Freelance Standards of Practice

At some point in their careers, freelancers have probably asked themselves perfectly reasonable questions like, “How did a 10-hour day become standard?” And “Why are discussions about overtime so difficult?” Or “What can I do if I haven’t been paid?”

Building on momentum from this post and the open document linked in the comments, we’ve set up an open wiki dedicated to developing standards of practice for employers and employees working under the broad umbrella of motion design, including freelance directors, animators, designers, visual effects artists and other work-for-hire artists.

While other groups have established standards of practice for their fields, the specifics of motion design differ enough that it seems prudent to create this kind of a forum.

This site’s success depends on focused, mature contributions that raise the level of professionalism for the entire motion design industry. Any content that is not in accord with these goals will be respectfully removed.

At the moment, the site is focused on standards of practice in the United States, but we hope that with your input it can be expanded to include markets around the world. Because it’s an open wiki, the scope of the site will evolve and expand. Please add topics and content that you think will be helpful.

Special thanks to LA3D and countless others for getting the ball rolling.

Photo by Pierre Bédat

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



That is a great idea and help, thanks for that!


Great stuff! I am relatively new to freelancing, and had a lot of questions coming in. This site will be a godsend for new freelancers.


Aaron B

I commend you on initiating this process. As a designer who freelances, I think this will be an invaluable resource in the future. Thank you very much.


thanks justin

Thiago Maia

Really nice stuff and I would like to push it to UK with See No Evil. I hope we can make a change.
Well done guys.


I totally get what you’re going for here. I’m going to play devils advocate with it.

I don’t believe that every market can support this kind of serious approach. Clients can be so desperate to get work done as quickly and cheaply as possible (even at the risk of bad design) that they are willing to take on some kid who doesn’t have a sense of these kinds of morals.

Take that on top of the fact that there are enough designers/animators desperate for work out there that they don’t want to risk blowing a gig by insulting a potential client. Including said green kids.

Smaller post houses barely even have legit contracts with their full time employees let alone a contract with a freelancer.

Again, I applaud the effort. I just can see some issues with it being widely adopted.

Bran Dougherty-Johnson

I think we’re well aware of those issues, bornonboard, but we’d still like to advocate for a more professional standard of practices amongst the readership here and ALL of our colleagues. And I’m not sure it’s a moral argument, really it’s a business one. Everyone’s got to make contracts and stick to them. Handshakes and verbal agreements don’t really seem to cut it anymore.


I love this site and I love that aside from having inspiring works displayed daily (recently some of my own (I’m bragging)) this new initiative to watch our collective backs is much appreciated. But eff freelancers – the staff boys and gals are the ones getting the shaft and need your help.

Note to all the newbies in the business:


I worked 80+ hours last week, but hey, the director posted the work we did to motionographer so it must be worth being paid about minimum wage for the work we did?!? the two freelance guys on the job were laughing, making an hourly wage for those 80+ hours.

I’m just saying the freelance game is a gamble, just like being a contractor in any type of work. the standards and protection gains need to be for the lot of us, freelance or staff, union or not!


these days. schools are treating our talent as production work, training massive students and pushing them out each quarter all eager for the next cool project. for the love of art and animation, many of the young folks are willing to do anything just to be in a cool studio, or on a cool project, or even just to have a job. myself included back when i was young and full of energy…

soon realizing that you are just killing yourself and the industry by working long hours with minimal low wages. while trying your best in preaching to the next generation about it, but not getting through their thick skulls.

there will always be amazing talents willing to do it for less and willing to work for longer hours. sometimes i wonder if people have a life outside of work. once I had a family and children, work is no longer the top priority. but how do we tell that to a young talented artist eager to work and eager to drop all standards?

anyhow, i just think there needs to be a law that protects our rights so working 10+ hour days are no longer a norm. it is super awesome that motionographer is posting references on how to protect and guidelines to better yourself as a freelancer. but as long a studio can take advantage of those who doesn’t mind to be taken advantage of without any consequences, they will continue doing so.

hopefully will advance our basic employment rights.


