Down below, there is a snark-fest going on about c.g. animators versus graphite animators. Who's better? Who's more skilled? Who deserves more respect? ... and so on.
Me, I think both sets of artists are talented, and should get our praise and our thanks for all the entertainment they've provided us. But that's not what I want to get into here. Rather, it's observations like these:
…I agree about CG animators being mostly button-pushers compared to the artistry of 2D animators like the Nine Old Men …
...I think long gone are the days when animators were considered "super stars" or even "actors". With schools pumping out animators at a record pace...animators are becoming acknowledged as little more than button-pushers by the big studios. …
... 2D had many artists who produced the girth of the animation with their single hand. They got higher salaries because they could not be so easily replaced ....
Judging from the above comments, people seem to think that:
A) Disney's vaunted "Nine Old Men" were animation stars who made lots of money, and
B) Artists who drew hand-drawn animation earned bigger salaries than others in the field.
Woolie Reitherman, who climbed to the summit of the Disney empire running the company's feature animation department, told me:
"I didn't get rich from the salary they paid me around here. It was never very much. The reason I'm well off is because of the stock options. It's the reason all of us are doing better than all right."
A veteran Disney layout artist ... who worked at the studio for three and a half decades ... said to me at one of TAG's award banquets honoring fifty-year veterans:
"Animation is the part of the movie business where you work fifty years because you have to ..."
My father, a Disney background artist for decades, was once screamed at by a talented but disgruntled short-timer on his way out the door:
"I don't know what's wrong with you people! You work here year after year, and for next to nothing! Why do you put up with it?!"
Dear old Dad, at the time of his death, was making $500 per week. After thirty-six years of employment.
Please don't misunderstand me. Nobody was chained to their desks at Disney. Nobody slept under their desks (at least, not in the modern era). The place was considered the "country club" of animation studios, with ball fields, ping-pong tables, a pleasant commissary, and a work schedule that (usually) wasn't soul-crushing.
But high pay? It wasn't part of the equation.
And while many Disney animators were known inside the profession, nobody on the far side of Monrovia knew who they were. It was only in later years that wider recognition arrived.
There was really only one ten-year span where animators' fame and salaries grew geometrically, and that was the 1990s. For one brief shining and unsustainable moment, animators made fairly ginormous salaries and got their names and pictures in glossy magazines. But it didn't last. Animated features didn't make the mountains of money the conglomerates expected, and after a little while supply of talent caught up to demand.
At which point, weekly paychecks fell back to earth.
So let's stop hallucinating over wage levels that never were. With the exception of the nineties, animation salaries have never been exorbitant. Even for the Nine Old Men.