Animation is a beautiful medium that really catches people’s attention. So it’s easy to see why it’s become so popular these days. However, before launching into this type of project, you need to make sure that animation is right for your story and do the necessary prep work. This post will share some of the crucial lessons I’ve learnt in my role as animator at Distilled.
What animation can do for you
If animation is the right medium for your idea it can really enhance and uplift your story.
1. It grabs attention
Animation allows you to present complex information in a simple and fun way. It’s a great tool to engage and hold an audience’s attention.
2. It communicates quickly
It’s a great way for businesses to tell a story quickly in a dynamic way that creates impact and momentum.
3. It explains complex ideas, products and services
Perhaps the best quality of animation is its ability to communicate information in a way that anyone can understand. Animation is ideal for packing the most information into a short amount of time and visually represent even the most elaborate concepts. You can use it to show the inner workings of a product, as well as to illustrate important values of your brand, that you wouldn’t be able to demonstrate in any other way.
Types of animation:
- Corporate explainer video
Normally it’s used to explain and simplify very complex and sometimes dry subjects.
Motion graphics animation
It works great with more conceptual ideas, for example when you want to talk about your company’s values.
These types of animations always have a lighter feel to them, which means they don’t suit every audience and brand.
Whiteboard animation and kinetic-type animation
These are great for when you have a lot of information to cover. Normally these videos tend to be a bit longer.
When to choose animation over live-action
Not all stories are suitable for animation. Before you start creating anything, you need to consider whether it really is the best format.
In general animation tends to favour
non-tangible products or services
stories that are about non-realistic characters
Where live-action works best is with stories that depend on seeing real people and locations. So if it’s an ‘about us’ video you are after, animation might not be the right format for you.
Things to consider:
Think about the type of people you want to reach with your video and decide what type of video will best resonate with them. Is animation the right medium? Animation can make your video look young and fresh, edgy and playful but it can also make your business look less serious and childish if not used appropriately.
First and foremost, you get what you pay for. If you want people to watch your video and react to it – remember it, share it, talk about it – you have to produce one that is worth watching. However each animation production is different and costs vary depending on the complexity, running length of animation, soundtrack, style and revisions needed. Usually animated videos tend to be shorter in length due to their complexity and the financial restraints that come along with this.
How to prepare your script for animation production
The script is the foundation of your story so it’s essential to spend enough time getting this right. If you launch into production too early, it’ll be extremely difficult (and expensive) to solve problems later on.
Animation versus live-action
Animation stories are developed pretty much in the same way as in live-action. First, you come up with a concept or an idea, then with a brief description of your story – beginning, middle and end. And last you follow with a script, laying out each scene in detail (dialogue and voice-over – if your story has one).
The script structure in animation is very similar if not identical to the live-action one. In the beginning of your video, you introduce your characters or your themes if dealing with a non-character driven story, then you are presented with a problem or a proposition that you go on trying to solve or explain. Up until this point animation and live-action projects look exactly the same.
However there are a few essential differences.
Post-production can do nothing for a script that’s not working
Although animation is a very flexible medium that allows you to constantly alter segments of your video fairly easy, it doesn't come without a cost.
Let’s say that you are working on an explainer video and halfway through the production, you change your mind about the structure of the video or you are second-guessing whether you have chosen the right features of your product to showcase.
Adding an extra feature or chapter or slightly changing things throughout the video theoretically is very easy and accessible. However, just because you don’t need to re-book cast and location to get that new scene, it doesn't mean that you won’t need to spend extra budget and time in order to get it. And most importantly, if you keep interrupting the flow of your video, your story will begin to suffer.
Animation scripts are longer and contain more detailed scene descriptions
Animation is a much more “uniquely visual” medium than live-action. Animated scripts are much longer than live-action ones and include elaborate scene notes that you wouldn’t normally need so early on in a live-action project.
For example, in a live-action video, a car chase is always a car chase no matter who is interpreting the scene. Look at the above examples – all of them show the same thing: cars chasing cars. While the colours, scenery and cars might all be different, the set up is fundamentally the same.
