Freelance and Business Art Contracts
I’ve been asked on numerous occasions if I would be able to provide someone with an example contract that I use prior to commencing on a project. As much as I would like to help others out, I consider my contracts part of LunarStudio’s intellectual property – these are pieces which I’ve worked on and just like all of my work, I do not simply hand these items out for free. I’ve spent years working on them. While most of my contracts are cookie-cutter/boilerplate, my contracts are continuously getting revised on a per-project basis. However, without providing you with the exact wording, I’ll outline many of the items which my contracts do cover. My contracts with some proper rewording can cover other avenues of freelancing and business – it is not simply limited to my field of art.
I feel that contracts are a necessity in conducting work. Not only do they protect you, but they should also protect the individuals or companies that you are going to do work for. They also lend you and others a sense of legitimacy and professionalism to your business – especially if you are just starting out. They should also clearly outline the scope of your deliverables – this way if someone asks for unreasonable demands outside of the original scope which was agreed upon, you can simply point back to your contract. It also shows a potential client that you are responsible for your own work as well as that of others.
“Word of mouth” agreements and emails are also viable between two parties and are admissible in a court of law (at least here in the United States.) However, “word of mouth” is often harder to prove, so the burden lies on you or the other party to prove their case should a disagreement ever arise. It’s simply much easier to take 5-minutes to a half-hour to send off a contract instead of going back and forth over emails, phone calls, and communication issues. Plus, having a contract that outlines specifics of a job helps delineate which obligations you and the other party have towards one another.
I’d also recommend that you search the Internet for other contracts and ideas and see what other areas they may cover as well. As always, make sure your content is original and not simply copied from here or other sources. When in doubt, you can always consult an attorney.
Here’s a brief outline of what my contracts cover:
1. Project Scope:
This details the overall scope of a proposed project. For example, if someone asks for a single exterior rendering of a condominium, I’ll mention it here and any additional information related to this requested project.
2. Delivery Date:
If there is a set date set by a client, I will mention it here. If there isn’t one, I’ll mention how long I plan on spending on a particular project.
3. Project Stages:
This is an optional section. Since I encounter a lot of people who are unfamiliar with my process (or the rendering process in general), I like to lay out step-by-step what we will do when provided with plans, at what point we will send over a piece of artwork for review, at what point a client can or should request changes, and at what point we will deliver the final artwork. I found that if you don’t outline your process clearly, people have a tendency to keep coming back and asking for more changes as a lot of people tend to think our process is a simple push of the button when in-fact a seemingly “simple” change can add days to a project and push off deliverables for other clients.
Here I’ll mention the costs of a project. Sometimes I’ll break it down into stages so that a client can pick and choose which elements they want to proceed with. I’ll also mention the total estimate.
5. Terms of Payment and Delivery:
This can be broken down into sub-topics:
- Payment due upon delivery. This is my general practice otherwise you’ll end up playing the game of waiting for a client’s client to pay in order for you to get paid. I’ve seen this stretch out for a whole year once. Of course, there’s exceptions to this rule. But if someone really wants to work with you, they will bring this issue up at the beginning. Some people will have a clause for 15 or 30 days. These terms almost never get paid on-time. I find that it is safer just to leave “payment due upon delivery” in there.
- Watermarking. Reserve the right to watermark all of your images. It’s your work until you get paid then you can remove your watermark. I find that this process works best.
- Change rates. I feel that hourly is best. Of course, you could have just built this into your initial estimate and inflated your numbers, but that doesn’t always look good. I know people that charge $150/hour for changes. If you’re presented with incorrect information in the beginning or someone changes their mind, that can push off your delivery date for other clients. You need to be reimbursed for your additional time and efforts. People have a tendency to assume that in the field of art, a change might only take a few minutes when in fact some items might add additional hours to even weeks to a project. You need to mention your change rate in all of your contracts. If a request is truly small, you can choose to look the other way but at least you have these terms to fall back upon. The change rates also has a tendency to indirectly force your client to provide you with consolidated and correct information at a project onset versus later down the road.
- Other payment terms. On large projects, you may want to ask for 1/3 to a 1/2 of the project’s total for retainer. If you hire out a crew of people or sub-contractors to work with you and you expect to project to last for a couple of months, you’ll need to have some income as well as an assurance that a potential client is not going to waste your time and money. The client is paying to reserve your time.
- Payment delivery methods. You may accept Paypal, money orders, checks, etc. Let your client know who and how to make out their payment to.
6. Required Assets:
From this section and below, I start to get more involved in my contracts. The first page is a quick summary. The items listed above are usually a quick summary someone doesn’t have to wade through five pages of text.
