Why Is VFX So Expensive

Why visual effects are costly
Why visual effects are costly

Table of contents

Here are a few of the global factors that contribute to the cost of visual effects and film production in general.

1. Visual effects require people who have developed very specific skills through years of training and experience. A skilled effects artist costs a lot because demand is very high. Unskilled effects artists can be cheap, wage-wise, but usually, this simply means they take longer to get the same results or will produce results that are quite bad.

2. Visual effects require expensive software, expensive hardware, and a lot of both. For instance equip a small team of 5 artists to do a national broadcast job, using the minimum resources necessary to get the job done in 8 weeks. The budget to do so may hit close to half a million Kenya shillings in resources alone, and that was despite having a studio with basic infrastructure already in place and several tools already purchased. The overwhelming cost in renting an array of fast machines to act as a render farm, and the licenses necessary for those machines. The cost of the artists is roughly 25% of the initial purchases, but it is also a continual, recurring cost. In the daily “burn rate” of operations artist costs begin to loom large, but the initial infrastructure/toolset costs are an immediate and daunting hurdle, as always.

3. Visual effects involve large-scale efforts which require coordination and significant management. People have to be involved to coordinate the acquisition of resources from other specialists, including modelers, trackers, the film production itself, lighters, and compositors. Producers have to coordinate with the client. A director needs to coordinate the film production and establish the project’s direction. An art director with a team of designers produces thousands of images to get client approvals and establish the details of what is to be made and exactly what the final results should look like.

An IT specialist has to keep the networked infrastructure going. Sometimes software developers who specialize in visual effects have to write custom code. Legal professionals have to make sure everyone’s contracts are in line, and so on. And this is for a very small project.

When you get to the scale of a feature film, the complexity of efforts becomes staggering.

4. That said, film production itself is hugely expensive, not just visual effects. Most projects burn most of their budget on the film side of the equation, which is early in the process and tends to spend a lot very immediately. By the time the visual effects are underway, productions have spent huge sums already and are focusing on frugality, which is one reason visual effects studios struggle to survive. One of the great efforts of “post” effects is to place itself earlier in the process, not only because this results in overall savings and increased efficiency but because it gives the visual effects teams a chance to get their budgets locked in before production is feeling strapped for cash.

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