How Much Does 3D Animation Cost?

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:

1. Movie VFX & Animated Film 2. TV Animation & Commercials 3. 3D Illustration & Summary

Also check out our interactive animation price guide to calculate a ballpark figure for animated projects.

3d Animation Cost. Animation budget insights across film, TV and commercials.

Animation budget insights across film, TV and commercials.

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.

The cost of Green Lanterns VFX was more than $9 million over the original $45 million budget.

The cost of Green Lanterns VFX was more than $9 million over it’s original $45 million budget.

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 Budgets

All figures are estimates and have been rounded.
FilmGrossTotal BudgetVFX Budget# VFX ShotsCost Per Shot
Average: $42k
Alice in Wonderland$1025m$200m$78m1700$46k
The Amazing Spider-Man 2$709m$255m$60m1600$38k
Men in Black 3$624m$215m$64m1,200$53k
Oz The Great and Powerful$493m$215m $90m 1,500$60k
Edge of Tomorrow$369m$178m$46m1200$38k
Smurfs 2$347m$105m$43m1200$36k
Green Lantern$220m$200m$54m1315$41k
The Monuments Men$155m$70m$6.2m200$31k
Pixels$64m$110m$23m650$35k

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. 

The Interview had a notably lower budget per shot than blockbuster average.

The Interview had a notably lower estimated VFX budget per shot than the blockbuster average.

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.

Animated 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).

Sequels such as Toy Story 3 dominate the top charts.

Sequels such as Toy Story 3 dominate the top charts.

3D Animated Feature Film Budgets

Budgets and running times of the top grossing animated feature films (as of July 2015)
TitleWorldwide GrossBudget (est')Run TimeCost Per Second
Average: $24,156
Frozen$1,279,852,693$150,000,000102 minutes$24,510
Toy Story 3$1,063,171,911$200,000,000103 minutes$32,362
Despicable Me 2$970,761,885$76,000,00098 minutes$12,925
Finding Nemo$936,743,261$94,000,000100 minutes$15,667
Shrek 2$919,838,758$150,000,00093 minutes$26,882
Ice Age 3$886,686,817$90,000,00094 minutes$15,957
Ice Age 4$877,244,782$95,000,00088 minutes$17,992
Shrek 3$798,958,162$160,000,00093 minutes$28,673
Shrek 4$752,600,867$165,000,00093 minutes$29,569
Madagascar 3$746,921,274$145,000,00093 minutes$25,986
Monsters University$743,559,607$200,000,000104 minutes$32,051
Up$731,342,744$175,000,00096 minutes$30,382
Kung Fu Panda 2$665,692,281$150,000,00090 minutes$27,778
Ice Age 2$660,940,780$80,000,00091 minutes$14,652
Big Hero 6$652,127,828$165,000,000102 minutes$26,961
Frozen tops the charts bucking the trend of top seated sequels.

Bucking the trend of top seated sequels, Frozen takes the #1 spot.

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.

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Posted on August 3, 2015 in blogPosts

About the Author

Dean Wright is a 3D artist and film maker. He writes about the VFX industry, Motorsport and working life in Japan following his time there in 2013-2014. Having worked internationally at major studios, he now lives in London freelancing for a wide range of clients.

Responses

  1. Octavian Ureche
    August 5, 2015 at 7:42 pm · Reply

    Finally, someone sheds some light.

  2. Jordan
    August 28, 2015 at 1:13 pm · Reply

    Interesting look at the costs of 3d animation. I remember that I used to think that 3d animation was “easier” than 2d – “Oh, the computer does everything!” But you don’t realize how much effort goes into these movies that we love. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Ganesh Dhoni
    December 21, 2015 at 2:48 am · Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. Greatly inspired from your attitude of TRANSPARENCY. It can be established if many of vfx studios co-operate which may result in growth of our industry.

  4. Jeff Thomson
    May 8, 2017 at 5:54 am · Reply

    toy story was more expensive than frozen wow 3d animation is really expensive as compare to 2d animated video production.

  5. wstarmls
    May 16, 2017 at 7:48 am · Reply

    The majority of the animated feature movies and short animated skits today are created with 3D animation, and this is a rapidly growing industry.

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