How Much Does Animation Cost?
(Feb 24, 2014) Animation like film is an expensive business, even in its cheapest form. Whether one person is working on it or thousands, the combined effort doesn't change. I've seen clients scoff at costs and determine that us animators are too big for our britches, asking for prices that are exorbitant. Hopefully during this article I can explain why it costs so much and offer solutions to help keep costs down, to facilitate those on a budget.
The generalized costs in the following link, are cheap in the grand scheme of things, but this would still get many laughed at here in Jamaica. http://www.mairperkins.co.uk/how-much-does-an-animation-cost/ The client is focusing on the end result and not the process. So they get a one minute video with animated objects and characters. Big deal! Why am I (the client) paying thousands of US for 60 seconds of work? You aren't Mike Tyson. Well Mike Tyson wasn't really paid millions to work for 30 seconds and neither are we. Just the same way Mike Tyson had to train for months, paying his coaches, gym, publicists, nutritionists, bodyguards and so on and train hard for months, in some cases adopting and sharpening new techniques to deliver this explosive 60 seconds, it's the same level of preparation required to deliver you 60 seconds of animation.
It starts from the very first meeting. Clients often only remember themselves in the equation which is understandable and why I have to highlight that for every potential customer that I have to meet with, their is a transportation and opportunity cost associated with that. Gas is not free, potholes don't replace front end parts and cars do not stop on hopeful wishes. If we meet 5 potential clients for the week that's practically a full tank of gas and you are not guaranteed to land the job. That also equates to 5 - 10 hours of lost working time. There is the electricity used by high powered expensive computers to do sketches, renders, story boards, animatics and simulations. Renders can take hours and even days. Imagine that electricity bill.
There are storage space costs to consider as well. When a client gives you 150 GB of footage to sift through, that's 300 GB you have to keep free, for storage and editing. This means you probably cannot accept too many other jobs or you will run out of space. In some cases, you can bill the client for extra storage but many clients find it difficult to pay upfront. That leaves you in a bind. Do you buy extra storage and trust you get the job? What if you don't? Sure you have extra storage, but can you afford to buy extra storage every potential client that comes along with larger needs?
So far I have only been assuming that you are the only person working on the project? What if you need to bring in someone else whether for assistance or a special expertise? That's another added cost. Later on I will talk about how to work around this, but these are strong things to take into consideration. If you get paid but it can't pay your bills, the career suddenly won't make sense.
Many times clients are not entirely sure what they want and rely on the experience and expertise of the animator. That is fine, but bear in mind that the less information you come to an animator with, the more work they will have to do, figuring out what you want. This might mean many sketches and drafts. We try to keep it to 3 concepts but when you really have nothing to guide you, it can be more. Each concept takes research and time to develop. Let's say a week for arguments sake. Let us say for argument sake the animator charges $1,000 per hour (US$10/hr). This mind you is a conservative figure. It would be unreasonable to work for that little because of how many skills and tools we would need to use. When I say sketch, I don't mean pencil markings on a piece of paper. We have to do that too which takes time, but, we also have to scan these sketches into a computer with a scanner which we bought and has a life expectancy. We have to use software we purchased to clean up the art and make it presentable for you. We have to develop our reasoning behind the design and how it can be used etc. So let's say this animator took 10 hours for arguments sake to finish these sketches, which again is conservative. The pencil and paper sketches alone would take 10 hours. So we are looking more at 20 hours to get it computer ready. You know what, I am working with 20 hours. So we have gone $20,000 (US$200) and the animation has not started yet. So we send these to you the client and you must approve these sketches. If you didn't know what you wanted in the first place, this is usually the time when you the client start to figure it out. You see the illustrations and now ideas are flowing. You see things you like and don't like and you make suggestions. Now the animator or illustrator, depending on the size of the team has to make adjustments, which could take another 5 hours (being generous). So now we are at $25,000 (US$250). Now, say we have gotten past the illustration/concept phase and we now get into the script. Let's say the script is 2 pages long at $1000 (US$10) per page (still keeping things simple for math purposes). That's another $2,000 (US$20) bringing our total up to $27,000 (US$270).
