Contract Work and its implications in Ontario, Canada

Article / 23 March 2021

In the beginning...

Or rather, in the 90s, with the advent of tech startups that have become the tech giants of today, a worker classification was needed in the US that allowed potential employees to forego their protected rights and privileges in exchange of lucrative equity shares.  Sounds like a fair trade: work 80 hours a week (or more), to get a severely underfunded company up and running and then get potentially millions when it pans out.

Years later, the same legislation was enacted in Ontario (Employment Standards Act, 2000) so as to foster a similar tech boom climate here.  Unfortunately, what happened afterwards was more a degradation of worker rights in numerous ways that results in animators being worth next to nothing despite all the training and skill involved.

As previously mentioned, the original intent of the law was to allow people to enter into contracts that likely violate their usual labour rights in exchange of lucrative benefits.  However, this is only true when both sides have similar negotiating power.  Various things can remove one's leverage ranging from supply and demand (how many applicants there are for certain jobs, and in the animation industry, the latter is always in short supply), skill level, level of self-respect, and general understanding of the nature of the contracts.

While the supply and demand part is largely out of control of many of the artists, the others are remedied either immediately or over time.  Skill level is something everyone can improve and as there are already plenty of tutorials on how to do that, it can be assumed that this is something that's already being worked on.  The last two are things are what's largely unaddressed, despite the constant attempts of many senior artists in the industry and in colleges.  Self-respect is simple enough to discuss but is something everyone must foster on their own over time.  I can speak at length about this but most of the work will have to be done on one's own.  So that leaves one thing: understanding of what it means to be a contract worker.

So what's the problem with being classified as an IT contractor?

Under the strictest sense of the term, it's an individual or business who negotiated terms with a company in exchange for compensation.  The problem arises when these individuals don't know what they're signing up for.  IT contract workers in Ontario, generally, have extremely limited rights such as no entitlement to overtime pay, no limits to hours worked per week, no vacation, etc.  There's very strict conditions involved and it often involves  IT workers, managers/supervisors, and certain professionals.  What unfortunately happened is that animators and other artists have been classified as IT workers by virtue of us using a computer.  While that's all well and good, using a computer doesn't really meet the criteria for being part of that IT worker classification (see link to CRA article at the bottom).  What provoked the writing of this article was the court judgements regarding delivery and rideshare "contractors".  Various courts in the world have ruled that they're actually employees, while others have opted to classify them as at will contractors that entered into an exploitative business relationship of their own accord.

The issue then arises when the aforementioned rights that would have been there by default no longer apply.  Artists are already negotiating with distinct disadvantages and the removal of what little protections there would have been in the first place.  Lawyers are an option when it comes to going over a contract but there's not many artists who has a lawyer on retainer in the first place.  Then even if they did, there's the aforementioned lack of leverage.

How often is it that crunch was required for a given project?

It's sadly, more often than not, a permanent fixture in the various art industries.  Even companies that pledge to never do crunch inevitably break their word and it's not always out of malice - art is hard, and in the grand scale like it is in film and video games, even more so.  I won't go into detail as to what causes the crunch culture since most people reading this would already have experienced or otherwise known the deal with crunch.  The main point is that it's time to take into consideration crunch when it comes to considering various contracts or working agreements.  The reputation of a company is often pristine when seen from the outside so it's best to get in touch with people who are currently working there or have been there at some point.  While many are wary to endanger their relationship or reputation, there's often keywords or phrases that can help you glean what kind of work culture a studio has.  

Of course, being extremely conscientious when it comes to finding employment is not a luxury many artists can have.  Declining work that's not "perfect" will often lead to disappointment since this is really endemic to the industry - you're either in or you're out.  In any case, it's my hope that after reading this, there would be more awareness regarding the full scope of an artist's employment in certain studios.  It's okay to sacrifice for your dreams, but it's very important to make that choice fully aware of the ramifications it would have on your life.

Further Reading/Watching:

Youtube - Crunch Culture Conundrum by Noodle

Are you an Employee or Self Employed?

Source: Canada Revenue Agency, quick highlight below:

Indicators showing that the worker is an employee

  • The relationship is one of subordination. The payer will often direct, scrutinize, and effectively control many elements of how and when the work is carried out.
  • The payer controls the worker with respect to both the results of the work and the method used to do the work.
  • The payer chooses and controls the method and amount of pay. Salary negotiations may still take place in an employer-employee relationship.
  • The payer decides what jobs the worker will do.
  • The payer chooses to listen to the worker's suggestions but has the final word.
  • The worker requires permission to work for other payers while working for this payer.
  • Where the schedule is irregular, priority on the worker's time is an indication of control over the worker.
  • The worker receives training or direction from the payer on how to do the work. The overall work environment between the worker and the payer is one of subordination.

Indicators showing that the worker is a self-employed individual

  • A self-employed individual usually works independently.
  • The worker does not have anyone overseeing their activities.
  • The worker is usually free to work when and for whom they choose and may provide their services to different payers at the same time.
  • The worker can accept or refuse work from the payer.
  • The working relationship between the payer and the worker does not present a degree of continuity, loyalty, security, subordination, or integration, all of which are generally associated with an employer-employee relationship.

