CGI, is it worth the cost?

It’s no secret that making a decent film can leave quite a dent in your budget. In fact, the cost of production alone for a major studio to create a movie is around $65 million USD. This figure is of course excluding factors such as marketing which would add around a further $35 million. All in all, we can agree that making a traditional style film is an expensive task, however, these costs are a bare minimum when it comes to producing animated and other types of CGI composed films. The majority of successful and well-designed CGI films often costs upwards of $150 million USD to produce. For example, production of highly CGI involved films such as James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) cost $237 million USD in production costs alone whereas completely animated movies such as Disney’s Frozen (2013) cost around $150 million. Nonetheless, films that contain predominantly CGI or animation tend to cost significantly more than traditional style films. So why do CGI and animated films cost so much money to produce when ultimately they are created merely within the virtual boundaries of computers?

The seemingly high expense of utilizing computer generated imagery in films cannot be justified through any sole reason, instead, it comes down to multiple components of budgeting. These include (but are not limited to) cast/ above the line, research, thousands of professional staff members, equipment and post-production costs. For a blockbuster such as Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), a considerable part of the budget is devoted towards it’s high demand celebrity actors. For example, Robert Downey Junior who plays the role of Tony Stark/ Iron man received a hefty $50 million USD, followed by his lower-ranking colleagues who also each received upwards of $2 million USD. It is also not unheard of for big budget films to employ a large crew, for example, the movie Avatar consisted of a crew of over 2984 individuals. This number multiplied how much each person was paid over a course of how long the film took to make (little over 4 years) amounts to yet another significant sum. Above all, the most crucial aspect of these costs is the ‘talent’ behind the scenes, i.e. the graphic designers and programmers designing the animations/ effects. The driving factor of these costs come down to a simple statement, expensive professionals tend to do a better job at a faster pace whereas inexpensive individuals do a lousy job and take longer to do so. Equipment, props and other aspects of production such as studio hire often also lead to a large sum of money, more often than not, this amounts to well over 25% of a film’s budget.

Despite the big appetite studios and directors have for CGI, not everyone shares the love for films adapting computer generated imagery as a form of cinematography. For example, Jason Statham (a successful actor) openly expressed his opinion on CGI, “$200 million budgets – it’s all CGI created. To me, it’s not authentic”. Stratham criticised the use of overly expensive budgets for CGI and how favoured special effects are becoming in mainstream cinema.  Despite these opinions, CGI is ever evolving and as technology advances so does the capabilities of CGI. Computer generated imagery and animation continues to play an increasingly larger role in modern cinematography, it has been utilized in the past, it is already a large factor in today’s film industry and in essence will certainly continue to play a significant part in the future. In relation to this and despite how heavy the costs are, the use of computer generated imagery in film will always be worth it.