How to Reduce Animation Production Costs
One of the worst nightmares for any Producer or Director is when they are tasked with “reducing production costs.” But even when budgets shrink, you’re still expected to work with the best talent available. Finding ways to reduce budgets even further while delivering stellar results can feel like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.
The good news is, when it comes to animation production, there are several ways to reduce costs while also optimizing the whole production. The key is understanding what’s necessary and what is merely a “luxury” from the creative side —and finding smart alternatives.
What Impacts Animation Production Costs?
There are several key factors that contribute to rapid increases in animation budgets. As a rule of thumb, the more people you need, the more money is required. And the more specialized professionals you need, the deeper your pockets should be. Usually, those specialists are the ones contributing to a need for higher budgets. Unless they’re indispensable, you should consider reducing or even cutting them out completely.
To better understand what impacts your animation budget, we should focus on which elements of animation contribute the most to a rise in production costs:
- Character animation
- Cel animation
- Video duration, number of scenes and transitions
- Original music
As you may have noticed, I separated Characters from Character Animation. This may seem strange at first glance, but you’ll understand why pretty soon.
Characters are powerful because they create emotional attachment with the viewer. But they also come with some increases in costs and frustrations. Decisions about characters are likely to require the most back-and-forth discussion with your team and your client. As characters are what we can most relate to, everyone has an opinion about them. Stakeholders can be very picky when it comes to reviewing and approving a character for a campaign which can extend the pre-production stage and with that, an extension in budget needs
To reduce increases in cost and complexity, look for ways to replace characters with iconographies, or even cut them out completely.
In the example above, the same scene can work with or without the original characters. The first one is more inviting and charismatic than the second, but the second leaves less ambiguity around the message and saves a lot of time and money on character development.
If your situation is more complicated than the example presented and budget reduction is inevitable, consider going in less literal directions. Use shapes, text, and a lot of metaphors to convey the message without a human figure.
Besides requiring a good illustrator focused on character design, adding characters to the animation requires them to feel and move naturally, which leads us to our next point.
Not every character needs to move, but when they do, costs skyrocket.
Bad character animation is detrimental to any brand. As humans, we’re used to seeing other humans walking, talking, moving. And this perception comes so naturally that we all notice when a character isn’t moving in a natural, “human” way. This concept is actually called the uncanny valley, and it suggests that humanoid objects that imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. And of course, no brand wants to be associated with “feelings of eeriness and revulsion.”
Character animation tends to be a lot more complicated than traditional motion graphics. Moving a single character requires dozens — sometimes even hundreds — of animated layers. And to achieve this you need a very skilled and specialized professional — and they are neither easy nor cheap to find.
However, if character animation is a must-have on your project, there are several ways to approach it, each one having a different impact on your budget and production time. From subtle character movements to detailed character animation in After Effects and complex frame-by-frame character animation, choosing what is best for your project will be crucial when you need to reduce budget.
Traditional animation has become very popular in recent years and clients often request it.No longer reserved for Saturday morning cartoons, it’s now used as a powerful style of expression due to its fluidity and limitless capacity for movement in the 2D environment. Most of the time, cel animations are incorporated with motion graphics and other animation techniques. But sometimes entire videos are made with this technique. You can’t deny the possibilities it brings and how impactful it is for animation; however, some agencies request it just because it looks cool. If it is not absolutely necessary and you’re on a tight budget, this is not the direction you should take.
Unless it’s part of the video’s creative direction and strategy — and you have enough budget for it — avoid adding cel animation to your videos. And if you’re not sure how to achieve the look you want for your set budget, reach out to your preferred animation studio. There’s always an innovative alternative that a great creative team can spot right from the storyboard.
Video duration, number of scenes and transitions
It will likely come as no surprise that longer videos tend to come with a higher ticket price. And a longer duration oftentimes necessitates a bigger team or at least a more extensive production time. So, one of the fastest ways to reduce animation production costs is by reducing the total duration of your video. Even though duration is not the only factor that determines the size of your budget, it’s one of the first things you should consider.
Beyond the duration consideration,, the number of scenes (usually identified by the name of divisions in your storyboard) also makes an impact on your budget. Every new scene in animation requires a frame to be conceptualized, designed, and animated. With more extended scenes, you usually need less time from designers and directors, and it also frees up more time for animators. A single 1-second scene can require as much work as developing a 5-second one. Finding ways in the story to keep the number of scenes to a minimum will both speed up production and save money. But be mindful during this process to not turn your animation into an overpriced slideshow.
Also, with more scenes, we need more transitions — and coming up with smart transitions is not always easy. If you have a bunch of scenes to work with and want seamless transitions between them, you’ll need a lot of direction and animation work to make that happen. Using more traditional cuts and simple transitions will definitely help reduce your costs.
Music and sound design play a big part in the impact of a motion piece, however everything that is custom-made costs more — and it should. Original music is a great way to enhance the narrative and the effectiveness of a message. It allows the visuals to create deeper connections in the viewer’s mind. Everyone wants original music in their campaigns, but if there’s not enough budget for that, you can find some stock audio options. It won’t have the same impact, but if done right it can be a great alternative that saves thousands of dollars.
“Less is More”
Next time you plan a project, remember Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s motto, “less is more.” There’s a misconception that adding more features makes a product — or in this case animation — better.
But when telling a story for a brand, some core elements need to be presented: the brand itself, the message you want people to have in mind, and the visual impact that will make it memorable. Too much information on screen makes it harder for viewers to understand what to focus on. If your message is in the middle of a “noisy” environment, it will be more difficult for the audience to connect, or even understand the story.
Adding elements only because they look cool doesn’t contribute to an effective campaign. You might receive “oohs and aahs” when you show it, but if it doesn’t align with the core message you’ll be merely creating an entertainment piece instead of promoting your client’s brand.
Just remember: aiming for “simplicity” doesn’t mean sacrificing output. Most of the time, it’s the best solution.
In other words, don’t just simplify — optimize your animation, message, and final product. It can start as a cost-reduction approach, but it may be one of the best decisions you make.
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