Budgeting for Animation vs Live Action Video

Budgeting is a big part of every video production. For those experienced with live-action, budgeting for animation can sound tricky. Many costs related to production don’t apply here, and the allocation of the money is different. Understanding how these types of projects differ can help producers plan and build the team needed to make a project happen. If you have to choose between live action vs animation, the budget and timeline can influence this decision.

Let’s compare the resources needed for each stage of production in both live action and animation so you can make more informed plans for your project. This will also help you understand how much animation costs and why. 

Budgeting for Pre-Production

In both live-action and animation, the way you budget for pre-production is almost the same. This phase can require only one person if it’s a smaller project — usually a director — or it could involve more people such as copywriters and storyboard artists.

As pre-production tends to include the development of visual concepts, mood boards, scriptwriting, and storyboarding, you’ll need to consider the professionals required, and budget for it. The most significant difference here is that in animation, you should also account for style frames — usually done by an Art Director who is going to define the final style of the animated piece. In live-action, casting is also essential, so a Casting Director (or sometimes a Producer) is also necessary.

Here are the professionals you should budget for during this early stage of a project for both live action and animation projects:

  • Director or Creative Director
  • Copywriter
  • Storyboard Artist
  • Art Director (especially in animation)
  • Casting Director (in live-action)

Budgeting for Production

This is the stage where life action and animation budgets differ the most.

Live-Action

In live-action videos, the number of professionals required varies a lot. You can produce an ad with 3 or 30 people (if not more). On set you can easily find the team below:

  • Creative Director
  • Director of Photography
  • Producer/Project Manager
  • Actors
  • Camera Crew
  • Camera Assistants
  • Production Assistant
  • Gaffer
  • Lighting Technicians
  • Hair and Makeup
  • Sound Mixer
  • Boom Operator
  • Clapper

You should also account for two significant expenses: food and transportation for all these people. In addition, you’ll need to budget for costs associated with the location, union, and props (art decoration, art set). And during the pandemic, even a COVID training and disinfection crew is required.

Of course, as an alternative, a live action video can be produced with only a Director, Director of Photography, actors, and an audio person. But, usually the production scenario will look something like the above.

Live-action productions can look huge in comparison with animation, but they can also be a lot faster. That’s because the whole production phase takes place during shooting days. With a single location, you gather all these people for a day or two, and you’re done. Ready to move to Post-Production.

Animation

Production in animation usually involves creative workers and producers. For an easy comparison, this is what an animation production team looks like:

  • Creative Director
  • Art Director
  • Producer/Project Manager
  • Illustrators/Graphics Designers
  • Motion Designers/Animators
  • 3D Modeler (for 3D pieces)

Designers and Animators are the main expenses in this type of production, and this is where it adds up. In animation, the production process from illustration to the animation itself takes a few weeks (yes, weeks) instead of a few days for live action.

Similar to live-action where we can shrink everything into a three-person team, in animation, we can adapt scopes so everything can move faster and be produced within one week. Just keep in mind that while shrinking production can help in reducing budgets, it’s not the best creative solution.

Budgeting for Post-Production

Live Action

The post-production phase is usually longer for live action than for animation, and it ranges from editing to color correction, to creating visual elements and sound. 

When budgeting for post-production for a single live-action commercial, include:

  • Editor
  • Colorist
  • Motion Designer
  • Sound Designer
  • Music Composer 

If you’re doing some kind of Visual Effect (VFX), it will add up even more, possibly including:

  • 3D Artists
  • VFX Artists 
  • Compositor

Animation

On the other hand, post-production in animation is mostly dedicated to music and sound effects so the budget mainly goes to sound specialists

  • Sound Designer
  • Music Composer

Sound design plays a big part in animation because it helps characters, elements, and all actions to feel more real and relatable. Since everything in animation is done from scratch, the same applies to sound. 

Also, if the video involves rotoscoping, animation over the video, 3D mixed with 2D, etc., a Video Compositor (like in live-action video) should be considered.

illustration showing a girl carring a box full of animation-related itens

What makes production more or less expensive?

An important aspect to take into consideration when budgeting for a project is understanding the details that make it more expensive. This will help you to adapt your production to make it fit the budget available. As a rule of thumb, the more people and time you need, the more expensive it will be.

Live Action

During live-action productions, more people also means more money spent on supporting this team, which translates into more food expenses and travel costs — an exponential increase.

Besides that, location is a significant factor. It needs to be available and accessible. And you may need to pay for transportation for everyone to that location. As for talent, hiring a celebrity will quickly increase your expenses, and never forget to account for union talents as they also tend to be more expensive than non-union talents.

Animation

In the animation world, the type of animation or the techniques involved may require specialized (and more expensive) professionals, or increase production time, which directly impacts costs. For example, an animation based in Motion Graphics (with graphic elements, typography, and shapes) usually requires less time and people than an animation involving characters. 

Characters in animation are very complex and require a very talented and specific professional (a character animator). Since characters tend to be the focal point in a client’s review, it’s crucial to account for extra revisions every time characters are involved.

When it comes to cel animation, the professionals and time required to develop this type of animation can increase drastically. Like in live-action, all those specialists have a huge impact on the final piece. Depending on the client’s goals (and of course, budget), adding them can be the best way to deliver something extraordinary.

A final thing to note: if time is of the essence and you need to speed up production, an animation team can always bring in more people to get the job done faster, but of course this increases the investment required

In the end, what’s the difference between live action vs animation?

Live action budgets range widely and can increase quickly. A big part of its costs are related to administrative tasks such as logistics, transport, location rent, food crew, COVID crew, etc. Animation is more time-consuming, while live-action productions can be shot in one day and be ready for post-production.

Animation can be a cost-effective solution when budgets are not high, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get the best animation with that. Animation is more malleable in terms of how you can simplify its costs, but a good animation will involve many specialized talents and require as much budget as live-action. 

Just as you can do live action with budgets of all sizes, the same applies to animation. More budget allows better and more sophisticated outputs. Small budgets require a lot of adaptation and are never the way to reach the full potential of any medium. But in our experience, if you have a set budget for live action, you can accomplish even better results by allocating the same resources to an animated video.

Special thanks to Diana Dixon and Jane Selle Morgan for the contribution to this article.

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Felippe Silveira

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