October 30, 2013

The Costs of Animated Video

Han Gwon Lung

CEO, Tailored Ink

In our last guest post for Wistia, we gave you guys an introduction to animation. This time, we’re going to talk about the drivers of cost for animated videos. The big three considerations are video length, animation complexity, and art style.

Video Length

This one is pretty obvious: even though animated videos save you tons compared to live action videos, they can still carry a hefty price tag depending on how ambitious your project is and how long it runs. Keep in mind that when you increase the length of an animated video you’re really driving up four different costs: animation, illustration, writing, and voice-over.

Deciding to change the length of a video in post-production may also require a rewrite of the script, which potentially leads to re-animation of certain sequences.

Animation Complexity

Before we even get into the drivers of cost for the actual animation step, let’s spend some time going over a few misassumptions about the art form.

First, animation and illustration are not the same thing. Back in the pre-digital days, all animation boiled down to a series of hand-drawn pictures in sequence, but that is no longer the case. Digital animation requires a completely separate skill set and a working knowledge of animation programs that illustrators may not be acquainted with. In other words, animation and illustration are separate costs.

Second, in the same way that painting and sculpture are totally different art forms, 2D and 3D digital animation are like night and day. A 2D animator may have no experience with 3D animation because the programs and methodology are totally different. Traditional 2D animation provides the illusion of real movement from a specific point of view (POV), while 3D animation is an approximation of real movement. In other words, the POV is arbitrary and can be changed with 3D models.

So how do these considerations affect cost? Well, it’s important to know that animators can use stock characters and sets for 2D and 3D videos, but custom illustration is another upfront cost. 3D illustration and animation also tend to cost more than 2D because 3D artists and animators have advanced training. A general rule of thumb is that 3D costs more than 2D at comparable degrees of quality.

Last, it’s important to know what music you’re going to use ahead of time. Animated videos need to be synced with music, and a change of tracks during post-production could mean entire sequences need to be reanimated. Not an extra cost you want to deal with.

Art Style

When it comes to quality, you get what you pay for. The most realistic animated videos are going to be the most expensive.

In order to really understand what this means, we’re going to close things off with a breakdown of three different types of animated videos.

Motion graphics

The simplest animations are motion graphics that move and rotate simple text and graphics.

2D motion graphics


Animated promotional explainer for Mpulse Maintenance. View on Vidaao.

3D motion graphics


In-store Costco ad for Energy Start Electronics. View on Vidaao.

Simple cartoons

The next “tier” of animations are simple cartoons with animated characters, like Vidaao’s explainer video.

2D cartoon


Explainer video for Divorce Your Jewellery. View on Vidaao.

3D cartoon


Animated stereoscopic 3D interstitial for Costco. View on Vidaao.

Virtual Animation

After that, we slowly scale up to virtual animation (increasingly realistic animation), and costs go up exponentially.

2D virtual animation


Promotional video for Acme Smoked Fish Corporation. View on Vidaao.

3D virtual animation


Stereoscopic 3D interstitial for Costco. View on Vidaao.


Note: the cost of these example videos from Vidaao may not reflect the actual drivers of cost for animated video because different creatives charge differently.

Note 2: A lot of these terms, like “motion graphics” and “animation,” are used interchangeably, and it goes without saying that super high quality 2D motion graphics are probably going to cost more than simple 3D cartoons.


Have you worked with animated video before? Which style is your favorite?

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