Since the inception of the black and white cartoon, audiences have both laughed and cried over their favourite animated fictional characters and their exaggerated antics. Cartoons throw off the restrictions of live-action stories, opening the door for creative storytelling without the big budget necessities that come with implementing special effects. On paper, anything is possible and imaginations can soar – sometimes in shocking ways. Traditionally, cartoons were a just-for-kids entertainment, but things quickly changed as those same kids grew up and found that cartoons can be as exciting at 40 as at 4 years old. Audiences from young to old can find enjoyment in cartoons – as evidenced in the adult and mature cartoon industry with shows such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, South Park, and more garnering enormous cult followings. Animated certainly doesn’t equal just family-friendly.
The art of animation, though, is an intricate one. The original form of animation – created entirely through artwork, without the aid of technology – like that of the classic Snow White now seems impossibly intricate. Because when it comes to creating and drawing a successful cartoon it takes time, talent, creativity, and dedication. With the right training, talented artists can become animators, but it takes a special kind of natural talent to create a unique, relatable character that reaches out to a large audience. Perhaps an even more extraordinary talent, seemingly unique to the realm of cartoons, comics and animations, is the creation of an artform that appeals equally to both children and adults. Disney, especially, became known for inserting adult humor into their G and PG rated movies so that Mom and Dad could relate to the story and enjoy it on a mature level.
But animation isn’t a guaranteed life of riches and luxury, even if you’re working for a big studio like Disney – it’s competitive, and several animators typically work on a scene to perfect it. But if you’re able to make a name for yourself in the industry, a huge salary will follow. Here are the richest cartoonists and animators in the world – and they could very well be considered as some of the greatest storytellers of the 20th and 21st century. Some well-loved animators, though, might not have made the list because their salaries are unavailable – such as Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan’s greatest animators. The names listed here will likely bring about some smiles as you reflect on some of your favorite cartoons. Some of the animators on our list are no longer with us, but they’ve left behind a legacy in their artform and a huge fortune from their lifetime of success.
10. Terry Gilliam – $40 Million
Though born in the United States, Terry Gilliam is a British comedian, screenwriter, and animator who was part of the famed Monty Python comedy group. Gilliam began his career as a strip writer and animator, and when his comic, “Help!” folded, he accompanied his friend and working partner John Cleese in working on British children’s television. Gilliam was a part of Monty Python from the very beginning as an animator, and later became a full member. His animations linked the sketches together and he was able to integrate and contribute his style to the show. Gilliam’s career may have started with animation, but much of his wealth can be attributed to his career as a hugely successful director.
9. Seth MacFarlane – $55 Million
So diverse he not only wears multiple hats, but has his finger in numerous pies too – it is the famous (or infamous?) Seth MacFarlane. Not only is he the animator and creative mind that brought to the world cartoons such as Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, but he also voices numerous characters in each series. He wrote, directed, and produced the hit movie, “Ted”, and has recently hosted the Oscars. MacFarlane certainly proves that drive and determination brings not only much success, but also a venue where you can integrate yourself heavily into your art.
8. Mike Judge – $75 Million
Mike Judge is an animator, screenwriter, voice actor, producer, and more. He actually earned his bachelors degree in, surprisingly, Physics in 1986 from the University of San Diego. Judge ventured into the entertainment industry after Comedy Central picked up his short film, “Office Space” giving him enough exposure and opportunities for more work so that he was able to focus on his animating career. Judge’s hits include the classic “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill”.
7. Tim Burton – $80 Million
Best known for his distinctive style of dark stop-motion animation – as well as for his direction of several classic non-animated films – Tim Burton got his start and training at Cal Arts and then became an animator, very briefly, for the Walt Disney Studios. But because his style didn’t match the Disney ethos, and because Burton found life as a frame animator mundane, he was cut loose and began work on his own projects. Burton created short stop-motion features and was eventually picked up by Warner Bros. for projects such as “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” Burton continued to draw his ideas onto paper and his style would eventually lead him to great (independent) success where he has directed and produced his own works. He has worked closely with composer Danny Elfman to produce classic dark-comedy, stop-motion musicals like the Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.
6. Stephen Hillenburg – $90 Million
Stephen Hillenburg is best known as an animator, marine biologist, and the creator of the ever-popular Nickelodeon cartoon, Spongebob Squarepants. Graduating from Humboldt State with a degree in marine biology, Hillenburg taught marine biology at the Ocean Institute, and then got his masters degree in experimental animation at Cal Arts. During his time at the Ocean Institute, he met Joe Murray, and worked on the show, Rocko’s Modern Life. When the cartoon was cancelled, Hillenburg started working on Spongebob; he secured Tom Kenny as the voice of the title character, and the rest is history.
5. John Lasseter – $100 Million
Like so many famous animators, John Lasseter worked for the Walt Disney Company as an animator, but he was – perhaps ironically – fired for heavily pushing computer animation. He then went to work for Lucasfilm and became one of the main people behind the then groundbreaking CGI animation structure. The computer department of Lucasfilm was then sold to Steve Jobs and became Pixar in 1986, where Lasseter oversaw and directed movies such as Toy Story, Cars, and A Bug’s Life. He is currently the chief creative officer at Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
4. Hanna-Barbera – $300 Million
Though now deceased, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought to the world some of the most famous cartoon characters such as The Flintstones, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, and Huckleberry Hound. These two powerhouses met during their time with MGM and later came together to form Hanna-Barbera in 1957. Branching out into television and natural talent tremendously helped these two become the famous (and wealthiest) animators that their legacy acclaims them to be. Their stories and characters continue to be loved and commercialized even to this doubt and showing no signs of diminishing.
3. Matt Groening – $500 Million
Matt Groening’s name has become synonymous with animation and creative storytelling. He got his beginnings in animation after moving to Los Angeles and having to work unpleasant day jobs to make ends meet, and to deal, he wrote a comic strip known as “Life In Hell”. He caught the attention of James L. Brooks, who invited Groening to bring “Life in Hell” to life on the Tracy Ullman Show. Because he was worried about losing creative control, Groening suggested another show with zany characters that we would eventually know as “The Simpsons”. Over 490 episodes and 23 seasons later, The Simpsons continues to go strong. Groening also created the hit animated show, “Futurama”, which just wrapped their series finale.
2. Trey Parker & Matt Stone – $600 Million
This dynamic duo is best known for being the creators of the South Park empire. With a combined net worth of $600 million, Parker and Stone first met while students at the University of Colorado and together they created their first animated short in 1992 called, “Jesus vs. Frosty”, which featured the cartoon characters that would later form the cast pf South Park. Beginning with using only construction paper and a camera, and using inspiration from their Colorado upbringings, Parker and Stone created what would become of the most well-known animated shows that continues to air to this day with new commentary on society each week.
1. Walt Disney – $5 Billion
Walter Elias Disney was probably one of the most well-known and beloved animators of our time. At the time of his death, Disney’s net worth is at a whopping $5 billion. Today, the Walt Disney Studio is valued at over $35 billion and continues to produce new animated movies each year with “Uncle Walt’s” vision in mind. Walt created some of the most loved cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse (and voiced him as well), Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, etc. From meager beginnings and stepping off the train in Hollywood, Walt Disney is a prime example of success and achieving the American dream.
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