I was a professional animator and animation director for television series and major motion pictures for thirty years and was a character animation instructor for the Cal Arts freshman class for a couple of years. As an independent producer of animated films, I followed my muse and made award-winning* animated music videos. So I have some experience in the animation industry.
My Cal Arts students would occasionally ask how one gets rich as an animator. In the Second Golden Age of Animation, newspapers reported that Disney animator Glen Keane made $1 million, and students came to believe that was the going rate. I pointed out that Glen Keane’s salary made the news because it was the exception, not the rule. In addition, the newspapers did not give details. The million could have been a potential if the movies he worked on became exceptionally profitable, he may have been given royalties and his million may take the rest of his life to accumulate. However, it made a big impression on the students, so I tried to answer his question about how to get rich from animation.
The quick and easy answer is; You do not. Again, Glen Keane was an extremely rare example and very, very few people will attain his status. He rose to the top of his field when the field was flourishing in what became known as “The Second Golden Age of Animation” and it was during the economic boom of the 1990s. From Clinton, America’s animation industry has long since been over for pen and pencil artists, but back then I developed a plan to serve students that I would still recommend today.
To get rich in the field of Animation, one must own a character that becomes a “star”. Note that I said “possess” and not “create” as there is not too subtle a difference. Most of the famous and successful animation legends we remember from our youth didn’t actually create their signature characters, but hired a designer to do it for them. Does anyone remember who actually designed the Fred Flintstone character for Hanna-Barbera?
First, you need to have a character with “star” potential, which means a concept unique enough that it’s easily identifiable. An example would be my former Cal Arts student’s creation for Nickelodeon Studios, Dexter of Dexter’s Lab. Take a quick look at him and you can instantly tell he’s a “scientist kid.” Or another student’s show, The Power Puff Girls, who are superheroes who are in kindergarten. In both cases they took a simple character; a little boy and three little girls, and gave them “jobs” that traditionally belong only to adults; scientists and superheroes. Instantly understandable and funny. It is also extremely important that these characters have a very simple graphic design, are easy to animate, easy to recognize from a distance, and easy to print on a Happy Meal cup.
In the world of animated music videos, the studio that created Paula Abdul’s cartoon co-star, MC Scat Kat, tried to catapult him into his own cartoon show. The attempt was unsuccessful, but they had the right idea. More often than not, it’s the live-action musicians who get their own cartoon shows when they become animated characters.
Back to plan. Second, don’t even try pitching your new character to animation producers, they pay top dollar to have employees work nine to five jobs to come up with ideas for shows, they’re not going to buy one off the street. The best you’re going to get is a show that’s incredibly similar to yours and that’s coming out a year after you submitted it and they said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Then what do you do? You do what a professional would do if you actually had a show. You would create merchandise based on your character and sell it in as many ways as you could. You can start by publishing a little children’s book starring your character, print copies, and give them away for free in all day care centers, pediatrician waiting rooms, pediatric dentist waiting rooms, elementary school libraries, and anywhere young children receive books to share. In this way you “test market” your character and when you then take t-shirts, other clothing, toys, lunch boxes and any other merchandise and products that you can imprint your character’s image on to local clothing boutiques for kids, you can claim that every kid in town already knows and hopefully loves your character. Of course, he has also included a website address in all the books where parents can buy more products directly. With sites like Cafe Press you don’t even need to produce these products yourself. It can be made to order at no upfront cost.
Sure, in addition to the talent required to create your star and write and illustrate his adventures, you’ll have to break your hump distributing your gifts, soliciting vendors, and collecting money owed to you, which is about half a dozen separate full-time jobs. , but Once your character demonstrates his power as a product spokesperson, spokesperson, turtle spokesperson, rabbit spokesperson, or whatever, the TV producers will flock to you. Think of a cartoon show as another source of income for your character, and one of the last.
* The Gold Plate in Music Video from the Chicago International Film Festival