When I decided to go to art school to study animation, my older and wiser brother gave me some advice. He said that art is something that everyone wants, but no one wants to pay for. Because of this he warned me not to under value my work as an artist and to demand fair compensation for the work that I did. Well, soon after graduating I discovered another uncomfortable truth. Animation is very time consuming to produce and therefore expensive. So regardless of what I would like to charge for my services, the fact that this medium is so labor intensive means that even at a discount it can still be prohibitively expensive for many clients. Most budgets don’t allow for the cost of fully produced, high quality animation. Because of this, animators are often faced with a choice – work longer for less money, or find innovative ways to reduce the time it takes to produce good quality animation.
I believe it is true that most people would like to add more animation to their productions. This is because animation is such an engaging way to tell a story and communicate a message. So, is it possible to utilize animation in your production without exploding the budget? Fortunately, many talented people have been working to solve that problem for many years. There are now a wide range of tools and techniques available to help make animation affordable for smaller budget productions. What follows are the current range of animation options and how they can be achieved for less money. If you already have a good grasp of these, jump to the bottom for a list of ways to save money animating your projects.
FULL 3D CHARACTER ANIMATION
The current high end standard for animation is represented in many big budget feature films coming out of studios like Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. This is the best that money can buy and clocks in at around $7,000 to $8,000 per second. For a 30 second spot you would spend between $100,000 and $400,000. This quality of animation requires a tremendous amount of work and takes a lot of time. To combat these high production costs many overseas studios have been created due to lower labor costs in those countries. It is possible to get similar levels of quality for significantly less money, between $1,000 and $2,000 per second. But, that is still $30,000 to $60,000 for a 30 second spot.
If you want full 3D character animation on a smaller budget you will have to make some compromises.
FULL 2D CHARACTER ANIMATION
Even though 3D is the flavor of the day, traditional 2D cell animation is still very popular and can be a great stylistic choice. Like 3D, there is a broad range of 2D options that vary wildly in quality and price. Feature 2D animation can be produced for slightly less than 3D, $6,000 to $7,000 per second here in the States and $500 to $1200 per second utilizing overseas studios. A 30 second commercial could cost anywhere between $15,000 and $210,000 depending on complexity. This is a pretty wide range. Even $15,000 is too pricey for many! It is possible to bring that number down a little more by using new cut-out puppet style animation.
LIMITED 2D CHARACTER ANIMATION
For tighter budgets, limited animation is a more viable option. This method has been mastered by television animation studios like Hanna Barbara, Nickelodeon, and Warner Brothers. Limited animation saves time by separating characters and objects into layers and then re-using as many assets as possible. This has been done very effectively by television studios who needed to produce large quantities of animation on much smaller budgets than fully animated feature films.
Today, with the use of computer programs, limited animation has become even more efficient. A new system of animation sometimes called “Flash” uses software to animate digital puppets. This allows an artist to animate still objects instead of having to redraw the object for every frame of the scene. This allows for animation that is more fluid and lifelike than typical limited animation.
It used to be that all animated assets would have to be hand drawn and then scanned. We can now create everything right in the computer using graphic tablets and don’t have to take the time to scan and prep assets drawn on paper. This can save a considerable amount of time and money. The resulting animation is more stylized and stiff than full traditional animation, but it can still look very good.
3D TECHNICAL ANIMATION
3D animation is also well suited for demonstrating whatever concept or product you are promoting. This more technical type of animation can also be very expensive, but does not have to be. An experienced 3D artist can quickly make a 3D representation of your product, rig it, and animate it to show its functionality and purpose. If you already have a CAD model, we can use that and save the cost of modeling it ourselves. Realistic rendering in 3D can be very time consuming, so if you can live with slightly less realistic rendering, that is another area to find savings.
Motion graphics is animating using still images, video, and text utilizing programs like Apple Motion and Adobe After Effects to manipulate both 2D and 3D elements in 3D space. Before computers, motion graphic techniques were very time-consuming and required expensive machinery and processes. Fortunately, modern computers are capable, with the appropriate software, of animating objects much more effectively. Any video production will be enhanced by adding motion to the visual content that is onscreen. This can be the most affordable kind of animation if many of your assets are already created or you are just animating text.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR ANIMATION BUDGET UNDER CONTROL
- Limit the scope of your production and the number of characters needed. A commercial that takes place inside one room with one or two characters will be easier than a setting in a large expansive environment with many characters. Likewise, don’t go crazy with the special effects.
- Animation is often priced per second. So a production that is 2 minutes in length will cost roughly double the price of a 1 minute production.
- A large portion of an animation budget goes toward modeling and rigging. Instead of creating everything from scratch you can save time and money by purchasing stock models that have already been modeled and rigged. You can find decent characters without spending a lot of money and use them create an engaging message.
- Keep the design of the characters and location as simple as possible. The more detail and realism required, the longer it will take.
- Animate elements and portions of your commercial instead of the whole thing. Animation can easily integrate with acquired video to help bring down cost.
- Don’t expect perfection. Remember the adage, “good is good enough”. One of the biggest exploders of animation budgets are revisions and changes. If what was created the first round is close enough, then move on and save yourself the expense of unnecessary revisions.
- Find an experienced production company with less overhead, like Pixelbox, that has the knowledge and expertise to get the work done effectively and efficiently. At a large studio there are experts for every step of the process. This is great if money is no object. When trying to save money it is critical that you have people that are versatile and can do more than one thing. They might not do everything as well as a specialist, but they can do a good job at many different tasks saving you money.
Many companies choose to forgo animation because of the high cost of entry. Fortunately, there are affordable options that will give you the benefits of animated content for a fraction of the cost.
Animation is a great way to tell a story, whether it’s a character driven narrative or an explainer video illustrating a product or concept. Find an experienced studio that is skilled in these cost saving techniques, can make you aware of all your animation options, and get your project done on time and on budget. For more information on how we can help animate your next project contact Pixelbox.