I think our industry is going through the same thing as the print industry few years ago. We just have a massive amount of young talent, the tools to create great stuff are getting cheaper every year and the budgets falling.

I have been on the industry for 16 years and I was in a transitional period. I was able to get the huge budgets and big projects, they allowed me to buy my house and be very comfortable 11 years ago.
Unfortunately in the last years the opposite has been happening. I feel you either own your company and be in competition with hundreds of little boutiques or just accept the fact the rates are falling and make less money working more.
That’s too bad, I love designing but at our current state sometimes i feel into getting into a new kind of business.


First off, I want to say thank you to Justin and Bran for bringing this topic to light in the Motionographer site / forum.

Secondly, to “gugy”, I have to say that I disagree with you in regard to your attitude reflected in this statement: “just accept the fact the rates are falling and make less money working more” and I find this statement and attitude offensive.

It’s this kind of mentality and these type of statements that contribute to perpetuating the problem. One can always explain away labor and compensation abuse in any economy in any industry. Many companies in America did just that during the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It wasn’t right then and it isn’t right now.

It’s still abuse and the economy is no excuse for working people more than eight hours a day and not paying over time compensation or any compensation for that matter for hours worked beyond eight hours; which is largely the case in this industry.

It needs to stop and I believe it is going to stop one way or the other, industry wide.

I can tell you right now that it has stopped with me and I’m still getting work.

I’ve been setting over time boundaries like those mentioned on the ether pad link mentioned in the article for about two and half years now. I’ve been working in the industry for three and I should have done it sooner.

Those first six months I was naive enough to think that shops would actually be ethical in their practices without me specifying boundaries in email confirmations. One booking at one “top shop” was all it took for me to find out that most such places are anything but ethical in their labor practices and freelancers have the right and the responsibility to protect themselves.

So NO, “gugy”, regarding “or just accept the fact the rates are falling and make less money working more”; I don’t and we as an industry don’t have to accept any such thing.

To reiterate, I really commend this site and its owners for stepping forward and addressing this issue. It’s an issue I’ve been addressing on my own for years and I’m ecstatic to find out that so many people, including the people who run this site, feel similarly or the same as I do on the issue.


Thanks for the reply.
I maybe did not express myself correctly.

While I agreed with your statement, there is a trend on the industry that companies, specially some that are displayed on the “cream of the crop” section here, rather hire young guns at cheaper prices.
I have been fortunate to work on few of them and while they recognized the experience of a senior designer can bring to the table, most are trying to lower rates or expect designers to be animators and vice-versa.

Fortunately we still have in the industry folks that believe in experience and knowledge of the craft. I have been somewhat lucky to keep my rate steady, and lowering it when the project is exciting. Unfortunately, I have not been able to raise my rate in the last 2 years due the fact most companies will just think I am too expensive. That’s a fact and if I decide to disagreed with that, then I will just not have work to perform and bring food to my household.
While I am capable to take other roles like creative director, art director, etc. rates have been declining or at least stay put in the last years. I also try to keep my working days no longer than 10 hours, unless there is a deadline to meet.

Long gone are projects that I worked in the late 90’s like network packages that had budgets of US$2 million and the chance of 4 to 5 days of full live action shoot and weeks at post-production houses. Now most companies fight for a US$150k to 250k budget projects. Those are consider “large” projects.
While I hope things will get better, the more new people are coming into the market and the cheaper and stronger the tools are getting to perform incredible work, that will just push rates down.


Hi Gugy,

thank you, for responding to my response.

You know, I agree with you about that: there is a trend of “Cream Of The Crop” companies to hire young guns at cheap prices and then abuse them for over time by not paying them any over time via shoving 12 to 16 hours into one flat “day rate”. In fact, lets face it the “top shops” are all the biggest abusers. Every last one. It’s been going on for years and it’s a problem. Not paying people over time and intentionally misclassifying freelancers as a 1099 is a problem.

That’s actually what I have a problem with and I thought you were saying we should just “accept” non payment of over time and misclassification abuse, more or less. Thank you for clarifying that that isn’t what you meant.

