's what we've seen across the board. I don't care how much money you make or what business you own... that is low and disgusting behavior that cheapens this art form and defeats the very foundation of humanity (I want to say our country but I realize this is an international blog).
I'll be honest, it sickens me to be part of something that is being built upon the backs of slaves in an age where equality and international brothership is supposed to be the goal.
I have to stop ranting but this really has by blood boiling.

Vivek said...

If I have one more life, I will be never an animator. you know guys, we are just slaves of business people. I would prefer a tea shop owner than an animator. At least I would get some satisfaction. Man, This is not a fascinating industry / career as you think. Carpenter is better paid here. I am getting $ 700 per month in India. I am a senior animator. Almost $100 will be tax. $200 for room rent. food, travelling...
sorry I forgot to tell you one thing, we do not get time to have food, we are 24*7 animators....

Can you call this as a dreming career. I am not saying we are less paid. But I wanted to tell you my life is totally exploited by the business people......

Vivek said...

If I have one more life, I will be never an animator. you know guys, we are just slaves of business people. I would prefer a tea shop owner than an animator. At least I would get some satisfaction. Man, This is not a fascinating industry / career as you think. Carpenter is better paid here. I am getting $ 700 per month in India. I am a senior animator. Almost $100 will be tax. $200 for room rent. food, travelling...
sorry I forgot to tell you one thing, we do not get time to have food, we are 24*7 animators....

Can you call this as a dreaming career. I am not saying we are less paid. But I wanted to tell you my life is totally exploited by the business people......

/\/\ikeB said...

While its true other industries are exploitive as well, I can't help intellectual industries differ.

I think the crux of this exploitation is the middleman is almost always the copyright-holder. The studio staff basically get their salary, but have no additional revenue once the production finishes - am I wrong?
If I'm right, the middleman ( the person retaining rights to the property ) can reap the rewards for years to come, and not have to pass anything onto the animator, or other production personnel.

If there was some way to distribute rights to all the production personnel, things would change.

Tim said...

Mike L & Mike B,
You both hit the nail on the head. It does seem more disgraceful to take advantage of people who got into a line of work for the love of creativity. Execs know that drawing is like a drug to us, so they can practically make us pay to work on their projects.
The only people who make money are, yes, the owners of the properties.
Sadly, (at least in America) the shows themselves don't even turn a profit - even at the dirt cheap production costs. The studios make their money through licensing the characters for books, lunchboxes, t-shirts, ect.
The per show budget for the last 20 episodes of 321 Penguins was about 1/5 of the budget of one of the first 6. And still, we only managed to break even on the TV deal.
The ratings were low, so we didn't get any licensing deals.
Maybe video sales will be kind. But even if so, no one who actually worked on the show will see any of the money.

Anonymous said...

Well said everyone and i couldnt agree more with all of you. Sometimes i think there is a way to get out of this mess and other times no matter how hard i search for an answer i think its just human nature to do these things.

However i dont buy it that the internet is a reason for sales getting low.. They just wanna make more money thats all, its not like the money they will get from the downloaded films of any kind will be given in those who really need them. Well at least thats what i believe. If they wanna make more money the solution is simple they just have to take a risk keep the employers happy and produce quality work.

Iam just curious about these countries like Japan and India that animators get payed so low, if there is a union of some kind. I mean if the working conditions are so bad you should do something to defend yourselves.

Andreas

Tim said...

A union will work a little. The Animation Union in LA can even do only so much. Unfortunately, the audience can't tell the difference as they can with actors. So if a studio doesn't want to hire union animation talent, they simply ship it overseas.
In the 60's Jay Ward sent Bullwinkle to Mexico. In the 70's most of the cell painting went to Asia, then in the 80s, so did most of the animation.

The animation union can't force a studio to be signatory, they can only negotiate for decent pay and provide health & retirement benefits.
I'm not dissing the Union. They do great work. It's just unfortunate that the studios can easily work around them if they wish. Union animators are free to work at non-Union shop (e.g.Film Roman), unlike SAG or WGA members.

If the Animation Union called for a strike like the writer's strike a couple of years ago, it wouldn't cripple the motion picture/television industry in quite the same way. Just a niche of it.
Here in the States, we have it pretty good, even though wages have gone down over the last 10 years (at least the over-scale wages). For all our griping at management, there's a certain amount of respect for what we do. Or at least a certain amount of fear that they can't get someone else to produce the same quality for any cheaper.

