How Much Does Animation Cost?

April 18, 2022 Author: Sean Henry

So you’ve dreamed up the most amazing animated ad, website video, TV series, short film, whatever – GREAT! Animation is a fantastic medium for storytelling and an excellent choice for brands. Nothing can communicate a message like a well-produced animated web video, and animation is a proven way to boost customer engagement.

But you’ve never done animation before and aren’t sure how to get started. You’ve scoured the internet, but you can’t find the answer to one seemingly simple question: Just how much does animation actually cost?

Unfortunately there’s no simple answer because every project is so unique. But here are some pointers to help you organize and budget your next project.

A few basic guidelines:

Creating original animation is a complex and labor-intensive process. It takes a small army of artists and animators weeks or months to produce even a tiny amount of the stuff. Animation costs can range from a few hundred dollars per second at the low end for a very simply-designed web “explainer” video to several thousand dollars per second at the high end for a fully-animated, Superbowl-quality TV ad. An animated TV series could cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per episode. And if you’ve ever noticed the endless credits at the end of any good animated feature, you’ll understand why those budgets can be in the tens of millions. The costs are specific to each project and depend on a vast number of factors.

Animation projects are typically budgeted on a “firm bid” basis; we would collect the information and provide a quote (and schedule) for the project that we are obligated to stick to unless there is a significant change in scope along the way. The alternative method of billing would be “cost plus fixed-fee” (or just “cost-plus”), where the studio bills for actual time plus a percentage mark-up. This may be appropriate for more open-ended projects but is far less common.

Getting organized:

Because every project is truly unique, we would need to gather as much info as possible in order to provide a custom quote. We realize not everyone has a crystal clear vision for their project at the outset, and perhaps you are just researching your options. As we discuss the project, we can look at various styles of animation with examples to help guide the process. In any case, having a written treatment, outline, or script is a great first step. I can often provide a rough ballpark estimate based on minimal info, but the more details and materials you can provide, the more accurate and confident I can be with my quote.

Besides the script and any other development materials such as designs or storyboards, the following list of questions would be a good place to start. If you’re unable to answer all of the questions, that’s fine – we’ll work with whatever info is available, but we may only be able to provide a ballpark estimate until we know all the details.

  1. What is the total duration of animation?
  2. What kind of animation style do you have in mind (e.g., traditional 2D, 3D computer animation, Digital 2D, stop motion, “motion design”…)? You may already have examples of what you want to create, but if not, we can expore different possibilities with you
  3. Would we be responsible for designing the characters? How many primary characters are there? How many secondary characters?
  4. What is the setting? Approximately how many different locations and scenes would there be?
  5. Would there be speaking characters with animated dialog?
  6. Would you require audio production or would you be providing it? This might include voice-over casting and recording, music production, and sound design.
  7. Would you be providing the scripts, or would you require script development?
  8. What is the timeline for the project? A more flexible schedule can usually help to reduce costs.

We may have additional questions, but this is usually enough to get the ball rolling. Once we have a chance to discuss the project in detail, I will then be able to provide either a rough ballpark estimate or a detailed firm bid depending on your present stage in the budgeting process.

Visual development as a separate project:

Although we don’t currently accept pitches or proposals for our own productions, we can provide a quote to develop a pitch book, series bible, or original characters if your goal is to create an actual pitch to shop around to various media outlets. Visual development can include everything from character and environment designs to the creation of storyboards, model sheets, animatics, brand style guides, and CG models, most of which would eventually be necessary for animation production anyway, but can be thought of as a separate project with its own discrete budget.

With so many possibilities to offer, animation can provide excellent “bang for your buck”. Whether you are looking to elevate your brand or to develop original creative content, a good animation studio can help guide you through the process to find the best and most cost-effective solution for your particular project.

About the author: Sean Henry is Executive Producer and co-owner of Calabash Animation.