Visual Effects Cost: The Numbers You Need to Know

Visual Effects Cost: The Numbers You Need to Know

June 13, 2023
David Lugo

This comprehensive guide to visual effects costs gives a detailed breakdown of VFX pricing, cost-saving strategies, and how AI impacts the cost of VFX production.

As the visual effects (VFX) industry, now valued at billions, continues to grow and evolve, so does the cost of VFX. This rapidly expanding sector is revolutionized by the integration of artificial intelligence, reshaping the production process and impacting the visual effects cost per shot.

In this piece, we break down the costs associated with VFX production, animation, shooting, and CGI. We will also share tips on how to save money on visual effects, and explore how artificial intelligence (AI) and solutions like ActionVFX can offer significant cost efficiencies.

If creating visual effects from scratch isn't your goal, you can reduce costs with ActionVFX's curated library of over 7,000 high-quality, high-resolution stock footage elements. Visual effects are delivered in 2K, 4K, 6K, and 10-12 Bit ProRes, and shot from multiple angles. By subscribing to AVFX+, you get instant access to more than $19,000 worth of assets and discounts up to 40%. Don't like it within the first 30 days? We'll give you a full refund!

How Much Do Visual Effects Cost?

Here's a breakdown of typical VFX pricing: 
  • Simple VFX, such as basic compositing or color grading - $30 to $50 per hour
  • Independent/short film - $5,000 to $50,000 per project
  • 3D Modeling and Asset Creation -  $300 to  $2,000 per project
  • Complex Animation and Simulation - $2,000 to $5,000 per minute
  • Shooting live-action large-scale VFX scenes -  $10,000 - $50,000 per day

Different visual effects in use, ActionVFX Featured Studio: Animism

Cost of Smaller Scale and Simple VFX

A simple VFX shot, such as adding a few basic computer-generated elements to a live-action scene, or adding a couple of frames can cost a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, a complex sequence that requires extensive computer-generated imagery, complex simulations, and advanced compositing techniques can cost millions of dollars. 

Smaller-scale projects, such as a 30-second promotional video, cost around $1,500 to $2,500 to make, but If you're using stock materials and simple voiceovers, you can make a commercial for less than $1,000

Independent films will have lower budgets ranging between $5,000 and $25,000, including the budget for special effects.

The cost of VFX is based on several factors, including:
  • The number of VFX artists involved
  • The number of VFX shots
  • The level of detail required
  • The duration of the project

For high-quality 3D VFX footage, you should expect to invest between $2,000 to $5,000 per minute. Additionally, plan to allocate two to five times your production budget for visual effects and the hourly wages of VFX artists.

Remember, creating one minute of VFX usually takes about one hour of work. Hiring a professional VFX company will cost you a minimum of $5,000 per hour.

Visual Effects Costs for Blockbuster Films

The average budget for a Hollywood production movie is around $65,000,000, which requires extensive and complex VFX work. Some blockbusters go a couple of times over that number.

Visual effects costs for Alice in Wonderland rose to an astonishing total of $46,000 per VFX shot. The film had a minimum of 1,700 VFX shots. You do the math.

Avatar: The Way of Water had over 4,000 VFX shots, and 3,289 VFX shots in the final film. Their entire budget was $250,000,000

Blockbuster movies packed with special effects cost tens of millions of dollars (or more) to produce, and a significant portion of the budget is dedicated to VFX. 

Other factors that can influence the cost include the location of the VFX studio, the experience and skill level of the VFX artists, and the complexity of the software and hardware required to complete the project. VFX can range from simple wire removal to complex compositing, and the cost will vary accordingly.

AI and VFX

AI applications are being used to significantly alter and improve the VFX production pipeline. Not only do they enhance the overall process, but they can also shift on-set graphic systems from being a post-production task to a pre-production one, enabling real-time effects. This is just a glimpse into how AI is revolutionizing the VFX world.

Machine learning algorithms are trained to recognize and classify objects in a scene, making it faster to add VFX elements. This can significantly decrease the cost of production, but you still need quality stock visual effects or a dedicated VFX team.

Here is an example of an AI tool that allows you to remove any object from any video with just a few brush strokes:

Costs of a Visual Effects Team

The cost of a visual effects team will depend on the project’s size, complexity, and duration, as well as the level of experience and expertise of the team members. 

Visual Artist’s Rates

A small visual effects team of a few artists working on a short project may cost around $50-$100 per hour per artist. 

