Slate: Why Do Animated Films Cost So Much to Make?

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  06 June 2013
What I think is really crazy is how like the Star Wars prequels were each only a little more than 100 million, which was considered high for the time. And then things like King Kong was over 200 million and people were having a fit over how expensive it was. Now it seems the standard is like 200 million 250 million for blockbusters.
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  06 June 2013
Originally Posted by earthboyjacobus: Despicable Me 70 Million and that was great by US standards of cost.

Brave 185 Million! Wow! I mean is the Pixar movie that much better looking?

I love Despicable Me and I prefer it over Brave, but maybe we have to consider also that the artist's wages are higher at Pixar, and probably more artist did Brave than Despicable Me. I don't know, just thinking loud. Pixar might be doing more projects in shorter time and that could explain part of the difference. And not to mention as I know from VFX, that doing 2 times better work need much more than two times people and time and money. The quality improvement is rarely linear.
 
  06 June 2013
How about the quality of everything but the story and writing of escape from planet earth for only $40million! Very impressive. Lame movie yes but that's not anyone but the director and the writers fault. The animation was really nice, lighting, rendering, deformations, design etc.

Rainmaker Entertainment is listed as the studio from Vancouver.

Give these guys a nice story and director and these guys have something.
 
  06 June 2013
There are aesthetics you can achieve on a low budget, and there are aesthetics you can't. Astro Boy and Despicable Me both have simple, graphic styles. It works for those movies, and I don't think either would have been improved by throwing more money at them. On the other hand, there's no way you could create a film like Wall-E or How To Train Your Dragon on such a small budget.
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  06 June 2013
Originally Posted by Meloncov: There are aesthetics you can achieve on a low budget, and there are aesthetics you can't. Astro Boy and Despicable Me both have simple, graphic styles. It works for those movies, and I don't think either would have been improved by throwing more money at them. On the other hand, there's no way you could create a film like Wall-E or How To Train Your Dragon on such a small budget.


I'm half agree and half disagree with your opinion.

On one hand, I do think 100, and not 50, should be the max. But then there is a time when its too grand for its own good. And there are thing that can be minimized without affecting the quality.

There should be this questions:

- are there too much extras
- are the background too detailed
- etc

I can sense (maybe I sense wrong, but this is my opinion) that they try to put too much budget, and try to to be too grand.

For example in How to train your dragon, if you reduce the amount of background dragon by 25%, would it still be equally good? I think so.

25% less civilian? I think so.

It's like that 'moving part in transformer' thingy. Where people boast the amount of moving part. Well, who ask you to change from the original Transformer in the first place? 2nd, what the hell with the too much moving parts? Other than joints, what else should a robot part move?

Oh, in Transformer 1. Is that really how a 'robot dog' would move? Specially in the air force one scene and the walking to transformer police car scene? Really?

Is this an animation/cgi scene for fetus? Because if I saw that scene as a kid I would puke.

I think there are times with things are just too much, just too much. It's like cooking with all the ingredients are okay but you decided to put a pail of salt. And when people ask why the dishes is expensive, you said "well, I used a pail of salt. I think this dishes require salt. And this dish will be in the world book of record as the first dish that uses a pail of salt."

There was a film (old) where in the making of it and the director wanted to make it look real, lots of water were used secretly and people actually drowned, but I forgot the title.

If I'm a producer and someone comes to me with cgi that require more than 100 million, I could feel there are going to be something are to be done for the sake to be done, and someone will pay dearly for that.

When I realized that Lockout was done with just 20 million

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockout_(film)

And under US law, 20 million and below were considered as indie (which uses different wga / sag rules) I was astonished. I realized if i managed to get a green card to the US, I don't need to find a producer willing to throw 100 or 200 million to make my movie happens.

20 million is enough, at least for me.

Which is why I personally think 100 million is good. Other than that, its all grandiose just for grandiose sake.
 
  06 June 2013
Azhar, your entire series of posts is predicated on the idea that you understand the budget allocation of such movies, and the fact that almost anything, in your opinion, scales linearly.

On both accounts, you are very far from the actual facts.

There is an entry fee that is very high for each piece of tech you decide to use that you haven't used before.
You want Ratatouille? You need to be ready to shell out for the RnD to do food properly, otherwise you can just as well forget about the movie entirely.
At that point whether you have 500 dishes or 30 the difference isn't a linear upgrade or downgrade of the budget.

You also forget the money paid for voice cast, score, the location (of the studio and the costs implied) and so on.

The comparison between despicable me and brave is one that simply can't be made. The former is a tabletop planned slapstick pop culture money fetching stream that was clearly bound in its settings and other things by its budget, the latter is a movie that they wanted to make without compromises, and without the research they put into vegetation, hair and its rendering it WOULD NOT have been the same movie.

