Why do special effects in movies cost so much money to produce?


I see posts all the time talking about the million dollar special effects and such, but isn’t it just a team of people using software? Why and how do (decent) special effects have such a high price?

In: Other

Time = money, skilled workers = money in every industry.

Visual effect takes a grate deal of time for highly skilled workers.

They have to pay the artists creating those effects, and there are usually dozens or more working on a scene at any given time. Those talented people are in such high demand that, yeah, that price per hour gets cranked up. And trust that those effects take a very long time to produce. It’s very difficult, taxxing, and time consuming work.

> isn’t it just a team of people using software?

yes. they’re paying those people. also lots of times the software they’re using was also developed in house, so you’d be paying not just the graphics people but the programmers who developed the software. if the parent company is using a specific production company to do their effects, or entire movies like pixar, they’re paying the company as well and not just the direct labor of the employees. at that point its more of a supply/demand situation for costs since the company also needs to make a profit.

the sonic redesign cost $5 million alone, and employee labor would have been the majority of that cost (probably). it delayed the movie by 3 months. assuming the team all made a salary of 50k yearly (avg, est, etc) 5 mil will pay a team of 33ish people to work for 3 months. i’m not invested enough to see how many people worked on that team, but CGI teams are pretty big for high CGI movies currently (based on watching crazy long credits rolling)

Some larger films have huge teams of digital artists. Everyone in the credits gets paid and some films list hundreds of such artists.

You mean a team of highly skilled and highly paid visual effects engineers with project managers, middle management, and other staff? Why would it cost millions of dollars to pay for those people?

A team of 10 people getting paid $100k salary is a million dollars. Watch the movie credits for VFX engineers.

Heres the list for Avengers Endgame


It’s not *just* a team of people using software.

It’s a *large* team of highly-trained professionals, usually with some sort of higher education qualification or degree, along with experience in illustration, animation, special or practical effects, and art in general who, as a kicker, are generally part of a union… using software that costs several thousands of dollars per license, that needs to run on very high-performance computers to meet deadlines.

It’s not like Special Effects/CGI artists are becoming instant millionaires, but they can live comfortably in the LA/SF Bay area where the cost of living is pretty ridiculously high.

Also unlike most other areas of technology: Faster tech makes special effects work move slower; in the early days of 3d rendering, a character model would have a few hundred to a thousand or so polygons to render, and on 1990s-2000s hardware, that took months to render at a rate that was still too slow for most peoples’ tastes.

Now, though, instead of rendering low-polygon graphics quickly, they take roughly the same rendering time to render high-definition graphics, textures, models, etc; but that higher definition means more fine details that take more artists more man-hours to get meticulously right where some shortcuts may have worked in the past since the display quality wouldn’t even show the slightly sloppy methods, now you have to be extra-careful compared to what you did on your last project.

In order to get a movie created quickly, it takes multiple teams (each using a lot of computing power), each with their own specialty.

In a big film like Endgame, there’d be teams (or separate companies in many cases) working on creating the model, textures, and working with the motion-capture to animate Hulk, Rocket, Groot, Thanos, Iron Man, etc. Another, completely different team would be creating the background landscapes. Another would be working on the background crowds of fighters. More people would be needed to take out any wires. Then you have the teams adding the dust and dirt, lighting from Thor, and so on. Even after you have all of the parts, there are teams working on bringing it all together and color correcting each element.

All told, there were over 3,000 effects shots and a dozen visual effect companies working on the film.

One seat of software licensing runs about $10k/year. Each employee is good for at least 2 seats, so there’s $20k/year there.

Plus they need a high-end workstation and a company-shared cloud processing setup. Easily $5k/year per user.

Each artist needs to be a college grad with some serious experience. By the time you pay for their healthcare, benefits, overtime, bonuses, and other stuff it’s no less than $100k/year on average.

That’s $125k per worker of direct cost. A standard rule of thumb is to double that cost for overhead (Rent), sales, and management expenses with some profit baked in. Now we’re up to $250k/year per worker. Back calculate this and you have a billable rate around $125/hr per tech. Minimum. More for the A-Team. Probably double.

The Avengers had [261 people](https://m.imdb.com/title/tt4154756/fullcredits/art_department) in their art department. They were kept busy for a solid 2 years at at least $125/hr, working at least (50wksx40hrs/wk) 2,000 hours per year.

All told, that’s an estimated GFX budget of $130 million. According to [this](https://www.xpathmedia.com/avengers-endgame-costs-breakdown/) it would seem they got a break, but I’m not too far off given that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass.

Developing software is not cheap. For a well developed application you can easy spend millions in development.

The software there using is complex: it has to create very realistic images, in high detail. It is also very specific for the movie. It will allways take a lot of work from both developers and artists to adapt the software they have to the movie.