I know exactly what you mean about not raising your rate for the last two years. I’ve been in the same position. I haven’t raised my rate in two years either and I still get people hitting me up to pay less.

So maybe I should clarify what I meant too, for everyone reading this:

Lowering a rate when you need work is one thing. However, a company not paying over time and intentionally misclassifying temporary employees to evade employer taxes is another.

That “lower” rate should still be for an eight hour day; with time and a half for over time up to twelve hours and double time for anything after twelve. Just like the confirmation email form on the new site.
I couldn’t have said / written that form, better, myself.

So for example, if you decide to lower your rate from say $500 to $400 a day to get a gig; that “day rate” is still for an eight (8) hour day with over time compensation based on a pro rated hourly rate for anything past 8 hours. So if you work ten hours, then based on time and a half of a pro rated (8 hour day) hourly rate of $50, you should be getting paid $75 an hour more for those last two hours. No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts”.

Also, if you’re working on site, using their equipment and being told what to do by the CD, AD, Producer of the shop in question, then my understanding is that you’re considered an “employee” in the eyes of the Feds and the State more often than not, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re an LLC. In the eyes of the State and Federal government, the shop / production company should still be paying you on a W-2 / I-9 and paying Federal and State employer taxes.

So to clarify, what I have a problem with in this industry is companies that try to evade over time by paying freelancers a “flat rate” for “days” that go anywhere from 10 to 16 hours and then on top of it, evade Federal and State Employer taxes by either intentionally misclassifying temporary employees aka “freelancers” on a 1099 or forcing them to sign up with one of those carpet bagging venture capitalist groups known as “Employers of Record”. Adding insult to injury is when the perpetrator is a Cream Of The Crop aka “top shop” that is netting millions a year in billing, even in this economy.

Any way you slice it: what has become the “norm” as far as modus operandi goes of design shops and production companies in our industry is labor abuse and tax evasion with the freelancer left holding the bag.

I’ll say it again: it needs to stop and I think its going to stop one way or the other. By that latter comment, what I mean is I’m sure if legislators get involved, they will feel the same way since the practices in question are already illegal. Its just a matter of whistle blowing and I think you may see a lot more freelance people blowing a lot more whistles if these practices on the part of the shops, continue.

Anyhow, thanks again Gugy, for responding to my response.


I couldn’t agree with you more. But I will say this…. a reason the cream companies do the most abusing is partly because of this simple fact: to do the best work, one often needs to commit the most time and resources to the project. The cream companies do good work because often they spend more hours and man power than anyone else. More time to make mistakes and learn from them. Because they never relent from working something till it is as good as they hope it to be. And once they have a track record of this good work, more and more work comes banging on the door, and the money becomes seductive, leading to more abuse due to too many projects. I’m not saying it is right. It’s not. It’s just the way it works for many, unfortunately. Of course they should staff a job more to make things more reasonable for everyone, but they are running up against tighter and tighter budgets which make it practically impossible for them to do so.

Still though I sometimes think it is the artist’s belief that they are somehow supposed to suffer that contributes to the problem. I was just in the office the other night till 3am. Was I asked to? No. Did I earn overtime? No. Why did I do it? Because I wanted my work to rock. And I knew the only way to do it was to work harder.


No worries man, thanks for your reply.


@Blazer, ” I was just in the office the other night till 3am. Was I asked to? No. Did I earn overtime? No. Why did I do it? Because I wanted my work to rock. And I knew the only way to do it was to work harder” You can work as hard as you want, but to think that hard extra work doesn’t deserve pay is wrong. Your actions are not isolated events, you are contributing to the abuse of other artists by working for free. Also you need to ask yourself how much is my own time worth. Time with my family, friends, etc.. The entire paradigm that good work = no pay and hard work, is wrong. There are PLENTY of studios that do amazing work and offer their employees good lifestyles. The change has to come with producers that can stand up to clients by creating fair budgets and time lines. Artists have to rise up and not work for free and establish good hours and rates.


i must say something to those who thinks people that work 12+ hour days are people that work hard and perfectionists.

after being in the industry for many years, i have came to a conclusions that good artists don’t work over 12 hour days. they are efficient, and know when to stop, and when to not go over board.

