Animation : Seeking Advice For Developing Feature-Length Animated Films by Tony Cella

Tony Cella

Seeking Advice For Developing Feature-Length Animated Films

One reviewer of a feature length script I wrote described it as a live-action cartoon. He meant that no one would take the film, an absurdist comedy, seriously, but I'm considering turning the movie into a feature-length animated film. No locations, no directors, no cameras, just my script, an animation team and a few voice actors. Before I commit to the idea, I'm checking to see what filmmakers who have created animated films, preferably feature length, have to say on the subject? What is the process? Which studios or groups would consider funding the project? Is it less costly in than traditional filmmaking? Easier to organize? Please weigh in.

D Marcus

Depending on the needs of the script an animated feature can be more expensive than live action. Think about it; tell us of five low budget (under $500,000) animated features you have seen. Tell us of five low budget (under $500,000) live action features you have seen. I can't think of even one low budget animated film. I think the audience is accustom to a specific type of animation and that is very expensive. An animation team can be expensive. A low budget feature can be shot with a crew of 15 in 12 days. An animated feature using a team of 15 can take 9 months (and more). A smaller animation team of 5 will take even longer. So just in terms of salaries animation is more expensive. The studios and groups who fund animation tend to be the "big boys". But with all the animation software out there I don't see why can make an animated feature on a low budget. I'm interested in this reviewer; the one who told you that no one would take the film, an absurdist comedy, seriously. You must really trust this person. Or was this person one of several who have said the same thing? I'm thinking that one reviewer shouldn't cause you to change directions.

Tony Cella

Thanks for the perspective and comments. I'm not looking to query the big studios necessarily because I can't think of an cartoon film geared towards mature audiences that they've produced in awhile. What other sources of funding would you pursue? As for the comment that inspired the idea, ha. It was a snide remark that got me thinking about possibilities. I'd prefer to see my films as live-action as they were intended, but animation may offer me a lower budget, more flexibility in terms of scheduling--in other words, I'll keep my day job--and more creative autonomy in seeing my story come to life.

D Marcus

So you're thinking of a very low budget with you keeping your day job. What about the animation team? They keep their day jobs and work on this weekends? If that is the case there are some nice animation software available so you may be able to make an animated feature over several years for a lower budget than a live action film. I'm not sure you'll find outside funding. Not saying you won't or can't, just saying that this method seems more like a self funded project than one that will attract investors. You could try crowdfunding. I suggest you reach out to animators. Ask what the standard hourly rate is and for general information on how many man hours it takes to develop characters and backgrounds and props and "sets" and then animate. This will give you an idea of what it takes. Simple animation like "Family Guy" and "Simpsons" will be different in terms of time than something like "The Triplets of Belleville" or the Miyazaki films. Even the very simple (and effective) "Persepolis" cost $7 million. What style of animation are you considering? Photorealistic? CG like the Pixar films? Something more like "Waltz with Bashir "? Which was made for $2 million by the way. Animation is in many way far more difficult and expensive than live action. In general it takes more people and time and more people and time means more money.

Amanda Toney

Hey Tony, there is actually a great webinar coming up on writing for animation and the process of getting an animated film made. Keep your eye on our education here as it's coming out in January.

Laurie Ashbourne

Here's the deal, animation crews are a very tight knit community across the globe. They all know each other and at one point or another they have all been burned by the careers they love, but more to the point, the very nature of the way animated features are created enables them to understand what it would take to develop their own material. In other words, if you cannot pay them the scale they get through IATSE even as a contractors they have little reason to dedicate their time to someone else when they could very well develop their own material. Also, when feature length films are in crunch production, the hours are grueling. In live action, you are protected by turnaround set calls which limits your day to 12 hours, animation can go on for upwards of 16 hour days, six days a week for months on end. Trust, me these crew members are paid well for this, it's what gets them through the lean times until the next show. The bigger question is why animation? What type of animation? CG, 2D, Stop Motion? What is in your story that requires animation? Is it a VFX device (like a talking chipmunk or a tiger in the ocean?) If the story can be told with live action and a VFX pass, that may be your best bet, to do it for a price, there are plenty of VFX houses in India and Singapore that may be able to help, but again, VFX houses have been burned more than animation houses in the past few years, so don't expect a lot of sympathy when you go begging for artists. Sorry to be blunt, but that is the reality. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.

Bob Harper

As someone who is developing a slate of animated features, let me tell you that before you embark on this journey - DO YOUR RESEARCH! We as animators usually have a biased against those who want to move into our world with no understanding of it, which usually gets interpreted as a lack of respect. As far as trying to sell an animated feature to the main studios, don't count on it. They are usually slated for a decade and prefer to develop from within and hiring A-List talent from without. If you want to produce yourself, then you are looking at least a $2-5 Million budget for low end Flash type of animation with a minimum of a one year turnaround time. If you are looking at a real low end CGI feature, then you are probably looking at $10-20 Million dollars with a 3+ year turnaround. With today's landscape of animated features, if you want distribution, your film has to stand out. Your script has to be solid and the aesthetics of your film need to deliver for its target audience. Good luck.

Tony Cella

Thanks for the feedback. Good information.

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