We often get asked by our clients “How much does animation cost?” It’s a fair question but I’m afraid the answer isn’t straightforward. But there are some useful parameters to be aware of that can have a big impact on your budget.
Here’s one cost we do know; a second of an average Pixar Film costs $24,156 to make.* That’s prohibitive for most marketing budgets. But animation has become such a commonly used medium and that means budgets vary hugely and there are more affordable approaches out there.
The key to understanding cost scales in animation is to get to know what makes something complex. So here are seven things to consider;
Unlike live-action, where we capture movement by filming it, in animation, we are creating an illusion of movement through a series of still pictures. Each of those still pictures or ‘frames’ have to be crafted from scratch and there’s usually 24 frames per second in most cases. So whether you are creating an animation in 2d or 3d, every second counts. The duration of your film has a direct correlation to its cost, so think hard about the messages you need to deliver when you brief a creative agency.
So which is cheaper? Stop Frame, 2d Vector animation, or 3D/CGI? Well, the technique isn’t necessarily more expensive than another, what drives cost is dependent on the concept.
The specifics for a scene can lead you to a particular technique to achieve it within budget. Consider how complex it might be to hand draw a dynamic action scene, creating it frame by frame in Traditional animation. Let’s use a car chase as an example. It may be worth animating that scenes in 3D. As the cars race forward, the camera can be ‘flying through’ the 3D space at the same time. In 3D this sort of movement is relatively easy to create. This can be used as a basis for tracing over the frames to give you that hand drawn look for the final film. Using the mixed technique approach would, in this case, save you time and money, and would ultimately elevate the shot, by creating really exciting sequences of movement.
Focus on what you want to achieve first and then work out the best technique to create it within budget.
Number of characters or locations.
Another thing to think about is each character or location (if relevant) will need to be designed and ‘built’. In some cases, especially with 3D, you may be able to buy the elements for these from a library and make savings, but this will be dependent on whether what’s available suits your idea. But in essence the more characters and locations, the higher the budget.
The sophistication of the movement. If you have characters, then what do they do? Walk? Or maybe Talk? If so that requires the mouths (and faces) to be animated, known as ‘lip sync’.
If they are 2D characters do they turn around or do we always see them face on? That will determine the complexity of how they are built and if you need more than 1 build/design of the same character. For example, a character seen from the front is a different build in 2D then when we see it from the back.
Do you might need a specific voiceover artist or a well-known music track? This could also contribute to an increase in budget.
Some of the most exciting animation ideas are things that haven’t been done before so it’s worth thinking about a testing phase. Development is also about design – getting original characters or artwork for your project can give it stand out and make it ownable for your brand.
The level of visual sophistication. Whether you are looking for realism or a stylised look, there are scales to each and what it takes to achieve them. Inevitably that affects how long and complex the design phase will be.
It is common to think of animation as a cheaper option to live action. That can be true, especially if you are looking for a simple infographic piece or if you want to shoot against greenscreen to add VFX (which could cost a lot more to shoot). But animation’s potential is so huge, so we like to think of it, not as the affordable option, but as a route with endless possibilities.