Recent program graduates are at a disadvantage when it comes to surviving in the independent contracting market. Most veteran artists are not only confident in their tool skill sets, their troubleshooting ability, their extensive network and their eye, but they have a dozen years of project work experience to rely on when it comes to project bidding.
In my previous post, I outline a general set of considerations that any artist should establish in a new relationship with a client. These apply both to animation and post-production project work.
However, in order to fully comprehend your own investment, in both time and material, you'll need to match the proposed contract with your own internal bid, that is, your understanding of what it will take you to get the job done.
If you don't have an internal bid configured, complete with your own internal production milestones, your project will quickly go off the rails and you will either fail your delivery or provide sub-standard material, both outcomes a considerably less than desirable when you are trying to build a reel in hopes of landing your first pro gig.
Those of you who studied in school are by now familiar with the amount of time it takes you to complete basic animation tasks: blocking, secondary, lip-sync, and finished animation are all areas that you have no doubt explored. If the quality of the underlying rig is good, if you have access to all the blend-shapes you require, and if the cameras don't change, you can probably bid out a minute of animation for a single character performance.
Let's look at the simplest animation solution: A character walking toward camera while delivering lines over a series of shots in twenty seconds, the typical animation length of a commercial spot. Each shot lasts an average of four seconds, giving you five shots.
You might bid out an hour of animation blocking per second, then another hour per second for the lip-sync. You'll most likely need three takes before you get to secondary animation at an hour per revision, and maybe two more takes before final/finishing animation, say another hour per take on average.
Here's how your internal bid might look:
Initial Blocking = 20 hours
Lip-Sync = 20 hours
Feedback revisions (avg. 3/shot) = 60 hours
Final revisions = 40 hours
Total = 140 hours
At eight hours per day, that's eighteen days, and inserting weekends, about one month. Now this is a rather generic guesstimate, and perhaps these numbers are better suited to a junior artist than an entry-level graduate.
Most bids are doubled in order to get a cushion in case the client goes haywire, shots are changed, rigs are broken and other unforeseen circumstances befall the project. You can see why it is so difficult to profit in this business as an indy contractor. There really is no overhead in bids like this. You will always lose money. With low pay and no pay project work, the question is really simple: "How much will I lose?"
Given the example above, staying with 140 hours (without a buffer), if you were paid at a basic starting animator rate, say $40.00/hour, you might expect to make about $5,600 before taxes. You'll most likely be paid on a 1099-MISC tax class status, which means that you'll need to report and forward your tax basis in the current quarter. Make sure you understand how 1099-MISC tax reporting works.
So that's about $6,000.00 per month, before taxes. If you were working at a large company, you might make more or less depending on your skills, your benefits package and the company you're working for. That's about 72K/year for an entry position. That's close to what I've seen salaries offered for.
So if you were to take this crazy job with the twenty seconds of animation and the lip-sync and the rest, and were to do it for free, you'd be putting in about 6K of your own sweat equity. Something to keep in mind if you somehow lock yourself into delivery without an exit clause.
While I've provided a fairly simple example, your projects will be more complex. Make sure you understand what you're expected to deliver, and go through a process like this one, outlining each iteration step, assigning time for every review point. Keep in mind that tight deliveries mean less iterations and a higher expectation of a single or dual take final!
Let me know if you think my numbers are either too high or too low. I'd like to hear from those of you who have stories to tell, both heartening and horrifying.