How much costs a CGI TV show: 52 episodes of 12 mn example

It is commonplace for TV shows to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode, if not millions. But CGI TV shows budgets aren’t cheap either...

2 years ago   •   8 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré
Picture by Northfolk on

It is commonplace for TV shows in the US to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode, if not millions. But CGI TV show budgets aren’t cheap either: Netflix’s acclaimed CGI show Arcane has been estimated to have cost over 90 million dollars and 6 years to create for example―10 million dollars per episode!

For a preschool production, the budget is around 5 million dollars for the whole show of 52 episodes of 15mn. While different CGI TV shows require different budgets, you might wonder where all this money goes. In the following article, we’ll tell you exactly what you can expect as a CG production manager.

Why You Need A Budget

As an artist with an idea looking for funds, you’ll need a budget to showcase your project’s viability. Even artistic endeavors require business plans. It is unlikely you’ll be able to convince producers to bet their hard-earned money on you unless you can demonstrate proof of potential profitability. A budget gives a clear idea of where the money will go. Combined with a revenue estimate based on solid market research, it will give you the data to predict future success or failure.

A well-thought-out budget protects you and your investors against risks. It helps you prepare for the worst-case scenarios, giving you the peace of mind you’ll need to bring out your full creative potential. Similarly, nobody in their right mind will accept to work for you for free. Being able to pay your artists on time and on a budget is key to the success of your show.

How To Budget A CGI TV Show In 7 Steps

In the following breakdown, we take a high-end CGI TV show of 52 episodes of 12 minutes aimed toward adults as an example, with the aim to release one episode per week.

Conception (449k€)

Preparation is key to the success of a show―having an idea isn’t enough. You’ll need to document the artistic direction, write scripts, and hire other people to help you with these tasks. Here are some high-average costs you can expect:

  • General concept - The general concept can either be brought by you, or bought from someone else. In the case of a novel adapted to a TV show, for example, you’ll need to buy the rights from the novel’s author.
  • Literary bible (55k€) - The literary bible defines the show’s universe―everything from the characters to the locations and the themes. You can expect a lot of time writing and revising the document with the producer, hence the price tag. The amount of money is split between payroll and royalties.
  • Writers’ guide (4k€) - For writers to stay coherent with the literary bible while working together, the story editor has to write a “writer’s guide”.
  • Story editing (182k€) - 3,500€ per episode.
  • Scripts (130k€) - 2,500€ per episode
  • Graphic bible (3,600€) - Storytelling is one thing, but visuals are just as important. A graphic bible documents the design research behind a series’ concept.
  • Director (75,000€) - A director oversees the whole production, end to end. There are several ways to compensate a director (salary, artistic rights, a percentage of the gross revenues, etc.), but the price will ultimately come down to his experience and skills.

Total cost: 449,600€

Staff (354k€)

We base our schedule on 26 months of production―2 years and 2 extra months as a security margin. All contractors work 5 days a week, so 22 days per month. The total cost of the staff during the whole production is about 354,640€:

  • Production Manager (91,520€) - 160€ per day over 26 months
  • Production Assistant (45,760€) - 130€ per day over 16 months
  • Technical Director: (114,400€) - 200€ per day over 26 months
  • 1st Assistant: (102,960€) - 180€ per day over 26 months

2D Pre-Production (223k€)

Main Model Pack (50k€)

Because the example centers on an adult animation, we will do all the research and pre-production in 2D to deliver the final design quicker while maintaining high quality throughout the animation stage.

The production begins with the main model packs containing all the designs of the main characters, props, locations, and everything that appears in the episodes. You can safely budget 2 months to develop and test everything.

  • Character design (21,560€)
  • Character design supervisor (7,920€) - 180€ per day
  • Character design artists (7,040€) - 160€ per day
  • Color research animation and texturing artist (6,600€) - 150€ per day
  • Background design (22,440€)
  • Line drawing background supervisor (7,920€) - 180€ per day
  • Line drawing background artists (7,040€) - 160€ per day
  • Color BGs supervisor (7,480€) - 170€ per day
  • Props & FX (6,600€)
  • Props and FX artist (6,600€) - 150€ per day

The main model pack costs 50 600€ in total.

Storyboard Design (173k€)

Scripts are vital to reduce the cost of your production because they help anticipate the creation of characters and backgrounds before you even begin the design phase. You also have to provide the designs to the story editor to define together some of the characters and locations used in the production, and design creation doesn’t end after the storyboard either. Storyboard artists sometimes need to create more assets than what you provide.

If you have a new character in every episode, you will end up with 52 new characters to design. An artist can draw a complete turn, as well as complete the expression and attitude sheet in 2 days for one character: you’ll need almost 5 months to create all the episodic characters. Same for the environment. To be on the safe side, the pre-production should last 11 months.

You’ll need about 58k euros in pre-storyboard design costs for 5 months of work:

  • Character design supervisor (19,800€)
  • Line drawing BG supervisor (19,800€)
  • Color BG supervisor (18,700€)

And another 115k€ post-storyboard:

  • Line drawing bg artist (21,120€) - over the full 11 months, half-time
  • Props & FX artist (36,300€)
  • Color BGs artist (21,120€) - 11 months, half-time
  • Color research artist (36,300€)

In total, the costs of 2D pre-production fetch 223,740€.

Storyboard & Animatic (325k€)

  • Storyboard supervisor (66,000€) - 200€ per day for 15 months
  • 52 storyboards (208,000€) - 4,000€ per storyboard considering you’ll need 4 weeks per episode paying storyboard artists 200€ per day
  • Layout posing artist (14,560€) - 140€ per day, 2 days per episode max. Layout posing simplifies the work of the CGI layout artist and reduces the number of retakes, so it’s worth the investment.
  • Animatic editor (35,100€) - 225€ per day, 3 days per episode max

You’ll also need a storyboard for the opening credit (1,000€) and the corresponding animatic editing (500€).

