10 Steps To Budgeting Your Animation – part 1

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One of the biggest mysteries around creating animation is cost.  Yes, you can easily find numbers published for big-budget productions (one episode of “The Simpsons” is estimated at $5 million or $175 million for Pixar’s Cars 3, for example), but what about creating 1-2 minutes of animation for a product demo?  What if I want to create my own short film?  Even those deep inside the animation industry struggle with estimating.

Adding to the mystery, the cost of animation can range wildly from around $500 per minute for a flat, simple style, up to $2 million per minute for the feature-quality work with lots of complexity.  As an animation producer, I help people zero in on what works best for their project and their budget.

Where do you start?

You can get a very broad sense by going to AnimPricer and answering some questions.  It’s a start.  But to estimate cost with a greater degree of accuracy, you must dig a little deeper.  Below are 10 questions whose answers have a big impact on a budget.  The more thought and research that’s put into this stage, the more accurate the estimate is.

1. Total Budget:  What Do I Want to Spend?

We would love to win the lottery.  But if that hasn’t happened yet, you should have a number that you are comfortable with spending.  Amazing animation can be created with just about any amount.  Depending on your creative goals (photo-realistic rendering, large battle sequence, signature “spokesperson” character, ground-breaking style, etc), there’s an animation approach that gives you what you want.

2. Total Length:  How Many Seconds or Minutes of Animation Do I Need?

A rough estimation for one page of script is about 60-90 seconds of animation.  However, one page of a massive battle scene does not equal one page of two buddies having a conversation, so take this assumption with a big grain of salt.  A good starting point is to read the script out loud and time yourself.  The actual length will firm up once you have an animatic (a digital representation of your storyboards with estimated timing and sound).

3. Deadline:  When is This Needed?

Do you have a client who has a hard deadline?  Do you want to enter your short in next year’s film festivals?  By targeting a specific end date, I’ll have a better idea of how the project will have to be staffed.  Have 16 weeks to get done?  Two animators could potentially work for 8 calendar weeks.  However, if you need it done sooner, you’ll have to hire 4 animators to work for 4 weeks to get the same amount of work done.  Those 4 people could have vastly different rates, potentially increasing the budget.

4. Style:  What Do I Want the Animation to Look Like?

The cost of animation can range depending on which technique is best to tell your story. Typically, a 3D approach is more expensive than 2D.  Adobe Creative Cloud package can set you back $50-$80 per month per user.  Blender is an excellent open source option for 3D that can yield beautiful results, but finding experienced artists may be more of a challenge.  Digital 2D options such as ToonBoom are also very cost-effective.  If you aren’t familiar with the best approach, collect existing animation samples through YouTube that inspire you and discuss the possibilities with a producer.

5. Deliverables – How Will My Animation be Viewed?

Are you creating animation for an online marketing piece?  Do you want your short to screen in a theater?  You must have a clear understanding of where and how your audience will view your animation.  The cost of creating proper deliverables can sneak up on you at the exact time when you’ve run out of money.

Jen Dahlman
Jen Dahlman
With 20 years of experience deep in the bowels of the animation process, Jen has experience in all aspects of production. She has worked on features such as Shrek, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon. She is currently Director of Content Services at Nimble Collective.

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