Feb 6, 2022

Animator/Producer Matt Lyon Discusses The Cost of Animation and Creating the Studio Pipeline

There’s been no shortage of great animated films this past year including Encanto, Sing 2, Luca, Batman and more! In watching these films, there’s always a great story that appeals to both kids and adults, but often times there are very different visual styles. If you think of the top hits over the past decade from Toy Story to Ice Age to The Polar Express, or even the latest CG version of The Lion King, these differences become even more apparent. We sat down with Matt Lyon, who has animated for projects for studios in the US, Canada and Europe including Arctic Dogs, Bubble Guppies and more to deep dive into the world of animation.

“Each animation studio has its own production process, commonly referred to in the industry as “the pipeline.” It is thanks to this pipeline that a producer can guarantee a certain type of animated film at a certain time of completion, and maintain a certain predetermined cost upstream,” shared Lyon.

The pipeline provides the correct road map in achieving successful realization and completion of animated works, limiting any guesswork or missed expectations that ultimately could jeopardize the quality and delivery of the final material. The value of a company that produces animation lies precisely in the production process that it uses and in its ability to improve it over time.

If you look at the leader in animation, The Walt Disney Company, and compare their early work of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” from the 1930s to today’s “Luca” or “Encanto,” you see work that is certainly excellent but that has grown in quality and achievement thanks to the use of applied CG and 3D techniques,” said Lyon. “An efficient pipeline is like the “google maps” of production, ensuring the right path is taken to achieve successful completion of the project. Just like navigating the terrain, plotting the best course of action, and resource optimization, the “pipeline” needs to be constantly updated and improved to maintain maximum efficiency as technology and techniques evolve.”

How much a pipeline costs in development before, during, and after the production process can be a moving target as it is a dynamic process. An animation studio generally applies a formula when budgeting for animation projects because the actual cost of production could become much higher than originally anticipated, and so to protect themselves this helps realize the cost for the studio and third parties involved in the project.

Animation Pipeline Formula: Labour costs + cost of hardware + cost of software + 25% know how (pipeline) + 7.5% general expenses + 15% markup

For a quick example…
Cost per minute animation 100,000$ USD
7,500$ Overheads
15,000$ Profit
25,000$ Know-how (pipeline)
52,500$ Cost of personnel, software, and hardware

When developing a project it is vital to calculate this breakdown to insure overall completion and success of any project. You can learn more about Matt Lyons upcoming work at IMDB.