If you watch the ongoing anime about making an anime, Shirobako, you might get an idea about how tough and hectic the fast-paced world of anime making really is. And from the experience of Henry Thurlow, who hails from New York and currently works for Studio Pierrot in Japan, it looks like it is a whole lot tougher.
The American went to Japan to chase after his dreams. He knew little Japanese but he persevered as he worked for several small Japanese studios before landing a job as an animator for Studio Pierrot. Thurlow has worked as an animator for not only Naruto and Tokyo Ghoul, but also Tokyo Ravens, Akatsuki no Yona, and even Pokemon! He is a former English teacher in Japan teaching kids the language, and now he is drawing for anime, sounds like a dream job right? Well, career-wise, you could call it a yes.
Thurlow admitted it wasn’t easy. In a recent Reddit AMA, the American animator said this about how it was like trying to land a job as a foreigner in Japan:
“I would apply to a bunch of anime studios, and get rejected. Then, for the rest of the year I would redo my portfolio entirely, learn more Japanese, and try to make any connections I could with people working in the studios. Summertime would roll around again, and I’d repeat the process. It took four years, but finally the studio Nakamura-Productions told me that my portfolio was good enough, and if my visa was valid, and I was mentally prepared for the never-ending work-hell I was about to enter, that they’d let me work there. I told them yes.”
He mentioned that it was really tough getting a job, not because the Japanese were really opposed to having a foreigner or a gaijin work for them, but because of some other difficulties such as language barriers and Visa problems.
Most of these studios have never even had a single foreigner work for them in the past, so less then being “opposed to foreigners” … I think they just assume “hey wait, if we hire a foreigner wont we have to worry about language barriers, and supporting their visa, etc …. seems like a hassle. lets not even have them in for an interview in the first place.”
In terms of work, the anime industry is one of the toughest businesses in Japan, and Thurlow talked about how brutal the work condition was because most animators were overworked and under-payed (which was shown in many of Shirobako’s episodes). In his Reddit AMA, he talked about his salary, which is quite small given the high standard of living in Tokyo
The pay/hours change depending on who you are and what your job is. The best position (which only the best of the best can manage) is “freelance genga-man aka freelance key-frame animator” … you can demand your own prices and actually take time off after project if you want. For everyone else (and definitely for inbetween artists like me), its as bad as the rumors. I worked at a slave-labor-inbetween-studio called “nakamura pro” for 8 months before moving onto Pierrot which is where I am now. At Nakamura pro we were paid $1 per drawing, meaning you earned between $5 and $25 a day. At Pierrot it`s way better… but still pretty bad. 1 drawing = $2-$4 …. so on any given day I can earn about $40. (HORRIBLE by anyone’s standards…. but, if you want to work on cool anime, there’s not much choice.)
Ouch! Now that is brutal! He then adds that he only made US$300 a month in his former studio, though he now earns around $1,000 at Pierrot, though by living standards, that would still be pretty low. According to a recent table from Shirobako showing how tough the anime industry is, animators get less than US$800 per month on average
In a recent Buzzfeed article, he mentioned that when he graduated, he worked as an animator in New York where he got a decent wage and could live a comfortable life, however, creativity-wise, he admitted he felt a bit “unfulfilled” and that is why he moved to Japan. In the end, tough circumstances aside, he said it is “all about the art”
“Keep in mind all of this hard work was essentially all for the sake of simply being involved in and credited in the animation projects I love.”
So would you rather have a decent job or chase after your dream? That is a tough choice, but if you do chase after being an animator in Japan, just remember the hellish conditions that will be in store for you once you actually get a job.
You can check out Thurlow’s other works via his official Tumblr page.
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