Interview: Tonari Animation CEO Jarrett Martin, Part 2
American-run studio in Japan rides the waves of the anime industry with new business model and foreign talent
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Tonari Animation CEO talks anime funding, training, AI
Tonari Animation is a 2D digital animation studio headquartered in the United States, has a branch office in Japan, and has a staff of animators located around the world. Animenomics met with CEO Jarrett Martin to discuss the company’s operations and current trends in the anime industry in this two-part interview. Read the first part if you missed it.
Richardson Handjaja: A report in a Japanese business magazine a few months ago said that there’s a de facto tier system in the anime industry where large studios have the ability to charge higher prices than smaller specialty studios. Do you see those challenges as a subcontractor?
Jarrett Martin: As a subcontractor, we’re usually just entitled to the animation budget, not the production budget. We’re also not entitled to any kind of profit sharing. If you’re the primary contractor, you get the animation budget and the production budget, and, as far as I'm aware, you get some residuals off of the intellectual property and any sales that happen later.
A studio that has the entirety of the budget can determine how they want to allocate their resources. Most studios will allocate around the same budget proportion to animation, then that animation budget will be passed down the line to subcontractors. I don’t think the pay rates per cut differ that much between the primary studio and subcontracting studios. The animators are making around the same amount of money in either case.
The only time they aren’t making as much money is when the subcontractor is a budget option, and Tonari Animation is not a budget option studio. We are on par with all other Japanese anime studios in price, but there are studios in Southeast Asia that will charge one quarter to one-tenth the price, and they become the budget option studios. In their cases, they’re making way, way, way less.
Handjaja: Obviously, with Southeast Asia being a lower labor cost region, they have the ability to charge lower prices. Many people who are interested in the anime industry come from some of those regions—developing countries that are non-U.S., non-Europe—where these kinds of wages could be a step up from their local incomes.
Martin: Yes, that’s right.
Handjaja: Do you see a lot of applicants from those countries and regions?
Martin: I can tell you the breakdown of our animation staff at Tonari Animation. We have about 40 people in the U.S., 40 people in Southeast Asia, and then there are around 100 people that are like the only person in their country that’s working in anime. And it’s scattered among 32 different countries.
There’s a lot of interest from every country on Earth by artists who work in Japanese anime. It’s just how they acquired the anime is going to be a different story, but basically everyone’s seen the same shows growing up. I know that animators in Africa likely got bootleg low resolution DVDs or something, and that's how they watched anime. Or bootleg VHS releases and stuff like that. But the impact is still the same. They still fell in love with anime.
Handjaja: I used to live in Malaysia myself and saw a lot of those bootleg anime DVDs, which are obviously not real licensed products. They were either rips of fan subs or illegal copies of authorized subs.
Handjaja: You’ve said in the past that you provide experiences for people to become a director, do some storyboard work, or even handle episode direction. How do you create those opportunities, especially for foreigners and non Japanese people?