Making money. How much to expect and how to make more of it.

October 19, 2009 - By 

So many people want to know what they can expect to get paid in this industry. It’s always a difficult question to answer because it depends on so many things. In short, you need to ask yourself three questions to start to figure out what your salary range or day rates should be.

Ask yourself:

  • How good are you?
  • Where do you live?
  • How connected are you?

Check out the video for more specifics.

here are a few more great suggestions from the comments:

  • Great words of advise. I totally agree.

  • this is such a tough one cause it does really depend on all of these things, but i think one thing to really harp on is selling yourself.
    i have friends who i know do the MOST amazing work and who i would work for in a second, but their reel is crap and some portly idiot like me will get the job with half the skills cause they arent confident to stand behind their work…

    contacts are soooo true… i get all my work at the moment from references… word of mouth “i need a vfx guy”, “oh my friend nathan does vfx, here’s his contact”. get into projects with people and work hard cause they are your best weapon for getting jobs… i can say i am great or crap 100000 times, but if a mate at the company says, yeah he is golden to work with (not necessarily the best vfx guy) i have a better chance of getting the job

    hope everyone’s world is golden

  • I agree with everything you’re saying here, Nick. I think lots of artists just starting out have an expectation that this part of the industry is much more lucrative than print and web design. It would still be good to see an industry-wide salary survey that looked at our side of the design / animation field, though. That way there’s be more information out there and less guessing on everyone’s part. Any interest in doing something like that?

  • Can you talk about the “Hold System” and how to deal with being put on hold for a couple weeks to a month but getting calls to work a week. How do you juggle the clients so you can stay working every week. I have heard some crazy Hold System stories and most people just end up perma-lance which favors the company more because they don’t have to give to medical or anything. Maybe talk about the pros and cons of perma-lancing vs being staff. Also what about taxes as a freelancer; do you pay once a year or 4 times a year (quarterly.)



    • I haven’t worked freelance enough to talk about the intricacies of the “hold” system. Anyone else have insight on how to deal with holds and setting up jobs?

    • I’m just a junior but that’s the situation i am currently experiencing. My main client, who’s is more of a boss because the wage is unilateraly decided by him, calls poeple for the time of a project.
      Some of them lasts one week, other three months, but you have got no guarantee whatsoever you’ll work enough time to make a living. Also, he gives no indications or informations regarding an upcoming project in decent delays. And sometimes he books you and then changes his mind the day before.
      But, he plays the game. So if i have got a better paid job in the days he hires me, he just let me go the time needed… but reminds me i am disposable.
      So, as a junior needing contacts, senior advices, skills improvement, and money to start life, that is quite a shitty position.
      For seniors having enough contacts to fill the agenda, that might be good having a periodical call from the same client, as long as you don’t feel obligated while overwhelmed by other projects. If so, then it is maybe time to hire or collaborate with someone !
      As for the insurances, I live in Brussels and we have got one of the best european social security, and I work with a fundation wich is helping artists not having all disadvantages of the freelancing status, then that is less anoying than in american or other systems.
      Hope that doesn’t look to much like venom spit, I am just tired of the situation, and hope you’ll find my experience at least interesting.

    • That is one of the biggest things that has kept me from going freelance is the medical insurance. I have been looking at this I am staff now and doing fine. But I would like the lifestyle of a freelancer but with the security of medical. I guess that is why they say only the young freelance. I hope the US gets the healthcare stuff figured out, I am sure several industries could benefit and companies could have more options if healthcare was not an issue.

      I was also wondering is you charge a day rate, say $350 is that a 10 hour day? Do you need to remind the client once you go over that? Or can you give an hourly rate or does they client give you the amount they are willing to pay you for the whole project?

  • yes, yes and yes. All of the above are 100% true. In my years of freelancing I have also noticed a few things going from client to client.

    Most of the stable corporate giants have it in their budget to spend X amount of dollars for outsourcing/freelancers. This can turn into big bucks if you don’t mind doing some of the not so fun work.

    You can also find a good hourly/day rate with smaller/midsized post houses. Since these places typically do not have an insane amount of overhead, they do not need to nickel and dime their freelancers. Plus if they are a proper house, they have budgeted for extra talent. You can do some great work with these places as well – because usually its about the quality of work and creativity. Another benefit to these types places is that they usually use freelancers and know the going rate.

