Monday, May 31, 2010

Animation Budgeting - Part 3, Pre-Production

First order of business, congratulations go out to Steve Brodner and everyone at agency PJA for the National Cartoonist's Society Reuben Award for best advertising illustration. The award is for his work on Infor's "Down with BigERP" campaign.

We've been animating the campaign for the past year. It's rewarding to know that sometimes people agree with you about quality -in this case, it's hard to see anything other than excellence.


Most of us don't have ERP software to help us with budgeting and project management.  We're left to spreadsheets.

After years of using Microsoft Excel, I've switched to OpenOffice. It does everything the Microsoft Office suite claims but is an open source shareware.  It even opens those docx files which were a pain for Macintosh users.

Here's a blank page from a spreadsheet budget that we use.  This is for Category A - Pre-Production.

I'll go through line by line.

First, note there are blank spaces and room to add more lines.  Some budgets are thin -animator, director, material costs and that's it.  Other times you'll have line items that would never occur to you until faced with budgeting.  Maybe this film will require holes poked into 10 yards of vellum, or a storage of 100 pounds of ground beef for two weeks.  You never know.  

While generic budget lines are vague enough to account to these things under "props" or "rentals" the purpose of a budget is to know where the money is being spent, how to allot for costs.  Whenever possible add a line and be specific.  Remember, there is no formula for figuring out what something costs.  No one can say a budget is "wrong" if the costs are accurately accounted for.  

The only way a budget is "wrong" is if it knowingly underestimates costs for a project to the point that producing it on those terms will be impossible.

One final note before going into the line breakdown.  If you hire a lawyer, you generally give them a big piece of money up front that they bill their hours against.  When this money runs out, you give them more money.  When your bathtub springs a leak, the plumber gives you a bill for his labor plus materials.

In our business, we are expected to know what things will cost beforehand and we are expected to stick to those costs. 

Here's what have in the columns.

A: line number. There's no inherent value to the line number, it just makes referencing the budget easy.

Pre-Pro: accounts. "Accounts" as in "account" in your accounting software. These are accounts payable. In the left hand section these are PEOPLE. In the right hand section these are THINGS.

Units: how many of a thing (this works with RATE)

Rate: the cost per unit

Type: what is the factor of the Unit. Hour/Day/Week/Flat

bid: calculates Unit TIMES Rate. For example: Line Producer : 5 [units] weeks [type] at 1000 [rate] = 5000 [bid].

Let's go line by line.

101. Line Producer This should be self explanatory. Typically a line producer is on an animation project from start to finish, although his/her attention may be less important at certain phases of production (During art production the "production coordinator" often becomes the key manager. In many cases the line producer doubles as production coordinator.) They can bill weekly, ranging from $800 week to $3500 and up. A producer hired for a project will generally bill more than an in-house studio producer.

102. Design Director Here's where the world of animation gets tricky compared to live action. In commercial productions, the live action director is "above the line" and outside the production budget cost (usually 10% before mark ups). Animation has different needs, the director is on the job for months in a way a live action is not. To accommodate that, you can sometimes bill him or her under a line item. Sometimes it happens here. Sometimes it happens in the "animation" section.

More often, this is a line for the "illustrator". Some illustrators command high fees up to 20% of the budget. We did a commercial many years ago where the illustrator's fee was equivalent to the average yearly salary in the US. Even funnier, his work wasn't really usable and a studio artist wound up doing most of the design.

It's safe to estimate 10% of the budget for a lead illustrator.

103. Story/Treatment and 104. Screenplay The Writer's Guild (WGA) sets standards for writers. It's unlikely that an animation project will have a WGA deal but they're standards are a good guide. You can find the rates from their latest collective bargaining agreement on their website.

107. Storyboard Supervisor On long form projects it's likely there will be multiple storyboard artists. The storyboard supervisor keeps everything consistent. They are usually experienced storyboard artists. They are typically on a weekly rate. Of course, short form projects rarely need a storyboard supervisor.

108. Storyboard Artist We hold blanks under this line since it's a common place for multiple artists. These people can be paid on salary (weekly/hourly) or at a flat rate per board.

Artists paid at flat rates are generally independent contractors. The law regarding what constitutes an independent contractor is very clear. If you show up at 9 am every day, get your assignment from a supervisor and work on it until quitting time you are NOT an independent contractor.

Storyboard artists are likely to work at home and have no direct supervision of their daily work. They are given a flat assignment -"board these 10 pages" -and are left to their own devices. That makes them likely candidates to be independent contractors.

111. Storyboard Revisionist Often it's easiest for one artist to make corrections to all the boards. This can be faster and allow the "senior" artists to continue creative planning of new scenes instead of re-working already complete work.

Also, this an employee position.

114. Development Artist This is a worker who creates material that leads up to production. Sometimes this could be three or four people who create alternate looks, sometimes it's an artist who works up a "vision" of the project which may not be "animate-able" but provides a foundation for production art. Usually an independent contractor.

116. Associate Producer 117. Assistant Producer 118. Assistant to Producer 119. Assistant to Director These are analogous to their live action counterparts.

120. Production Intern From 1860 to 1865 The United States fought a cruel war. One of the results of that war was the XIII Amendment which reads:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United State, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

TRANSLATION: "Interns" must be paid. Usually at an hourly rate, usually pretty low.

122. Legal Fees It's rare this needs to be included. Sometimes they can be hefty, especially with rights clearances -those are a separate line in a different section.

Usually production contracts are boilerplate. They spell out "We are going to make XXX product for XXX buyer for the cost of XXX in XXX days. We won't mess up if you won't mess up." Once a lawyer gets involved on a work-for-hire project you're already losing. This is not the case for development deals or others specific situations, lawyers can be helpful on big projects. Most projects aren't big and a simple contract suffices.

123. Office Manager 124. Office Intern 125. Production Accounting 126. Reception 127. Shipping Manager These are what they sound like. Salaried positions usually hourly or weekly. Most budgets we create don't use these categories, they're costs that roll into other lines like "Producer". We include them here to give the idea costs should be isolate to the most precise detail possible.

The right hand column is mostly self explanatory.

These are physical costs associated with Pre-production.

We have also taken to including "overhead" costs here. This was done after specific clients insisted we lower our mark-up. That allowed us to unbundle overhead costs and apply specific budget lines. I like it better this way.

IMPORTANT The calculations at the bottom.

Subtotal A.1 This is the total of all the "people" costs in category A.

Payroll, P&W [Pension and Welfare] Guess what? You're making money like your all growed up! You've got to pay taxes like you're all growed up!

These are called "Fringes". I don't remember where I got the number, but for production related guilds it's 17.1%. If you're hiring a guild writer, director, actor these (along with their fees) need to be paid through a "paymaster" -a union signatory. For all employees you'll need to pay these taxes.

Medical/Dental Here's how you can be sure to get health insurance -make sure you charge your clients. Not every line item will have an insurance cost. It's usually only staffers. Every small business sets the terms under which employees can be covered. At our place, you're eligible after six months. Other employees can also opt in at full cost. I'm not sure how the recent legislation will affect this.

Subtotal A.2 The total from the right side of the page.

Subtotal A The total for the entire category.


Paul B said...

I thanked you in the first part of this material so important and so little discussed, but I'll do it again, thank you very much!

Sally Kumwenda said...

This is very nice indeed. So clearly explained.

RFS wolf said...


RFS wolf said...