What's the one thing that's typically most important when it comes to our purchase decisions, but is often not discussed in any detail between provider and customer?
As you probably guessed from the title of this post, it is of course costs.
At Ember, in our discussions with customers and our project quotations, we try our best to make our costs clear, and provide explanation where needed. Of course, not everyone will agree on what good value - as a business then, it's our responsibility to explain our costs and exactly what our customers will get for their money.
Like all businesses, we have to achieve a certain profit margin, primarily to keep the lights on, but also to grow, attract new staff and improve our offering. But we also have to maintain a level of quality which is acceptable to us as content producers, and that means having a good budget to spend on crew, equipment, and a host of other things.
Most commonly, when budget is a challenge we adjust the scope of the project and reach a compromise. However, there are rare occasions where we don't think we can deliver to expectations with the requested budget, and we have to turn down work.
During a recent negotiation, the final sticking point was the inclusion of motion graphic animation sequences in a video series. The customer wanted them, but wasn't willing to pay for their inclusion. That's fair enough, but it did make me want to share more about our costs and process when it comes to motion graphic animation, just to provide more of an idea of why it does come at a cost and it's not really something we can throw in as a value-add.
The first thing to say is that the costs for an animated video and a filmed, live-action video, usually end up roughly the same, if the outputs are the same (so if the number and the duration of the videos is equal).
This is because although with animation there is no filming to pay for, animating usually takes longer than video editing. Also, with animation, there will always need to be a good chunk of pre-production time factored in for storyboarding and style visualisation (more on that later).
What does tend to increase costs is the combination of live-action video with animated sequences, as then you are paying for the filming, plus the additional pre-production and post-production costs brought by the animation.
The specific costs depend on the style of animation though. We get more requests for simple, icon based styles, as these take less time to do and are a little easier on the wallet. Take this example:
For something like this, costs begin at £1100 per minute for the animation work alone (so not including pre-production or voiceover). This style is a simple visual companion to the spoken voiceover, and on-screen movement is usually pragmatic rather than artistic. The style can also be used to augment a live-action piece, in the form of a cutaway graphic.
You might prefer something with more fluid movements and imaginative transitions though, for example:
For something like this, costs begin at £1650 per minute for the animation work alone (so not including pre-production or voiceover). The defining feature of this style is imagery that transitions from one idea to the next in a smooth, artistic way. This gives it a distinctive look, and its greater fluidity makes it a more engaging watch.
I won't go into too much detail in this post, but there are many more styles and examples we can provide, so if you're interested, please get in touch.
In terms of the process of production, there are some key differences when using animation compared to a purely live-action video. Here they are:
With animation, we have to be more strict on the word count because an extra 30 seconds of video could take an extra day or more to produce. So the script has to be tight. With live-action videos, small differences in the duration of the video don't necessarily make such a significant difference to the cost - editing a 2 minute video can take roughly the same time as a 3 minute video.
Most projects require a storyboard of some kind, to let the crew and the client know what is going to be on screen and how the story will be told. A storyboard can be written or visual, and sometimes video production teams will include a collage of images to show more specifically the look they want to achieve.
A storyboard sketch
The difference with animation is that as well as a sketched storyboard, we will also provide fully designed still graphics using certain frames from the storyboard to show you (albeit in still form) exactly what the video will look like - the colours, the shapes, the icons, the branding, the character design - giving you a complete picture of the visual style of the video.
Style visualisation of the sketch, showing exactly what the graphic will look like
Creating the style visualisation and storyboard, including one set of amendments, usually costs £550 per minute of video.
Animated videos usually require either a voiceover or on-screen text, but the former provides room to say more in a shorter space of time.
At Ember, we have an in-house voiceover artist, Robin Powell. Robin has a wealth of experience and is great for clients who are happy with a male voiceover with an English accent. We can add Robin to a project at relatively small cost, typically £150 for a 2 minute video - recordings for short videos don't take very long, and we have professional audio equipment at our studio.
Many of our projects do require us to work with an external, freelance voiceover artist. These cost more, but we do have close relationships with a network of talented, reliable individuals and are able to save you money by bypassing agencies.
Each voiceover artist has their own rates, but typical costs for a 2 minute video would be around £450 (this does not include well-known actors and personalities), including casting, a custom demo, recording and artist buy-out fees. For voiceover artist casting, our normal process is to use your preferences (eg female, UK, friendly) to offer a shortlist of 3 choices, each with a demo.
Assets - icons and illustrations
Any animator will need something to which movement can be added. As with the first example, animations can be largely based on a set of icons. Some companies have their own brand icons they can provide, and we can also buy icon sets from online providers. It is also likely that we will either have to design and create some assets ourselves in-house (in which case this is built into the resource and cost quoted) or, if you want more detailed or artistic hand drawn characters, we would use an external illustrator, and show this as a separate cost.
Here is an example of a video which uses hand drawn elements in a rough, pen and paper style with collage elements:
For something like this, costs begin at £2100 per minute for the animation work alone (so not including pre-production or voiceover). This style uses rough, hand-drawn, textured imagery, with "jerky" stop-motion like movement. This gives a more authentic feel to a video, and works well for unscripted discussion, or storytelling pieces. Imagery used in this style is very varied, but can include digital illustrations, hand-drawn elements, photographs, handwritten text and "real-world" textures (such as brown paper).
So, there you have it. I hope I've provided some useful information which should help you know what to expect when commissioning a video which includes animation. If you have any questions about our costs, the examples shown, or if you're thinking about starting a video project, do get in touch.