    Now, where the belt starts to get tighter for businesses is when they are a midsized business but try to appear like a giant (this can be true for start-ups with no money at all). Their overhead is usually pretty high and they are more worried about the bottom line. They too want quality work but are not willing to pay for it. So if you ever find yourself defending your hourly rate to a person who is not familiar with your industry – just ask them to call a plumber or an electrician and ask them what they charge per hour. As always its up to you to get a gig. No one will just call you out of the blue. Networking is key.

    Last thing, I believe Nick has already commented on this – be the nice guy. If you are talented, hard working, polite and cool…9 times out of 10 the client will want you back for another project. Before you know it you will have a roster of clients calling you for work…then YOU will need to outsource some work.

  • I’ve only been freelance since July but I’ve gotten 90 percent of my gigs from referals. If you network with other freelancers and are nice yo work with then you’ll get work. The business is a small world so word gets around fast about artist everyone knows everyone someway it seems. Freelancers look out for eachother I l always tell my friends about gigs I can’t take and will refer them and they do the same for me. As for holds it’s apart of the business you just learn how to manage them it’s definately a learning experience.

  • I’d add, don’t just make contacts, make friends. People work with friends and good people, not some bro off their LinkedIn.


  • Hi Nick
    Yeap, fortifying words as ussual:)
    thx and keep going
    Btw my mate pass me fun stuff
    Best, BArt

  • I’ve found that the best way to get a job is to do some work for free. For instance, find something that a company does poorly and you can fix. Fix it and give it to them for free.
    ^^that’s the bait

    Now that they have some of your work they will want more. They will call you and ask for more. This is where you give your price 😉

    If you do enough of this, you will eventually get phone calls everyday asking for more of your work.

    matt sich
    moderator of

    • Working for free is a two edged sword…I would only do that for companies who I KNOW give good paying contracts in the field…not to someone who can’t evaluate the value of the gift…

      A gift in business is only valuable if given to someone that know what its worth…There are companies that will never pay what its worth…fortunately, you can bar those from your contacts on the first negotiation….lol…

    • I actually found that working for free is not the way to go… especially if your working for a medium/small company… they usually take your free work and as soon as a price is given to them they drop you. I say if your confident in your work, stand up for yourself and charge what you deserve.

    • I say NO to working for free. Your time is valuable, Apple doesn’t give designers free machines and the landlord ain’t letting you try out the place. I have heard people who work for Free send the clients an invoice and show them the itemized list of what they could have been charged.

      Just say NO to free pitch and free jobs. No project is going to be that cool and doing your own spec piece would be a better use of time.

    • I strongly disagree with this. As soon as you work for free, your “client” will think your work is worth nothing and he will treat you accordingly.
      Not a single strongly qualified specialist out there – wether he/she is an engineer, scientist, doctor, craftsman or whatever – would ever work for free. Why should you?

  • I might add, go after the money, don’t wait for it…

    What I mean is go after customers with projects, dont sit by the phone waiting for jobs to come. You can often make more money by creating work. When times are slow, ask yourself, who in my “good” contact list has not done anything in a while…come up with a concept…present it…

    The idea here is to keep you fresh in the memory of those that can give you good paying work…don’t let them forget you. Try to find an excuse to call…a concept or other helpful suggestion is a great excuse to keep in touch.

    The other suggestin is to keep good company. You don’t want to work for the dogs, then you get associated with the dogs…those cheep, always broke, difficult to get paid companies or individuals….Those with a bad reputation in the industry…you know who I am talking about…You realy don’t want to be associated with the low end…Working for the sakes of working is no fun…Business relationships should be mutually beneficial…

  • Ok, last one, I promise…

    I like the suggestion about getting good at what you are…If you can do in 3 days what another guy does in 6 then you just made twice as much money than him…

    Ok, thats it, I am going to bed…

  • One thing that always remains true: clients hire the person, not the portfolio. you need to be someone they want to work with, someone they trust to get the job done, someone who is the expert at something they do not know, someone they can imagine having numerous meetings and phonecalls with, etc…

    they may look at your portfolio first, but at the end of the day, they hire YOU, not your portfolio.