I don't know why you have such a large chip on your shoulder when it comes to American productions and their budgets, it's ever present in your increasingly more pessimistic and oversimplifying posts, but before you go so all out criticizing budgets you might want to develop an understanding of how they were allocated to begin with.

It was a stupid article Roberto posted because it was good for a laugh. Cheer the F up!
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  06 June 2013
Originally Posted by ThE_JacO: Azhar, your entire series of posts is predicated on the idea that you understand the budget allocation of such movies, and the fact that almost anything, in your opinion, scales linearly.

On both accounts, you are very far from the actual facts.

There is an entry fee that is very high for each piece of tech you decide to use that you haven't used before.
You want Ratatouille? You need to be ready to shell out for the RnD to do food properly, otherwise you can just as well forget about the movie entirely.
At that point whether you have 500 dishes or 30 the difference isn't a linear upgrade or downgrade of the budget.

You also forget the money paid for voice cast, score, the location (of the studio and the costs implied) and so on.

The comparison between despicable me and brave is one that simply can't be made. The former is a tabletop planned slapstick pop culture money fetching stream that was clearly bound in its settings and other things by its budget, the latter is a movie that they wanted to make without compromises, and without the research they put into vegetation, hair and its rendering it WOULD NOT have been the same movie.

I don't know why you have such a large chip on your shoulder when it comes to American productions and their budgets, it's ever present in your increasingly more pessimistic and oversimplifying posts, but before you go so all out criticizing budgets you might want to develop an understanding of how they were allocated to begin with.

It was a stupid article Roberto posted because it was good for a laugh. Cheer the F up!


Actually, some of your point refer to some of the point that I think I should cover...

a) voice. I know animations uses popular actors so they also use this in advertising (just like the budget), but there are a lot of great voice actors out there (who is not triple A popular film actors).

http://www.voices.com/

b) technology. I think they should look at overall budget and plan carefully. Animation should be about story, not technology. Besides, when you target kids and plan to use it to sell toys, does it matter about layers, sss, amount of furs and whatnot, the amount of motion point, blah blah blah. The 2d cartoon transformer makes kids cry due to the death of optimus just fine. 3D animation food does not have to look like real food. This is not medical animation. I know improvement can be done - but it can be "germenization" - slowly like practising piano.

I don't want to hear a 3d animation that cost 1 billion because they want to solve all 3d animation problem at one go - uncanney valley, face capture via kinect, this, that and all kind of dumbells and hire as much as researcher like Large Haldron Collider. That why I stressed it, take a budget of 100 and see what you can solve within it. Try improve the rest for the next film. Toy Story 1 was OK for its budget. Keep the 'germinization' going.

I could go on, but what I don't get it, if a lot of those budget goes to animators, why jobs keep moving someplace else?

Sigh. Even as an outsider, I wish the cost stay 100 mill and the job stay in the US. But it seems even the animators wanted the cost to be 1 billion while jobs getting outsourced to china and india.

It seems the animators get their wishes.
 
  06 June 2013
I don't know what you're rambling about, sorry.
Pixar has one of the , if not THE, highest rates of staff retention in the entire industry coupled with what's probably the absolute minimum of offshoring compared to USA competitors of the same size.

As for tech, how do you propose they tell a story about a fierce red-headed princess in a forest that features spirits and fluids without some effort going into research for vegetation, contextual lighting, hair, fluids and so on? Other than kneecapping the story or its visual enactment hard, that is.

As for the voices, sure, there are plenty cheap voices you could have, but will they pull at the box office?

I invite you to go and look at the comments on the internet about LEGO the movie (I mention it just because for obvious reasons we follow it closely here). Take notice of the sheer quantity of people who mention the famous names in the voice cast and the stop-mo like photography as pull factors, and the absolute and utter lack of care for the story being presented.

Would it sell a quarter of the tickets if they went for cheap but great unknown names and if we skimped on the amount of research into physically plausible lighting that went into it to make it look like photorealistic stop-mo? No.
Japan might make Harlock with 30 mills, but they don't pull in 100 out of that on a lucky day. Meanwhile Pixar might fork out over 250 for TS3 (largely because of the triquel contracts for the voice cast which cover a third or more of that budget), but they bring in over half a bill of guaranteed money from that. Which of the two has just made a studio hundreds of millions and which one was a badly hedged 70mill-if-lucky bet?

Things simply don't work the way you seem to think they do in terms of bringing people to the theatres.
You can get the occasional Despicable Me fluke that manages that pull thanks to a number of factors (and even then, not that much of a fluke, slapstick, strong trailer and strong voice cast being key there), and even DM wasn't exactly cheap for its visuals, but you can't pull people into the theatre for other genres without SOME investment in cast, marketing and visual pop.

