You only have to look at a still image from the HBO series Game of Thrones to know that it’s an expensive production. The cost per episode in 2011 was estimated at about $6 million. But episodes for season six are up to $10 million! Where does the money go? We can assume that the actors are paid well, and it’s a huge cast. Location expenses are understandably high. And as the series goes on, there are more and more special effects. You might think that computer-generated effects are a bargain, but that’s only in comparison to practical effects. There’s no way that practical effects could replicate what Game of Thrones is doing now, no matter what you spend on them. And CGI is not exactly cheap.
The CGI industry acts as an assembly line with a team of 10-12 who processes shots through several stages: Modeling, Tracking, Animation, Dust Busting, BgPrep, FX, Compositing, Lighting, etc. The average time for this process within the team is at least four weeks if not more. This equates to around 1,600 man hour at a minimum without overtime. At $50 per hour, per person, that equates to a minimum of $80K per shot. If a Game of Thrones episode has 10-minutes of CGI, which equates to $800,000.
But that cost pales in comparison with computer resource time, which can take 12 hours per frame. Read about the expenses involved in the production of Game of Thrones at Money, Inc. Meanwhile, you might want to tell your kids about those $50 an hour graphics jobs.