Why Do Animated Films Cost So Much to Make?

Mike Wazowski, a character from the upcoming Monsters University, is projected on the exterior of the Spaceship Earth attraction at Epcot April 25, 2013 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Photo by David Roark/Disney Parks via Getty Images

This answer originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan, Founder Zingfin.com:


A good animation movie can take $50 million or more to produce. Animation is a highly labor-centric work. During my undergrad, some of our classmates worked on a three minute animation film for a college event. That took about two months for a team of eight people. Multiply the quality by 1000X and the size by 100X and you get a Pixar movie.

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  1. The story, direction, and sound: An animation movie might have no human actors, but it does have human story creators, screenplay writers, art directors, and sound effect people. It takes a lot of effort (and wages) to create the smooth story that will capture the audience. In a regular movie, an experienced actor might carry the show even with a bad story line and could do a lot of spontaneous things. There is no saving in an animated movie. Everything depends on the story and attractiveness of the character. The voice of the characters is often given by top actors (such as Tom Hanks for Woody of Toy Story) with high rates.
  2. Art work creation: A single frame of an animation film can have millions of moving parts. For the Sully character in Monsters, Inc., there were 2,320,413 individually named hairs on his body. When he moves, the animators have to animate each hair in the body to create a highly realistic effect. A single frame involving Sully took 11-12 hours of creative time, on an average, according to WebPro News. (each hour of film is 100,000 or more frames)
  3. Studio costs: Studios such as Pixar have 600 or more creative people working on a movie for three to four years. They need to be housed and provided a creative environment and tools to do their creation.
  4. Server costs: Animation is a highly computing-intensive task. Each individual frame has to be rendered to integrate all the moving parts. I created a simple 1 minute movie for a Zingfin promo using Adobe Effects and that took about 10 hours of rendering. This is a very, very simple movie and very short one in that. For a movie of the size of Toy Story, you need a server farm with 5,000 or more machines running all year. That is a lot of computing power, support personnel and energy.
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