But in animation that’s rarely the case. A car chase scene can be anything – from realistic-looking cars, to flying carpets, to karts made out of candy or even seagulls speeding through bird-traffic.
With animation you have endless options. If you can imagine it, you can make it happen, no matter how crazy it may be. But because you are working with new and original assets that most likely haven’t been seen before, you need to describe them as thoroughly as possible. You need to clearly communicate your idea to the rest of your team as this will form the framework guiding you throughout the process.
Let’s have a look at these two script excerpts.
The first one is from the Matrix Reloaded “Freeway car-chase” scene. The segment is about 90 seconds long screen-time, and all the yellow highlights are notes that refer to the set-up of the scene.
The second one is from Wreck-it Ralph, a Disney animated film. Again the segment is about a car chase – in this case, a kart race. And again, it’s about 90 seconds screen-time, and all the yellow highlights refer to the set-up of the scene.
But look how long this is in comparison to the first one. That’s because animation, in its nature, requires more description to effectively communicate the visual and to get everyone involved on the same page.
Storyboard is the blueprint of your video
The storyboard is your most important asset. It’s the blueprint that your video will be built upon.
In a live-action production, the editor will put the video together based mainly on the quality of the available footage, following the storyboard as closely as it is possible. But in many cases, either due to lack of footage or simply because the talent or actors perform better in a particular scene, the editor won’t follow the storyboard frame for frame.
However, in animation the storyboard is everything. You will never have any extra footage or pick-up shots, if a scene is not planned it simply doesn’t exist. Let’s say you have an office scene in your video and suddenly you want to show the other side of the room, where the windows are. But there is no other side of your room, you can’t just face the camera the other way around, you only draw what is needed. Which means, if you want that other side of the room, your production needs to stop and you need to go back to the drawing board and create it.
You are pretty much “directing” on the page
In animation you sort of have to “direct” each scene on paper. You need to know exactly what each scene will look like, how your characters or elements are going to look and how they are going to move.
Also, your script will need to include all sound effects (SFX) that are integral to each scene. Imagine a villain shooting a gun, but there’s no sound coming out of the gun. That will leave your audience confused and disengaged. In animation you really want to sign off as much of your project as possible before going into production in order to eliminate lots of changes later on. Changing colours or timings is not that difficult but it is time-consuming and it can easily throw off your entire project. That’s a real key difference from live-action, where you don’t normally call for such specific details, that early into the production.
In many cases an animated video will need a voice-over. When working with a voice-over you will need to treat it as if it’s an additional character to your story. Bear in mind that it’s the voice-over that will define the flow and the pace of your video as well as its tone.
Idealy, you want to have a second voice-over script that will include all the pauses and breaks within your narrative. It’s good practice to include your voice-over in your storyboards – by doing this it’s easier to time each line and figure out how much animated space you have for each sentence.
Know your story, plan out every detail
Many people, especially beginners, dive into an animation with an idea, but with no real story. While every story starts off with a concept, you really need to write down everything to understand what you want to achieve and plan ahead. Start by drafting a script – this way you will be able to identify the weaknesses of your story and start working on them.
Successful video projects rarely just happen. In fact, they involve a great deal of planning. And planning is everything! It is the core of your project and it is a big task. Knowing where to begin with your video project can seem quite overwhelming at first, but a proper pre-production plan can save you a lot of time and unnecessary overspending.
Map out your timing
Proper timing is essential to animation. Not everything moves at the same speed. Also, if your animation has a voice-over, you need to time each sentence and determine how much animation time you will need for each line.
Create an animatic
An animatic is basically a moving storyboard. What you do is you take all the pictures of your storyboard then edit them together, add a sample soundtrack and a placeholder voice-over (if your story has one).
Animatics are great for testing your story, seeing what is working and what is not. They give you an accurate visualisation of what your video will look like at the end of your production.
There is no doubt that animation is an exciting medium – it can entertain as well as educate, but it all depends on what you are trying to show and the stories that you are telling. If an animated video is well crafted and distributed on the right channels, it can turn into a valuable investment for years to come.