There have been a couple of mentions lately of the high cost of CG feature sequels. This article and this report both cite the info that sequels cost $20-40 million more than the originals. Here's the relevant quote:
DreamWorks President Lew Coleman says: . . . While sequels are more expensive than the originals, they are less risky and usually more successful, he says. Because of the higher costs involved in luring back the talent, sequels can cost anywhere from $150 million to $170 million, versus $130 million for an original movie.
This information seems to have hardly raised a rustle, but it boggles my mind. . .
We all know CG features were touted to be cheaper than hand-drawn ones, and we know that was so much nonsense. But one place a CG feature should be loads cheaper is on a sequel. Let's see how many ways money should be saved: most of the characters are designed, modeled, and rigged -- that's a huge cost savings, since this is one area where CG costs lots more than 2D. Most of the character's personalities are fully developed, so the story work and writing is easier. The hard part of the art direction is done.
The animation crew knows how to move the characters, and footage per animator is going to be higher. The story crew knows what kinds of situations work, what kind of dialogue is appropriate, what rhythm their sequences should have. Virtually every production department has figured out the hard parts of their job, and will be more efficient. Even with the need to design and model and rig some new characters, and some new settings, a huge amount of work is already done.
Okay, what about the technical side? Will new workstations cost more than the original workstations from the first film? Will the software licenses and and software development costs be higher than for the first film? It's hard for me to see how. Maybe about the same, maybe a little cheaper, unless someone decides the sequel needs some huge advancement in fur or water, which would be pretty bad planning.
So if the technical sides of the filmmaking are about the same or cheaper, then it must be, as the quote above indicates, the cost of "luring back the talent." We're part of "the talent," right?
I guess not, because as we know, animation labor costs have been pretty flat for the last six years. Wages took a tumble at the end of the 2D boom, and haven't grown significantly since. So if the crew is being paid about the same as before, and a lot of that crew's work will be eliminated (less to design, model, and rig) or easier (because they've learned how to animate, light, etc. the characters), then where is this $20-40 million going?!?
Possibly there are more talented execs glommed onto the project, and the writers of the sequels may get bigger paychecks, but I don't see how both those groups together could add more than a few extra millions in production cost. So where's that huge increase going?
Apparently, it's going to the voice actors. Who else in Hollywood gets those kinds of paychecks? Is it possible the easiest acting job in the world has now become the most lucrative?
I've long been of the opinion that the use of celebrity actors in voice roles wasn't a horrible sin. There are big name celebs with fantastic voices, who can really bring something special to a voice role. And, in the days when most voice actors got SAG minimum, the celebs brought something invaluable -- lots of free publicity.* Every entertainment show and magazine and talk show does interviews with the celeb voice stars when their animated movies open, leading to millions in free advertising.
What a lot of people didn't realize is, celebs used to take animation voice roles because they were easy, because they wanted to impress their kids or their nieces and nephews, or because they owed the studio a favor. Not for the money, because there wasn't much money to be had. They did them for cheap. I've seen some of the rates big name actors were getting in the recent past -- literally SAG minimum. So it cost the studio the same as for a no-name voice actor. Why not get the star?
But all that seems to have changed recently. We're hearing of stars getting astronomical rates, especially if it's for a sequel of a successful hit. We're hearing of celebs being given huge paychecks, even when their voices don't work out and aren't even used in the final film! It seems to have gotten a little crazy.
Given how many millions of dollars a movie has to gross to make back just one extra million in production costs, one wonders when this trend will become an impediment to the health of our industry . . .
*[Here's a nice article by Mark Evanier that confirms the celeb voice talent used to cost the same as any other voice talent, and an AWN article from a few years ago by Joe Bevilacqua with an excellent summary of the subject.]