How Much Do Disney Animators Make Per Year?

by Aurelio Locsin
Even Disney animators earn their pay by relying on computer software.

Even Disney animators earn their pay by relying on computer software.

Disney animators work from Disneyland’s original home state of California, in the city of Burbank. They create characters and stories that can pass from popular culture into legendary status. Once renowned for their abilities with traditional hand-drawn animation, these creative professionals now earn their salaries using the latest computer software and hardware.


As in any large animation employer, animators at Disney are divided into several job categories, each with varying responsibilities and salaries. As of November 2012, animators, modelers, lighting artists, texture map painters and compositors in category 1 earned a minimum $41,528 per year. (Animators focus on the movement and expression of characters.) Those designated as color correctors, physical model makers, digital image planners and image technicians in category 3 received $30,045 per year. The International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees, the union representing Disney animators, negotiated these salaries in 2012. Animators receive 2 percent wage increases each year until the contract expires in October 2015.


New employees are designated as trainees for the first 18 months of employment. Depending on their job titles, yearly pay ranged from $22,664 to $26,895 for the first six months, $25,312 to $28,172 for the second six months and $27,966 to $29,467 for the final six months. Higher salaries went to trainees in animation story and writing. After completing their training programs, employees moved into category 3. With additional experience and training, they received promotions to category 2 jobs, which assisted category 1 positions. Yearly salaries for category 2 ranged from $35,541 to $38,531.


Animators in any category can become leads, who oversee projects and the work of subordinate animators. They earned at least 15 percent above the minimum rate for their category. For example, lead animators could make at least $47,757 per year. Disney looks for animators who have degrees in art and animation, fine art and design, computer graphics, engineering and general film studies. However, arguably more important than an education is the applicant’s portfolio because it documents the individual’s skills and creativity. It must include a demo reel running between three and five minutes, showcasing activities related to an animation specialty. For example, modelers can include wire frames, while animators focus on movements on body, limbs and face.

Job Outlook

The BLS does not show the job outlook specifically for Disney animators. However, it does predict that from 2010 to 2020, jobs for all animators will grow by 8 percent, which is less than the average 14 percent predicted for all occupations. Demand will come from the increasing use of animation in video games, movies, TV and the Internet. Competition will be tough, especially at Disney. Many talented people apply for a limited number of openings. The best prospects will go to those with demonstrated artistic talent in creating computer graphics.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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