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Why are animated commercials so expensive?

Author: Hurst Digital |

Why are animated commercials so expensive?

Surprised by the high cost of producing a commercial animation project for your marketing campaign? There is no doubt that when compared to copy or images alone, video and animation has much greater engagement with audiences across all marketing channels. But the high cost can feel prohibitive for many marketing teams. But there are ways to bring the costs down to suit your budget.

We break down the animation production steps below to explain why it is tough to produce animation on a budget.

How much to charge for animation
If you would like to estimate the cost your animation project, try out my animation price guide.


Producing an animated video requires a lot of production stages. In its most basic you have pre-production, production and post-production. Within each of those milestones there are a number of steps, each requiring specialist skillsets to do the job successfully. Hiring a “one man band” or generalist freelancer to produce an animation from concept to completion will always result in a sub-par end product. Below is an abridged list of the stages in an animation pipeline, with a few of the common personnel required to complete the job to a high standard.

Stage Specialist
Project direction Animation director
Project management Producer
Script/ Screenplay Copywriter/ Screenwriter
Storyboard Illustrator/ Graphic designer
Animatic Editor/ Motion designer
Character design Illustrator/ Character artist
Environment design Illustrator/ Environment artist
Dialogue Voice actor
Character/ Environment/ Props build 3D Modeler/ Texturer/ Look developer/ Designer (2D Anim)
Character/ props rigging 3D rigger
Layout/ blocking Animator
Animation Animator
Effects Visual effects TD
Lighting Lighting TD
Rendering Render Wrangler
Compositing Compositor
Motion graphics Motion designer
Editing Editor
Narration Voice over artist
Music Composer
Sound design Sound effects (foley) artist

Many of these roles have some cross over enabling a degree of generalism throughout the production pipeline. For instance you may find a talented writer-director who can write your screenplay and supervise the animation production from start to finish. You may find talented a artist who can model, texture and look develop your characters. But it is very rare to find a rigger who can also edit your animation to a high standard.


Each of the animation stages outlined above requires expertise, though an artist’s level of experience is equally important. The longer an individual has been working within their specialism, the faster they can work, the higher quality they can produce and therefore the more they can charge. When putting together a quote for an animation project, it is the role of the animation producer to discern where top expertise is required and where more junior talent will be sufficient. This will help budget a project to meet a client’s requirements while keeping the quality high.

Assigning more juniors to a problem may not be as efficient as one senior artist.

With expertise, you are essentially paying for the mistakes that artists have made on previous projects and that they wont make those mistakes again. They will know all the shortcuts to get the end results, they won’t need as many revisions and the whole production process will be much more streamlined as a result. If you are on a tight deadline to deliver, this is the reason you will pay more to have the best talent onboard. Simply assigning more juniors to a problem will not be as efficient as one senior artist. https://www.hurstdigital.net


The core reason animation is so expensive to produce is time. Every stage of the production outlined above takes dozens of work hours to produce and the people with the right skills can charge a premium for their time. Building a single 3D character model could take anywhere from 3 days on a low-budget animation, to 6 months to achieve feature film quality. Despite misconceptions that computers do all the hard work now, nothing could be further from the truth. There is just as much craft poured into modern animation as the days of traditional hand-drawn animation, it is just the tools that have changed. There are methods and software to speed things along, but we’ve come to expect higher quality as a result. https://www.hurstdigital.net

You are buying artists’ time.

It is also very hard to account for feedback at the quote stage, as a result producers need to approach estimates with an abundance of caution in case there are extensive retakes. If feedback ever requires needing to step back a stage in production, for example if animation has started but there is a script change, the knock-on effects to every preceding step in the pipeline can be very costly.

The false economy of cheap animation https://www.hurstdigital.net

If you hire an animator or studio with the lowest day rate you can find, you are taking on a lot of risk. The risk they take longer to complete the job. The risk they require a lot of handholding or do not have the experience to make the project a success. The risk they deliver a sub-standard end product, meaning you have to recommission with another studio at an even higher cost.

No one has summed this up better than Benek Lisefski in his article The Big Lie of “Good, Fast, Cheap”. He argues that “Good” isn’t optional and that “Cheap” will never get you “Good”, regardless of how long it takes. I’d take this one step further and modify the resultant Venn Diagram to demonstrate that cheap and good do not mix.