I'd be surprised if they didn't do Chopper CGI. CGI is actually pretty cheap these days compared to really good practical effects.
It's cheaper than it used to be, yes. But its still time consuming and GOOD CG is still expensive. They will NOT have a full time CG character as part of the main cast.
Yeah I'm not too concerned about Chopper. Nowadays you can just throw money at such things and it can look passable.
10 million per episode isn't unlimited per episode. A full blown CG character eats the budget like crazy. Look at game of thrones, they basically ditched the wolves so they could spend money on the dragons instead… and those were just basic animals that don't need to do a lot of emoting. Or the corner cutting they've had to do for Dark Materials.
"Just throw money at it" isn't the answer. And they'll be wanting to toss that special efx budet at other things like scenery and abilities, they won't want to spend it ALL on Chopper.
Do not be shocked if he spends a lot more time in his more human mode or full deer mode.... chibi mascot Chopper would be weird in live action anyway.
Detective Pikachu was a 150 million budget for 90 minutes of film, and that did not have the pokemon nonstop. Guardians of the Galaxy, which had Rocket and Groot to deal with, had a budget of 200 million for 120 minutes. The Sonic movie, where we know they had to redo all the SOnic CG, cost 35 million to redo well less than 90 minutes of CGI (I have no idea how much he was actully on screen). It's hard to say what the budget on the last two Avengers movies were because they filmed them at the same time, but its estimated they may have had budgets of upwards of 350-400 million. EACH.
Yeah you can get really good CG to make Detective Pikachu or Rocket Racoon or Thanos, but that is neither fast nor cheap.
10 million per episode is not enough to do that, not long term. You could do it for a one off character that will be in one or two episodes, but not forever. So they could maybe do it for Arlong... but they know they'll have to deal with Jinbe down the line so they may want to keep that practical to future proof it. They will do SOMETHING practical, with digital enhancement. Wheel of Time is doing some cool animalistic trollocs, maybe something along those lines.
My guess is maybe something like what Where the WIld Things Are did, where its a real costumed body augments by a CG head. Or we get some puppetry ala Farscape. Or CG enhanced animatronics. Or just some good old fashion 4 hours in the makeup chair heavy prosthetics.