Now we have to story board. The storyboarding can take as long as, if not longer than the the concept and illustration process. I am going to put it at 10 hours however, just for simplicity. So taking on another $10,000 (US$100) assuming $1,000 (US$10) per hour. So we are up to $37,000 (US$370) and animation has not started as yet and these are understated figures for mathematical simplicity. Now we have to create an animatic, which is the storyboard made into a slide show. Sometimes you add more illustrations to demonstrate movement better. This process involves video editing or storyboarding software you have to purchase. By the way, please assume an approval process in between and perhaps a few face to face meetings which will attract a transportation cost and maybe food. I am going to up the price a bit here because the animatics require a different level of skill as an editor and specialty software that must be compensated for. So Let's put it at $2,000 (US$200) an hour for 10 hours. Now we are up to $57,000 (US$570). Assuming all of that is approved and we can start the animation we are now looking at 20 - 40 hours of work. I am going to use $2,000 (US$200) an hour at 40 hours. That's $80,000 (US$800) tacked on to the $57,000 (US$570) bringing us to a total of $137,000 (US$1,370), Please bare in mind, this does not involve voicing, lip syncing or audio recording. All this is assuming that lip syncing is not required and that audio if any is already provided. If the animator must arrange those then he might have to pay someone for that, and pay actors for voicing. This can easily creep the budget to $250,000 (US$2,500). These figures sound high in Jamaica, no doubt, but the fact is, like a Mike Tyson fight, a lot of preparation goes into an animation.
Makes no sense I rant on about what animation costs and not offer solutions for those who can't afford high end animation. If you know what you want ahead of time, that makes life easier. Every single detail counts along with why you need that detail.
1. Whether you know what you want or not, still consult the animator for ideas and let him know what your budget constraints are. That way, the animator can make suggestions to still give you what you want with some intelligent compromises that can save significant costs.
Do you have a script? Building a script ahead of time, instead of just having a raw concept, can go a long way in the animator figuring out how each scene plays out and how long it will take to animate each scene. Try to be as detailed as possible as to what the scene contains. Is it on a beach. Is it in the city. Is there a beach, City and Kitchen in it? Are there 3 characters or 5? Are they all interacting or are some just standing in the background?
Do you already have the characters designed? If you do, it saves the time the animator would have to take to design a character or the cost of getting an illustrator. He still has to recreate the characters to build the assets for the software they are using, but this rids the process of sketching endless concepts. So you may have shaved US$100 or more off there.
Do you already have audio, and can some of your employees act? Get them in a studio and have them voice out a script you created. Providing this audio saves a lot of time as well and shaves a lot of time off the production.
2. Be flexible with the timeline. The sooner you want the animation, the more expensive it will be. the animator has to put all jobs on hold to accommodate your project. So if you want Usain Bolt running down the track beside Warren Weir, Yohan Blake and athletes from other countries, followed by Bolt posing for paparazzi and taking the bouquet from the track gofers and then throwing the bouquet into the crowd, and you want that in 1 week. Be prepared to pay. If however, you want that in 3 months or 6, you might be able to reduce the cost, because it will require less people and less equipment to work on it.
3. Be realistic about your expectations. Disney cartoons look kool but they take years to achieve with a team of 200 or more. If you are working with one or two animators, you will want to reduce the amount of movements and actions in your animation. This ties in optimizing factors of the previous two suggestions. Instead of having Bolt take a bouquet from a track gofer and throwing it into the crowd, how about we have Warren, Yohan and Usain run on a private track during practice and the runners only interact with each other? This reduces the amount of characters on the screen. It reduces render time, it reduces background settings, it reduces props, and it reduces length of the animation and gets straight to the point.
Each character, each background, each prop, has to be created, optimized, animated and lit. Each take time and resources. Reducing a script from 5 characters in 3 location to 2 characters in one location make a huge difference.
The End Result
In the above I have ignored the time frame in which the animation is required and the complexity. The quicker you want it, the more expensive and the more complex it is. These may require the animator to put in more hours, or hire extra talent. In North America, these prices can double or even triple or even quintuple depending on who you get and what you want. So potential clients, this is not to scare you off. I understand you have budget restraints, but we as animators also need to live. If you desire to use animation as a marketing tool for more exposure or to stand out, do not just look at animation as this end product you receive, but look at it as a driving tool for your brand and communicate same to your animator. Figure out together how you can push that end product to reach as many people as possible. Really that should be the clients marketing teams job, but sometimes the animator can tell you "Hey, I know you want Disney quality, but for the people you are trying to reach, the cost may not be worth it. How about we adopt a Dora style and go for simplicity and cuteness. That way, you won't hurt your budget and the cost will fit the returns realistically.
Stay tuned for more animations from NivekProAnimations. Check me out on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/NivekProAnimations) and don't for get to like share and subscribe.
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I am a Filmmaker, Animator and Writer. I love telling stories and making them come true. You will see me on the big screen soon enough.