Ideas/Commentary

Per-Minute Production Rates Are Climbing on Kickstarter [UPDATED]

Transparency in the crowdfunding community is highly valued, and animators tend to be most successful when they are upfront about the length of the animation they plan to produce with the monies raised. The unintended result of this openness is that the opaque world of animation budgets has begun to fade away.

When Cartoon Brew published a crowdfunding report last month, we cataloged the per-minute costs of various high-profile animation projects on Kickstarter. The costs ranged from $3,333 to 13,750 per minute of completed animation.

Now, we look at two more recent Kickstarter projects that have recently achieved their goals: Michel Gagné’s short The Saga of Rex and Masaaki Yuasa’s short Kick-Heart. At first glance, the two projects could not be more different: Gagné is a former feature film animator who works largely by himself from a home studio, while Yuasa is producing his short using a full crew and traditional production pipeline at Tokyo-based Production I.G..

However, both films share one thing in common: they have budgeted their animation at $15,000 per minute. Gagné set his goal at $15,000 to produce one-minute of film, with each additional minute produced at a $15K increment. Yuasa asked for $150,000 to produce a 10-minute short. This is not a particularly high per-minute production rate for the type of animation that they’re creating, but it is on the upper end of rates for Kickstarter animation campaigns.

The takeaway: not only are more projects being successfully crowdfunded nowadays, but the per-minute rate for A-list animators is growing alongside it. Even with the aid of digitial technology, animation like the kind that Gagné and Yuasa produce remains a laborious, hand-crafted process. It’s encouraging that the backers of their campaigns recognize this since a decent per-minute production rate is essential for crowdfunding to make a sizable impact in the world of animation production.

UPDATE: Michael Gagné has written an insightful blog post on Kickstarter explaining the complex production process for full animation. He also explains that though he’s asking for $15,000 per minute, after Kickstarter/Amazon fees and rewards, he only gets to apply about half of that amount to animation production:

When I worked at Don Bluth Studios, we were expected to create roughly 3.5 seconds (5 feet of 35mm film) of rough character animation a week. And that was only the rough keys. Some of the star animators produced up to 10 seconds a week. To be completed, the animation still had to pass through several hands. No wonder feature quality traditional animation typically cost between $80,000 and $1,000,000 per minute to produce within the studio system.

Although the goals on my Kickstarter project are set at $15K per minute, this won’t be the amount I’ll be getting for the production. Kickstarter and its partner, Amazon.com, keep 10% of the proceeds. Then, around 40% of the budget is applied towards the rewards and shipping cost. So roughly, I am left with around $7.5k per minute.

Now, to produce the film with the quality I want to achieve, I estimate that I will be working roughly 50 hours a week over a 10-week period, for each minute I create. Add to this, 7 weeks building and designing the campaign (that includes doing the animation test), running the campaign (which is turning out to be nearly a full time job), and a full month of work, fulfilling the rewards (packaging, printing, shipping, drawing, etc)—an estimate based on talking with several people who are dealing with their own successful campaigns—and you will see why I’m calling this a labor of love.