A mid-sized team working on a medium-sized project may cost between $150-$250 per hour per artist. 

A large, experienced team working on a major feature film may cost $300-$1,500 plus per hour per artist.

VFX Executive Team Pricing

When working on large projects like films, you will need a bigger team to execute VFX shots, including a Director of Photography a Videographer/Filmmaker, various Camera, and Drone Operators, Sound Technicians, Lighting Specialists, Camera Operators, and VFX Data Wranglers. 

The day rates for these types of roles range from $200 to $1,500. The entire crew can cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 daily, depending on scale Capturing live-action VFX shots includes:
  • Recording live-action footage
  • Capturing 3D scans of the sets, objects, and characters
  • Using motion capture for realistic movement

Incorporating live-action VFX shots in your production means shooting with visual effects in mind. For example, knowing where to place actors in the scene or how to adjust lighting based on the planned effects. Later on, visual effects like animation and simulation are added to the captured footage. 

Example of a VFX composite using ActionVFX elements from Ingenuity Studios

Animation Team Pricing

A freelance animator can charge anywhere from $100 to $3,000 per minute of animation. Smaller animation companies' rates range from $3,000 to $7,000 per minute, while large studios will go from $8,000 to $25,000 per minute of animation. A large animation studio will handle the scriptwriting, storyboarding, illustration, 3D product modeling services, rigging, animation, rendering, and sound effects. This is why the costs are so high. 

Animation and simulation include:
  • Animating 3D characters and objects
  • Creating realistic simulations of physics and natural phenomena (e.g. fire, water, smoke)
  • Adding particle effects and dynamic simulations

Cost of Property Rentals

VFX teams require specialized facilities that are equipped with high-end hardware and software to create the required effects. The cost of these facilities can include rent, utilities, and maintenance.

Depending on the location, the cost of facilities may vary. For film productions involving more than 15 individuals, the average cost of property rentals is typically $1,000 to $4,000 per day.

It's important to note that VFX studios may offer discounts for larger projects or for shots that are similar in nature, such as a series of shots that use the same 3D model or compositing technique.

Cost of Equipment and Software

These are two commonly used techniques in post-production to make films and videos look even more visually stunning. It's important to note some key differences between the two:

CGI stands for computer-generated imagery, or computer graphics, where scenes are created entirely using software starting from scratch. The cost of CGI can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the graphics, the level of detail required, and the experience level of the artists involved. CGI costs can start from $1,000 to $1,500 per minute.

VFX, or visual effects, typically involves enhancing existing footage with additional computer-generated elements or effects. The cost of VFX depends on the complexity of the effects, the number of shots required, and the level of detail. Quality visual effects can be shot separately and involve a lot of work. So how much do quality VFX cost? Anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per minute.

If you're interested in trying your hand at creating visual effects, several free VFX software options can help you get started.

How to Reduce Your VFX Costs

Plan Ahead

  • Implement concept development and ideation
  • Create a detailed storyboard to map out visual effects 
  • Use script analysis and planning for VFX and CGI integration
  • Use artificial intelligence for rendering, simulation, and animation
  • Make sure your shots are well-lit and properly framed to minimize the need for extensive post-production work

Invest in High-Quality Footage

  • Shoot high-quality footage with high-resolution cameras and proper lighting to reduce the need for extensive post-production work
  • Use quality stock footage, preferably RAW, that has the most details preserved

Choose the Right Type of Visual Effects

  • Use practical effects or in-camera effects whenever possible to reduce the need for post-production work
  • Use stock VFX elements to save time and money

Reduce Your VFX Costs with ActionVFX

Using stock VFX material is a great option for reducing VFX costs. ActionVFX offers pre-made visual effects elements that can be easily integrated into a project, saving time and money on custom VFX creation. Here's how using stock VFX can help reduce costs:
  • Stock VFX material is less expensive than custom VFX work, has already been created, and can be easily licensed
  • Using stock VFX will save you time and labor costs, which can be particularly useful for smaller budgets
  • High-quality visual effects elements are on par with custom VFX work
  • Our VFX elements are customizable and can be tailored to your specific project needs
  • You can reuse the same stock VFX material in different ways for different projects

If you are looking to learn more about visual effects you can check out our forum or YouTube where you can find useful tips and detailed tutorials. 

We are always updating the ActionVFX library. You can choose to buy individual elements or subscribe to a plan. When you subscribe to AVFX+, you get access to more than $19,000 worth of professional-grade assets and discounts up to 40%. Join AVFX+ and start creating!

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