The Dangers of Spec Work as a budding Freelancer

Article / 08 June 2020

You're sitting down for dinner at a nice restaurant.  Everything was going well and you enjoyed the nice dinner, atmosphere as well as the friendly service.  Then came the bill...  What's this?  They want you to pay?  What if you don't like future visits?  Shouldn't this first visit be free?

There's a trend I've noticed where budding "influencers" are asking to pay for their food in "exposure".  As an artist, I found this funny with a bit of Schadenfreude where other industries are now dealing with being paid with "exposure" bucks, something we've gone through for far too long (though, the chefs and other kitchen staff of restaurants are often already victims of this mindset but that's a topic that's outside of my purview).  

In my years working as an artist, there's been several instances where fellow artists and I have been asked for free work - be it from non-artist friends and acquaintances, to full-blown studios expecting fresh graduates to work as an unpaid intern.  While the idea of valuing your worth as an artist was hammered into us as students (at least, back in 2009), I feel that it wasn't really discussed in an extensive meaningful way.  We were told not to work for free but not warned about the various insidious ways that clients could get free work.

Image by William Iven from Pixabay  

The post Covid-19 World

Now with the Covid-19 Pandemic has irrevocably changing the world to one where remote work is more accepted, the competition for freelance artist have become fiercer than ever (though it's safe to say that it's always been fierce).  You would think there would be less people asking for free work from people during a pandemic that plunged the world into economic crisis but here we are.

So as there are more and more people looking into freelancing during and likely after the pandemic, I find it's important to go over what's likely to be considered spec work.

Spec work is any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees. Under these conditions, designers will often be asked to submit work in the guise of a contest or an entry exam on existing jobs as a “test” of their skill. In addition, designers normally lose all rights to their creative work because they failed to protect themselves with a contract or agreement. The clients often use this freely-gained work as they see fit without fear of legal repercussion.


Many novice freelancers have a tendency to just go along with whatever the client's asking for.  The danger is when they ask for more "proof" or design samples when you already have a perfectly fine portfolio.  If you don't have a portfolio, go make one, right now.  It's generally a good rule of thumb to simply refer any prospective clients to the portfolio.  Giving the client a benefit of a doubt, if they're unsure of hiring you after seeing your portfolio, it doesn't mean your artwork is bad (or it could, I don't know you), it simply means you might not be a right fit.  It's often best for both sides to just thank each other for their time and move on.

On the flip side, there's clients who are simply less than ethical and are outright trying to just steal free work.  They often have high pressure tactics that makes you feel as if there's plenty of people applying for the project.  It's probably true there are plenty of people applying, but if they want the best person for the job, they're likely to contact someone who's already had several successful projects with them or someone that's recommended by someone they trust rather than trolling a "freelancing" website like DesignCrowd (one of the worst freelancing websites around, avoid at all costs!).

If you must create a sample for a prospective client that you really want to work with, limit it to the neighbourhood of 30 min total work time.  You can get some practice in, but ultimately, it's best to work on your own artwork rather than someone else's project for free.  And don't forget to watermark or other creative ways of making it somewhat difficult to take your work as is.  When I work on animation for clients, I send them a watermarked youtube link with lots of slate on it so that it'll be rather difficult (though not impossible) to use for a project.

Image by minka2507 from Pixabay  

Confidence in oneself

There can be tremendous pressure to have income during a pandemic when your usual sources of income has dried up so it's understandable when artists get over eager. It's often difficult for artists to have confidence in their own work but it's very important to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth for the sake of maintaining a healthy market price for freelance work.  There's plenty of people who would love to dismiss the value of art despite their obvious need of it for their projects.  It's best to not waste energy on these people and be confident that there's someone out there that would like your work, be it illustration, animation, 3D work, or a piece of string that can dance in a certain funny way. 

Links and References:

DesignCrowd - DO NOT USE THIS FOR FREELANCING.  Everything about it leans heavily in the favour of clients and has numerous artists working for free with one "lucky" artist receiving cheap compensation.

No Spec Web Site: 


Lego Short WIP - Modelling and texturing done

Work In Progress / 08 December 2019

Here's the completed models for the Lego short I'm working on.  It was fun adding 2D animations onto the faces (will show in next week's update) but had to hold off on making the rig too complicated considering the scope of the project.



Lego Short for an org

Work In Progress / 25 November 2019

Working for a client to redo a short promo they have already paid for.  It was unfortunately an expensive lesson for my client that not all freelancers are as they claim to be.  I won't share the version they got but they were promised Lego movie but got something closer to southpark (minus the funny and handcrafted animations).

So, I set out to make the 3d models that would then be repeated.  Kept it fairly simple and it's now ready to be textured.  Due to the scope of the work,  the target audience as well as the limited time due to deadlines, it won't be anything overly detailed (like the lego movie) but will still look like plastic lego minus the detail level that was in the lego movie eg: scratches and wear and tear.

Initial Modelling:

Basic Test Renders:

Took these renders earlier than the posted 3D model.  Had to fix quite a few things, especially the hands.