Your questions answered on the price of animation, from blockbuster films to bespoke commissions.
Animation is often considered to be expensive, but the reality is the costs involved fluctuate wildly across different media platforms and art styles. A small animated promo project can be very affordable when compared to feature film budgets, so to get a real understanding of typical price points let’s take a look at a range of financial averages across the animation industry, including actual movie VFX budgets gleamed from dozens of hours of research. Here are some quick links if you want to skip ahead to the section you are most interested in:
Also check out our interactive animation price guide to calculate a ballpark figure for animated projects.
Movie Visual Effects
To anyone in the visual effects industry, budgets are a contentious issue. To try and make estimates was previously almost impossible due to the incredible level of secrecy around the bids that competing studios submit to film production companies. Relentless undercutting of the competition has been cited as driving the VFX industry into the ground to the point where Oscar winning facilities are going bankrupt. This is a huge problem for the overall well-being of the industry and its artists and perhaps greater financial transparency could begin to remedy some of the issues. VFX budgets are normally estimated on a calculation of the likely number of shots in a movie, often based on a best guess by reading the script and storyboard. This cost is then often locked in place, regardless of extra shots or countless revisions.
Due to the extraordinary events late last year in the movie industry, there are now sources available online where you can find real VFX budget data for the first time ever. So lets take a look at the figures in comparison to overall movie budgets. The shot counts were gleamed from interviews, ‘making of’ articles, official sites and other sources. In the interest of privacy, the budget source documents will not be made available or linked to via this website and the figures have been rounded.
Movie VFX BudgetsAll figures are estimates and have been rounded.
|Film||Gross||Total Budget||VFX Budget||# VFX Shots||Cost Per Shot|
|Alice in Wonderland||$1025m||$200m||$78m||1700||$46k|
|The Amazing Spider-Man 2||$709m||$255m||$60m||1600||$38k|
|Men in Black 3||$624m||$215m||$64m||1,200||$53k|
|Oz The Great and Powerful||$493m||$215m||$90m||1,500||$60k|
|Edge of Tomorrow||$369m||$178m||$46m||1200||$38k|
|The Monuments Men||$155m||$70m||$6.2m||200||$31k|
So making broad brush strokes here we can see that movie VFX for big features comes in around the $42k per shot mark. Several smaller films were also on the roster such as The Interview, Sex Tape and Aloha, but their VFX budgets were much smaller and precise shot counts could not be sourced so were omitted from the list. But very roughly, it appeared the average cost per shot for these lower budget movies was between $10k-$20k.
Of course every shot comes with its own unique challenges and scale of production involved. Simpler shots such as set extensions and wire removal (digitally painting out safety lines) could be $10k or less, other full CG shots with fully animated 3D characters and environments could cost $100k or more. Hundreds of artists over several studios will work on a short effects sequence and with average shot lengths as short as 3 seconds, I think we can now appreciate the staggering amount of work and investment that is put into the visual effects that are often taken for granted in modern feature films.
The biggest studios producing animated films right now are without a doubt Disney (“Frozen”), including their subsidiary Pixar (“Toy Story”), DreamWorks (“Shrek”) and the relative newcomer but sucessful Illumination Entertainment (“Minions”). These are international multi billion dollar companies with huge distribution networks and their budgets reflect this. To get some rough figures we can take a look at the top grossing animated films, their production costs and run times (source).
3D Animated Feature Film BudgetsBudgets and running times of the top grossing animated feature films (as of July 2015)
|Title||Worldwide Gross||Budget (est')||Run Time||Cost Per Second|
|Toy Story 3||$1,063,171,911||$200,000,000||103 minutes||$32,362|
|Despicable Me 2||$970,761,885||$76,000,000||98 minutes||$12,925|
|Finding Nemo||$936,743,261||$94,000,000||100 minutes||$15,667|
|Shrek 2||$919,838,758||$150,000,000||93 minutes||$26,882|
|Ice Age 3||$886,686,817||$90,000,000||94 minutes||$15,957|
|Ice Age 4||$877,244,782||$95,000,000||88 minutes||$17,992|
|Shrek 3||$798,958,162||$160,000,000||93 minutes||$28,673|
|Shrek 4||$752,600,867||$165,000,000||93 minutes||$29,569|
|Madagascar 3||$746,921,274||$145,000,000||93 minutes||$25,986|
|Monsters University||$743,559,607||$200,000,000||104 minutes||$32,051|
|Kung Fu Panda 2||$665,692,281||$150,000,000||90 minutes||$27,778|
|Ice Age 2||$660,940,780||$80,000,000||91 minutes||$14,652|
|Big Hero 6||$652,127,828||$165,000,000||102 minutes||$26,961|
So in terms of 3D animation cost, from this sample we can discern an estimated average budget of $24,156 for every second of animation that makes it into the final cut, or just under $1.5 million per minute. This is not including any marketing or distribution costs, which can sometimes exceed the cost to produce the film. With these astronomical figures in mind it is clear to see why studios tend to play it safe with big hitting sequels that draw in audience numbers with familiar characters. That being said, Frozen has proven there is a demand for new ideas when the story resonates with movie goers.