In short: the things you seem to consider a bad investment of money are actually huge pulls, and the things you seem to put down to wanting to awe the audience are actually key some of the stories we all try to tell.
There is hardly any e-peening for the numbers in Feature Animation. The audience just doesn't give two shits about it, if the big numbers are there it's because they were required to tell the story and provide the visual uncompromisingly.

As for the cost of animation going up the way you describe, again if you look at the budget curve it's headed nowhere near that direction. With few notable exceptions (IE: TS3 due to the casts's contracts) budgets have been swinging within the same domain for years now, with an annual growth close to 0 when you consider inflation and offsets.
I'm not sure where you'd pull the numbers to forecast a 500M animation movie (let alone more), but even if you were talking hyperbolically there is simply nothing to substantiate such trend. If anything a large spread in the middle is getting cheaper made every year.
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Last edited by ThE_JacO : 06 June 2013 at 05:30 AM.
 
  06 June 2013
@The Jaco


While my 1 billion is hyperbole, if actors salaries is going the USD 100 million route (if the rumors is right) and studios wanted to use such and such voices, while putting a lot like avatar in R n D, then we might saw animation budget going Carter of Mars or World War Z and above.

While it good when bringing returns, what happened if it not?

If you ask me I prefer to spend 500 million over 5 animation project than one or two. I prefer to not put it all into one basket.
 
  06 June 2013
I'm not sure what we're discussing anymore.
If the voice cast will become a 500 million dollar deal for a 500-700M potential grossing movie you can bet your arse they won't be hired for a feature animation movie, end of story.

I was addressing your comments on movies that have already come out and the offset perception of what makes them cost what they cost.

This is now going in even weirder places and I think I'm about done with it
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  06 June 2013
If pixar can double my investment I would love to pay them to do some "research".
 
  06 June 2013
it's funny, we have so many threads on "oh the vfx studios don't get paid enough" and the other threads of "hey why do people pay so much for vfx?"

Pixar seems like a fair company that pays their team fairly( just guessing, don't work there).

Pixars movies cost more cause the money goes to the artist and not the distributors right or no?
 
  06 June 2013
Originally Posted by gauranga108: Pixars movies cost more cause the money goes to the artist and not the distributors right or no?

Not that I know of.

Pixar's movies from a CG point of view don't cost that much more or less than anybody else's working to the same technical quality once you factor everything in (subsidies or not, offshoring or not, score/voice talent etc.).

Pixar is also not exactly known to be the best pay per hour actually, especially for an expensive location like San Francisco, but they make up for that in perks, stability, environment and a tendencey (which gets excepted but only rarely) to try and stick to reasonable hours.
There's a difference between the cost of an employee to the company and the net money the employee perceives. They have expensive employees, but AFAIK they don't pay them a fortune, but they make up for that on so many other sides.

It's a storm in a glass of water, really, Pixar's fine and in line with the other companies. They make great movies, rarely make compromises, and dish out the occasional cash cow movie (cars) to be able to afford the higher brow higher risk ones (up).

They work to a high standard and that standard has costs. The final budget of a movie is actually not necessarily representative of the money made by employees. It rarely is, actually.
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  06 June 2013
Originally Posted by gauranga108: How about the quality of everything but the story and writing of escape from planet earth for only $40million! Very impressive. Lame movie yes but that's not anyone but the director and the writers fault. The animation was really nice, lighting, rendering, deformations, design etc.


Perhaps what we can conclude then, is that story is the most expensive and time consuming part?

@ThE_JacO:
"As for tech, how do you propose they tell a story about a fierce red-headed princess in a forest that features spirits and fluids without some effort going into research for vegetation, contextual lighting, hair, fluids and so on? Other than kneecapping the story or its visual enactment hard, that is."

But perhaps a simliar type of story, with a similar type of theme, with an equal amount of entertainment could have been deviced without all that tech?

I love the techy stuff with all my heart, but I do see there is a point to the argument made by fablefox as well
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  06 June 2013
Remember all that new and expensive tech filters down and across the industry too. *Somebody* has to spend the money on the prototypes.
Might as well be somebody that can afford it!

Then several developers say "kewl" and we have similar functionality
in off the shelf plug-ins and features within a few months even. Even inspires a few free ones! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that.

Case in point - Voxels (not even Pixar's tech). But I remember reading in Cinefex when it was the stuff of only one leading edge company seemed to be able to do. And now they are everywhere.

If I want to see no better than off-the-shelf tech - I'll stop going to Pixar films and watch my kid's Saturday morning cartoons instead.
As a technical kind of guy I LOVE seeing mind blowing R&D
because thats my future tool box!
 
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