I wonder if a Union sprang up in Asia, if studios would abide by it. Labor laws are so different over there. Of course, if wages increased too dramatically, that would mean either more work would stay in the States, or fewer studios would continue doing animation because their profit margin would be lessened.

Or maybe I'm just talkin' out of my butt.

Robin Teo said...

This as I understood is the by product of post 2nd WW when Japanese broadcast studios were limited in funds, so Tezuka found a way to make animation that would suit the limited budget. This create the unique style of anime, but it became the demise of the anime industry in terms of low pay for animators. Its ironic that while anime is a multi-million dollar thing outside of Japan, while the funding never flow back to the animators.

Anonymous said...

These trends (or beginning of them) can be observed in western CGI animation as well.

I currently work for very high profile animation company, producing TV series for children.

While pay is still decent, we are asked to do 60+ seconds of multiple characters shots per week.

The quality of this "animation" is obvious... it won't take long until they realize they can get people for much cheaper than they pay us (they do not need very skilled animators to knock frames like that).. or outsource and exploit people on the other side of the globe...
Personally, I am getting out of it asap (branching out to other sides of CG which are not so popular and less prone to exploitation), I'd not be able to stomach another project like that.

Robin Teo said...

Hi Anonymous, am I right to understand you are moving away from character animation as a result of vulnerability to exploitation in this area esp. in TV production? Since you are in TV production at the moment, what do you think is the solution to the problem? Is it that production studios are hampered by cost that they are looking for easier way out?

Anonymous said...

Robin, first of all sorry for posting as anonymous, but I still work for the company mentioned..

I don't see any solution, it's all about money. Average TV series budgets are tiny comparing to feature animation budgets (I am talking about theoretical budget per minute of animation) and they are shrinking.

It's not uncommon to be asked for 2 minutes (yes, 2 minutes) of animation per week on some TV series.

These are aimed for pre-school children and to quote an exec "children do not care about quality of animation". This is coming from really top of the game animation company exec.

The biggest concern for them is franchise and if characters can be easily converted to toys, they also do care about quality of writing which is very high.

Maybe going back to keyframe animator and inbetweener assistant would help, but I am not sure how efficient that would be in CGI land.

Anonymous said...

speechless

Anonymous said...

Ok, I realize I'm taking the unpopular side here, but if you don't like the work, do something else. The vilification of the corporate 'man' is getting extremely tiresome. The only reason that people are getting paid and treated so poorly is that so many people are willing to do the work regardless of the conditions. If that's you, don't gripe about your choice, if it's not you, then do something else.

Sol said...

Easier said than done "Anonymous". People cannot easily, and sometimes simply cannot changes jobs or careers - there are families, food, shelter - you know, those tiresome things to think about. I can only imagine that these essentials are even more to the forefront of an animator's mind in the countries where animation is being shipped to than here in the West.

jonathan said...

Thanks for the link. I work in the Japanese vfx industry which is similar. I think the case quoted in the article about the girl working only 60 hours a week may actually be pretty rare. That is the absolute minimum here. As an inexperienced worker id guess she is not highly regarded for working those kinds of light hours, pay doesnt really factor into the equation. Just starting out, it is expected to work harder for less pay. 80-120 is an average work week, with crunch time around 130-140. Pay is low compared to the west, but the skilled and experienced are able to command higher salaries/better hours just like anywhere else.

Part of it is cultural, not wanting to be the weak link when everyone else is working so hard. Part of it is just a trend across the entire cg and vfx industry worldwide.

Fierce competition has been causing deadlines and budgets to shrink to unsustainable levels over the last few years. The result is less workers having to do the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time for less pay. With such low margins, companies have to find ways to compete so theyre passing it on to the workers.

The idea of unions doesnt really resonate here because the japanese mentality is to endure no matter how bad the situation is until they collapse. There was a surprising courtcase last year though where a wife sued a car company after her husband died from overwork so things may be changing, if slowly.

Id guess theres no solution as long as the worldwide trend continues and there are a supply of new workers willing and able to do the work for less

David Beer said...

very interesting, Jonathan

Josh Bowman said...

interesting???!! SCARY!!!!

Thanks Jonathan, guess I'll just shelve the idea of getting a job at Production IG.....there's no way I'm going to work those kind of hours, for that kind of pay.