  • Seems like this turned out to be more of a ‘how to get a job’ thing than ‘how much you get paid’ which actually works out to my favour (yes, us Canadians add a ‘u’ in favour)

    I’ve been more into video editing in the past but have recently found pure enjoyment out of motion graphics, particularly After Effects, of course! ‘Being the best’ is what I strive for but there is so much more I want/need to learn. I currently work as a video editor/create some graphics that the company I work for think are fantastic but compared to what I see on others’ reels is really…mehh… (yeah that’s my job title) in Toronto so location is not a big issue as I’ve seen quite a few production houses that I would love to work for.

    I need to work at ‘being the best’ and making ‘friends not contacts’ but don’t really know where to start.

  • Also if you google it, wiki says someone just walking into a studio should make 15/18 $ an hour. Someone that has been designing for 4-5 years/ is a professional, gets up to $30 an hour. So i think if your getting paid under $15 an hour, your selling yourself out.

    • whoa that’s super super low. if you’re good you should be charging $60/hr to start and for top-level stuff you’re in the $125/hr range.

      The numbers you posted would be for a smalltime house doing low-end local stuff;
      at that rate you could just go manage a denny’s and not invest the time or money into your craft.

    • Interesting….thanks for the reply.

  • With regards to working for free…
    I picked up a great pointer that you can do “free” work for someone, and still let them know the value of your work. Simply invoice them, and give a 100% “Promotional” discount. This has a tendency to really make them aware that you are not just giving your services away, and clearly indicates the value of your time and services.

    • Great tip, Joey! That is a great way to show people how much you are worth!

    • I like that….I will try that one…You could also include free extras you did on a paying gig as a separate line item. You put them on the bill, put a price then credit that amount…

      I realy like that suggestion, especially for paying customers as we always do some extras and customers can get a feel for how much $$$ love we have for them this way…

    • Yeah this can work well. Last year we hired a company to film for us. We had budget for a single camera. They were extremely kind and added a second camera for free. Plus they were cool people, so of course we’re going to hire them again.

    • This is exactly how I was able to find some work, I looked up mid sized production companies in my city and picked a few that had a very poor logo / intro, then I made them something shiny and new and sent it off to them with a promo invoice and letting them know what I do, it has worked 3 out of 3 times so far, I now get about a project per month from each =)

  • In my experience, based solely in London, there is a pretty steady industry average for freelance ‘After Effects persons’ at about £250 a day. Many times I’ve asked for £300 and been instantly told ‘we normally pay £250’ as if talent etc didn’t really come into it for them. But I am talking about a cold-hired operator here, not someone who has a lot of creative input, or who is a technical genius with Boujou, C4D, Nuke, Photoshop, Illustrator AND After Effects.

    I also know people who get paid a lot more though. And some of them have very few technical software skills – they are hired for their creativity and people skills.

  • Hey Nick, just thought you might want to add a link to The name pretty much says it. Its not specific for vfx artist but mograph aswell. I think some people would like to look around that site.

    Great post by the way!

  • Great info Nick, you are right, I heard in a movie called “Fast Food Nation” that people that let themselves direct by his passion, are the people with a happier life, that´s what they said, even if they didn´t make a lot of money, that´s all about, do the things that passionate you.
    Here in Mexico, there isn´t like design culture, the designers are seen like the plumber, just here to make the job and pay him the minimum possible.


  • Great post again Nick, thanks so much for all your advice its truly invaluable!

  • I love money, but…

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit sir and I would have to say considering what’s waiting out there for me, I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed or buy anything sold or processed or repair anything sold, bought or processed as a career. I don’t want to do that. My father’s in the army. He wants me to join, but I can’t work for that corporation, so what I’ve been doing lately is kick-boxing, which is a new sport…as far as career longevity, I don’t really know. I cant figure it all out tonight.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Great video Gorilla.

  • I live in a not so big market. Non-existent really. Also the industry here seems saturated with good motion designers and editors. Cost of living is lower so that’s good.

    But, I’d like to get jobs outside of this area. What’s a good way to go about doing that?

  • I think it’s fine to do some work for free, but I make sure it’s only for friends – at least this way I can call on favours/etc in the future and I can depend on them reciprocating.
    If it’s a person off the street promising future work from me doing a freebie, it’s always worth avoiding.

  • Last summer I started working as a freelance editor for tv-programmes in The Netherlands. On blog about editing I once read: Dont’ bring your ego, bring donuts.

    It is very important to be fun / cool / nice to work with, as you wil spend at least 10 hours in small room with the same person.

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