o you've decided to explore 3D rendering and animation to visualize your product and showcase it to the world. An excellent decision given the creative control and flexibility that 3D rendering has to offer. The next logical question that you may ask though is, "how much does this magical service that will make my products look better than any photograph ever and increase my sales by 10,000% cost!?" Okay now before you get too excited about the endless possibilities, let's take a few minutes to learn about what factors can contribute to pricing and why rates for 3D rendering and animation services aren't always crystal clear.
Why the Cloak and Dagger
If you've already begun researching and browsing various websites that specialize in 3D product rendering and animation services, then you've probably discovered that pricing cannot only vary greatly, but also be very difficult to find as it is not always disclosed upfront. Occasionally there will be a pricing page with some general information, but, more often than not, the best you'll find is a contact form that requires you to provide more information. You may feel that it's almost as if the pricing is purposefully being hidden from the public eye to ensure absolute secrecy and protect only those that are worthy. Why would that be you may ask? Well, the truth of the matter is that as with many service industries, it's very difficult to have a one price fits all scenario that will accommodate everyone's unique needs. Even if the service is the same, freelancers operate differently than agencies, location and cost of living varies, and most importantly, each project differs from one to the next. These are the primary reasons for the ambiguity and fluctuations, but hopefully the rest of this article will help educate you on what factors into costs for such projects.
Fixed Rate vs Hourly Rate Contracts
Before we get into the how's and why's that determine the pricing for 3D product renderings and animations, we should first take a minute to talk about Fixed Rate vs Hourly Rate contracts. Purchasing a 3D rendering or animation is not like buying a typical product. Whoever you hire to produce the content will be tasked with delivering a service and while you'll technically be paying for the end result what you are actually paying for is someone's time, whether it be an individual or team, and depending on who you choose some may prefer to charge by the hour and others by the project.
Hourly Rate Contracts
Hourly rates tend to be more common among freelance 3D artists and can be very helpful in quickly letting their potential clients know just exactly how much they expect to be compensated for their time. If you have a low budget it may allow you to quickly rule out candidates that charge a high hourly rate. Hourly rate contracts are also very useful for projects that may be difficult to quantify, such as those that require a high level of conceptualitzation and development. Projects that fall into this category might otherwise require additional fees for revisions and iterations. The main negative of an hourly rate is that there may not be any guarantee that the project doesn't go over the original hourly estimate. If it does, you can expect to have to shell out more money for the artist's time. Hourly rates for 3D artists can range from as low as $5/hr to as much as $200/hr depending on the talent and experience. We recommend that you always ask how many hours would be estimated for your project and what happens if the project takes longer.
Fixed Rate Contracts
Fixed rates on the other hand provide an upfront estimate for the entire project and typically account for a least a few rounds of feedback. Fixed rates are usually itemized quotes based on the specifics requested which limits the ambiguity of the hourly rate estimate and ensures that you know what you are going to pay upfront. This is generally the preferred pricing structure for most studios and agencies who have a lot of experience quoting similar projects and are therefore comfortable enough to offer a standard pricing structure which, to be honest, is generally based on how many hours they expect it to take. It should be noted that in order to provide fixed rate estimates, companies will likely need to be able to evaluate all of the details of the project and examine any reference material that will be provided.
Factors that Determine How Much a Project will Cost
The following factors directly impact the cost of a 3D rendering or animation project and these factors are all ultimately driven by time regardless of whether the project has a fixed rate or hourly rate contract.
Reference & Direction
The first thing a 3D artist needs to know is what reference and direction you, the client, will be providing. Some of the initial questions are does the product exist, are there photos, 3D CAD files, physical samples, etc. to work from? Or is the product just an idea that only exists as a rough hand-drawn sketch? Creating designs of a product that already exists, especially from 3D CAD files, is typically much faster and easier than concepting and designing one from scratch. Another factor is art direction. Can you provide clear direction for the camera angles, lighting style, etc.? In short, the more information and clarity you can provide, the easier and less ambiguous the job will be for the artist and, in turn, the cheaper the costs.
Scope of Work
This should come as no surprise, but we'll mention it anyway. The more work you want done, the more the project is going to cost. Plain and simple, right? If working via a fixed rate, you should try to find out what the per image rates are if you are interested in still 3D renderings or what the per second rates are for 3D animations. These rates may vary depending on other specifics, but you should be able to get a general sense of what the initial "starting rates" look like. Companies will also often provide discounts for bulk volume and ongoing needs, but if they don't mention discounts it never hurts to ask. If your goal is to build an ongoing relationship with your 3D artist or rendering/animation company, it's likely they'll be able to offer some flexibility on their prices.
Quality & Complexity
This can vary greatly depending on the specifics. A design that features ONLY a product on a basic white background will likely be cheaper than a design that features a product in a fully immersive 3D environment. The basic rule of thumb is that the more you see on screen the more the rendering or animation is going to cost. Other factors also weigh in here such effects, product structure and material complexity, and image or video resolution. This is essentially the size of the image or frame of an animation. A 3D rendering may only need to be 1000 x 1000 pixels for standard eCommerce uses, but the resolution for large scale print needs like a trade show banner may need to be 10x that size. The more resolution, the more detail, effort, and, most importantly, time.
Iterations & Revisions
For most 3D product rendering or animation projects several relatively minor adjustments and tweaks should be expected throughout the course of production and most companies will include these "normal" iterations in the budget. However, some projects, particularly ones that have a high level of ambiguity such as those where the product doesn't yet exist, may require a significant number of iterations and revisions to continue to flesh out and fine tune the design. This is normal for projects that require a lot of conceptualization, but it can significantly increase the amount of time which, as should be clear by now, will increase the costs.
Most projects fall into two categories when it comes to time frame: Let us Know or The Sooner the Better (aka "Open Ended" projects) and NEED ASAP (aka "We have a can't miss hard deadline of next week, well actually it was last week, but I don't think that's possible, unless maybe you can go back in time and manage that, well I don't know, please help ahhh!").
If you are lucky enough to fall in the latter category and you have a tight deadline, companies may have to charge a rush fee to manage the project in an expedited manner. This will, of course, depend on the specifics, but the tighter the deadline the more likely the costs will have to be raised.
What to Expect
The bottom line is that pricing for 3D product rendering and animation services varies greatly and depends on many factors and that very nature makes the question posed here very difficult to simply answer. If your needs are rather basic, then costs may fall in the several hundred to several thousand dollar range. On the other hand, if you have a large scope of work with a high level of complexity and quality expectations, cost can fall well into the 5-figure range and up. When evaluating your options, it may be best to first get a basic understanding of what your needs are and then start to think about how much you are willing to spend for the work. From there, try and find a vendor who has experience delivering the quality you are looking for and then start to learn more about their pricing structure.
At Go3DViz, we showcase "starting rates" directly on the Pricing Page of our website. These rates can fluctuate both up and down and, ultimately, we have to evaluate the specifics of the project in order to finalize a quote. Our hope is to provide some level of transparency and initial information with minimal effort to save you as much time as possible when it comes to deciding who you'd like to work with on your next 3D rendering or animation project.