Let’s make a blockbuster

Making a major blockbuster movie takes a lot of work. How much?

First, let’s shoot the movie.

4 months x 250 people = 1000 man months

Now let’s do the visual effects:

10 months x 1000 people = 10,000 man months

The visual effects to shooting labor ratio is about 10:1.

Both estimates are rough, but they are probably in the ballpark. Most shooting crews aren’t 250 people, but there are lots of people working on the sets or other off-set work for weeks at a time. 1000 vfx artists isn’t unusual, especially when multiple companies work on a show. A lot of big films have 2000 or 2500 artists in total but many of those artists would only work a few months so 10,000 man weeks isn’t a bad guess.

I have some friends who’ve made their own short films that leverage vfx, and this 10:1 ratio is about right for those films too.

Given the 10:1 labor ratio, the fact that VFX is usually only about half the budget of a major blockbuster is actually quite impressive. To me, there are two key learnings from this:

  1. Relatively speaking, visual effects are cheap. Especially cheap per hour.
  2. The tools we use for VFX can be a lot better, allowing artists to do more in less time.

Changing the impression of #1 will be hard. Improving #2 will be fun.