Here, I mention that a client is expected to provide me with the latest information and plans in order for me to carry out my work. I had a situation this past winter in which a client provided me with some plans that were for the wrong building. I spent almost a week modeling the building interior only to find out that they had provided the wrong plans. I shouldn’t be expected in this situation to start over from scratch without billing out for their mistake. It’s like bringing in a car to an automotive mechanic, having him replace a transmission, and then telling him afterwards, “oops, I gave you the wrong car.” Either way, they’re still going to charge you for that. In turn, the client should be responsible for providing up-to-date and accurate information even if something is still in progress.
In the deliverables section, I’ll mention exactly what I will provide. For example, all still images will be provided at 3200×2400 resolution. I might mention that all animations are rendered at 29.9 frames per second and at a resolution of 720×486. By mentioning this ahead of time, it prevents someone from coming back and asking me to render out a 30,000 resolution image which might take a couple of additional days to process and that I cannot bill out for and me even impact somebody else’s project. It also may prevent having to render out a HD animation that could add additional weeks to a project. As I said before, people tend to think architectural rendering work is a push of the button. If you don’t lay out your terms otherwise, you can find yourself spending an extra month working for free.
8. Artwork Accuracy:
In my particular field, you have to remind clients that your artwork is ultimately artwork at the end of the day and that it is not intended to be a 100% accurate representation of the final product. Most clients are well aware of this. However, some people that are unfamiliar with the process (in particular photorealism) expect 100% accurate results which is impossible to achieve in reality. If you’ve been in the field as long as I have, you may encounter a situation in which a “green isn’t green enough.” What they may not understand is that readjusting a final might require a rerendering, which can add an additional day’s worth of work or more. You have to let them know that your artwork is just a representation. This may protect you from demands which get out of control.
9. Artwork Ownership:
I reserve the rights to own all of my work. My work is commissioned for use by others, but I actually own what I produce. If a client pays for my images, they are entitled to use these images for their own purposes. I stipulate that I am allowed to use the work I produce for marketing and any other purposes I deem permissible. Of course, there’s exceptions to this rule but ideally you hold steadfast to your ownership. If you have ever worked with a high-end art rep, they insure the same exact clauses where they are the ones who are entitled to art ownership and not the company which is hiring you. This is probably the one area of my contract that is often questioned.
10. Proprietary Ownership:
You should retain all rights to the actual working files and shouldn’t bend from this rule. If you purchase a model library or stock photography to be used in your scene, you are generally required by law not allowed to redistribute those items to another company or client without them having purchased those model libraries for themselves. I’ve had clients ask for my actual working 3D files and have had to refuse their requests. This can also protect your work methodology and intellectual property. Having someone ask for your working files is the equivalent of hiring a painter to paint your house, then asking them for their sanding equipment, ladders, paint brushes, rollers, and paint buckets after the fact – in the real-world, that is not going to happen. The same rule should apply here.
11. Additional Legal Information:
Here I mention additional legal information such as court fees, attorney fees, arbitration, severability, “acts of god” (in case my office gets swept up by a tornado, fire, or flood), liability, etc. I have roughly five detailed paragraphs regarding these items. It is my suggestion that you search the Internet for other contracts which can help you out in this area in case an issue ever arises. Hopefully, none of this ever occurs, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Here, I reserve the right to terminate a project. An example of this may be that a client provides you with completely incorrect information leading to an additional month’s worth of work that bleeds into another projects schedule. Another example might be that someone strings you along a whole year and keeps promising that they will provide you with more information. If a project becomes unreasonable, you should be able to terminate that project. Again, hopefully this never occurs.
13. Cancellation Charges:
I’ve heard of situations in which a project is agreed upon by a developer and that an artist reserves their time to work on their project. They hire out a crew and they start to work on it. Later on, the developer finds out that their project has been denied for zoning reasons, etc. Suddenly, they want to cancel the project and not pay your company for the time you reserved and possibly had to say no other clients. That is money you have lost. Do to this unfortunate circumstance, you should have a cancellation clause in your contracts. It doesn’t have to be the full amount (mine isn’t), but instead could be a percentage of the total. Your time is your money – and people pay to reserve your time and expertise. It’s unfortunate that this should ever occur, but your business should not be put in jeopardy on the account of someone else or unforeseen circumstances.
I hope that this article regarding my artist contracts helps others out. I think you can clearly see from what I’ve written how a contract really does help both you and your potential client. A simple phone call conversation or email leaves out most of these details and that’s why I prefer outlining all of these various situations prior to even working on anything. I’d also recommend looking over other contracts you can find through an Internet search to see what additional items may be relevant to your field of work and expertise.