staying late because you have to finish something because of unforeseen circumstances after a perfectly managed and utilized day is one thing. but staying late because the people above you can not make up their minds and believe the more variations the better is another.

good design or concept are not found by picking from a pack of arbitrary options, but is rather the result of deliberate, contextual choices. Taking a scattershot approach to anything in our industry is in no way effective. unfortunately not many shops (including those cream of the crops) or clients agree with that.

what really upsets me are the agencies and shops automatically believe you are supposed to stay late or work the weekends, and already included those time in the production timeline. that’s why we need a firm law to push them to add on how ever many days they shortened in the timeline due to their belief that freelance artists don’t have a life or families to attend to during nights and weekends.

seriously guys, give your brain a rest after 10 hours! in fact, after 8 if you can.


I should clarify a little bit. I am a staffer in an senior position and therefore don’t earn any overtime. I don’t really want to work late per say. I’d much rather a more regulated schedule. I was more making the point that if you look at all the top shops (I’ve worked for many in the past), I can’t think of a single one that is at the top of their game and don’t put in crazy hours. I’m not saying that its right because its not, I’m just saying its something to look at. I agree that it is possible to do great work in less hours. In fact often it is better. But I wonder what leads all of us down this insane path.


oh and one more thing…. I’m not saying I should work for free or anyone should. Trust me I want to be paid for every hour I spend on something. But I also want to get ahead and therefore willing to contribute some of my own personal time. But only when I and I alone get to make that choice. Not because of mismanagement or the like. The issue I see is that there are lots of people out there like me in what is a very competitive field. And THAT is the issue. I feel it is the perfectionist mind state of many designers/studios that cause a bunch of the problems. Myself included.


@Blazer: Hey, I responded to your earlier response but it got waylaid, so to speak, Justin cleared it up though and it should be posting soon if not already.

Blazer, I’m compelled to say in response to your statement: “lots of people out there like me in what is a very competitive field. And THAT is the issue. I feel it is the perfectionist mind state of many designers/studios that cause a bunch of the problems. Myself included.”

That isn’t the issue, nor is it the cause. The issue here is that studios have been not only not paying OT, which is mandatory by law, but also expecting and in many cases mandating excessive OT for a flat day rate. Then on top of it, they are misclassifying freelance employees on purpose to evade employer contributions to taxes and Social Security that are also mandatory by law. They’ve been doing it for years and its way past time that it stopped. That is the issue.

Does the kind of behavior you speak of on the part of some freelancers contribute to the problem?

Yes, because it signals to the employer, in this case the design studios and production companies, that you are an easy mark for manipulation; in order to facilitate their illegal practices.

Does it have anything to do with perfectionism and wanting to do good work? Well, some may have been manipulated into thinking that, but in reality, no, it has more to do with freelancer naivete / ignorance of labor and tax laws.

However, freelancer naivete / ignorance of said laws isn’t forcing studios to embrace the illegal practices they do. That’s greed and a lack of ethics that are doing that. That’s the root cause of the problem.

Granted, (and I’m going to quote myself here) most freelancers don’t get out of school with a decent amount of negotiating skills and many fail to ever acquire them afterwards. Moreover, a lot of schools, the art schools in particular, like to stay in good with the design shops and / or have people who own shops that are some of the biggest perpetrators of labor abuses [and tax evasion], teaching at the schools in question. So they aren’t telling students the realities of negotiating [or labor and tax law realities] in the world they are about to enter.

That does facilitate and to a degree, enable the problem as I said before. However, that behavior isn’t twisting anyones arm to break employment laws and engage in said labor abuse and tax evasion.

To help put a stop to this problem of labor abuse and the tax evasion through misclassification, the important thing here is to educate freelancers on how to protect themselves by engaging in the standards of practice outlined on the new motion design standards site and encourage everyone to follow through on those standards of practice.

So all that said, I encourage you to not let your passion for your work be manipulated into facilitating labor abuse via over time without the proper compensation mandated by law.


This is a fantastic idea and great thoughts. I’ll try and spread the word.


Michael Stancato


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