Total cost storyboard/animatic: 325,160€

CGI Pre-Production (170k€)

Main Characters Modeling (9k€)

The CGI part starts with the modeling of the main characters. Note you should budget extra days to account for revisions:

  • Modeling (900€) - 4 days and 2 extra at 150€ per day.
  • Rigging, blendshape, skinning (640€) - 2 days + 2 extra at 160€ per day
  • Shading (750€) - 3 days + 2 extra at 150€ per day
  • Total per character: 2,290€, over 15 days

Planning a budget for 4 main characters, it would cost us 9160€ in CGI design packs.

Secondary Characters Modeling (73k€)

Since you already have your primary characters, artists can create a base mesh to reduce the time and cost of modeling secondary characters. To simulate the base-mesh optimization, we do the math with 32 characters instead of 52 and obtain 73,280€ (2,290€ per character).

Props & Environment Modeling (48k€)

This is harder to estimate but on average a team needs 6 days per prop and/or environment:

  • Props for 52 episodes (46,800€) - You’ll need about 6 days per prop (3 days modeling, 1-day rigging, 2 days shading) at 150€ per day.
  • 32 Environments (48,000€) - 10 days per environment (3 days modeling, 3 days shading, 4 days for revisions) at 150€ per day.

The total cost of the CGI pre-production amounts to 169,560€.

Production Stage (2,150M€)

The cost of the whole production stage depends on your artists’ daily production quota. The faster they go, the faster the pace of the whole project is, and the cheaper the overall project will be.

But a quota that is too high will exhaust the team, resulting in a drop in quality: you need a balance between the two to minimize your production costs.

Layout (742k€)

Since we put a lot of effort into our storyboards, we can estimate a daily quota of 13s of animation duration per artist at this stage. An episode is 10-minutes long if we remove the duration of the opening/ending credits and the still frames, so it would take a single artist 47 days to complete an episode. To reach a release rate of one episode per week working 5 days a week, we will need to hire 10 animators (140€ per day each). That’s 14,000€ per episode:

  • Layout of the first episode (28,000€) - the first episode usually takes double the time, so double the costs.
  • Layout of 51 episodes (714k€)

We can add:

  • 3 extra animators (109k€) to handle retakes.
  • A layout supervisor (49,500€) to oversee the completion for the whole 52 weeks + 3 weeks extra for the retakes at 180€ per day.

The total cost for the layout team is 742,000€.

Animation (1,110M€)

The formula is similar for animators, except we base our estimate on a daily quota of 6 seconds with a rate of 160€ per day. We will require 20 animators to stay on time, and 5 extra to handle retakes, which amounts to 20,000 € per episode:

  • Animation of the first episode (40,000€)
  • Animation of 51 episodes (1,020,000€)

Again, you’ll need an extra 49,500€ for an animation supervisor (180€ per day) to stay 55 weeks, bringing the total cost of animation to a whooping 1,109,500€.

Rendering (68k€)

Two render wranglers (67,600€ at 130€ per day) are necessary to handle the rendering during the whole production.

You’ll also need to account for IT investments. If your company is already established, you probably have a render farm. If you’re a young company, you can do the render at night on the company’s computer, or work with an external company for the renders, such as Ranch Computing.

Compositing (447k€)

Compositing costs are based on a daily quota of 4 shots per day per artist (150€ per day). You’ll need 200 shots per animation, or 10 full-time animators to complete the 52 episodes in 52 weeks.

  • Compositing the first episode (15,000€)
  • Compositing 51 episodes (382,500€)
  • Compositing supervisor (49,500€)

The total cost for the compositing amounts to 447,000€. And the total cost production step climbs to 2,149,800€.

Post-Production (443k€)

Last but not least, you’ll need to chip in a few extra bills to wrap up your production:

  • Music (40,000€) - One for the opening credit (5 000€) and some for the episodes (35 000€).
  • Sound design (179,400€) - 3,450€ per episode
  • Voice acting (185,000€) - 3,000€ for the casting and 3,500€ per episode
  • Editing (28,080€) - 180€ per episode
  • Mixing (11,440€) - 220€ per episode

Total cost of post-production: 443 920€.

To Conclude

Amazingly, our breakdown brings us to a grand total of more than 4 million euros. Hiring people for production represents the biggest part of your expenses, but you’ll also need a studio, computers, software, an accountant, a lawyer, a whole IT infrastructure, insurance, electricity, water… We won’t detail these costs because they are assimilated with the company’s costs, not only the project’s.

It also depends a lot on the size of the company and how long it’s been around, and outsourcing tasks like modeling or animation will equally drastically influence the final costs. Last but not least, if you increase the quality and the time spent on each iteration, the cost increases significantly.

We haven’t even mentioned taxes that represent a substantial amount as well (68% in France where we are based, so you’d pay roughly 7 million euros instead of 4 million on paper…), so don’t forget to factor those in as well.

Note that the budget of your production vastly depends on how productive the team can be. This is a reason why you should use a production tracker like Kitsu is key to decreasing the production costs that will amount to the majority of your budget. Even better, it will allow you to prevent problems resulting in budget exceeding.

Now that you have a better understanding of the whole production cost, you can start setting up the budget of for your next project!

We also run a Discord community where you can connect with more than 1000 CG professionals to share tips and ideas. No matter where you come from, join us―we will be happy to help you with your projects!

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