According to Cisco, video will account for 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020. Now, granted, most of that is just cats falling asleep. But there’s a significant amount of non-feline traffic there, just waiting to be exploited by your company.
So, when it comes to commissioning a video, you’re faced with a number of difficult decisions. Chief among them is: should you go for a live-action production – or an animation? As any video animation company will tell you, animation has its advantages.
Why would you even need an animation?
Well, let’s start with the obvious: animation just lets you do more. Live-action filming is great, but it can be limiting, for the simple fact that you can’t really do anything that isn’t physically possible.
Animation has no such limitation: if you can think of it, it can be done. Want to fly? Want to go to outer space? Want to turn your CEO into an anthropomorphic goat? You can do it, and it won’t even cost that much money. But when it comes to promoting your product or service, there’s far more to it than that.
Animation lets you stop being literal and start being fantastical and metaphorical. When your product isn’t the most immediately engaging, it can be an arresting way to present its features and benefits. When new staff don’t respond to dense training manuals or 10-year old VHS instructional videos, an animation can give them an education they’ll surely remember. If you’re trying to visualise something that hasn’t been built yet, it can help you do so.
We could name countless more. That isn’t an exaggeration: there really are countless uses for animated content.
Types of animation
There are loads of different types of animation, all with sub categories and small differences that often come down to the techniques that are used to make them. But the three main kinds used by corporates are:
Motion graphics is basically graphical images that move. Think logo stings, moving infographics, software demos and typography animations that have words animating into other words. Motion graphics is a simple, cost effective form of animation that is well suited to corporate communication. Motion graphics can also be embedded into live action video footage (remember Minority Report?)
2D character animations are extremely popular and a great way of identifying with your customer. This type of animation is a form of motion graphics that uses illustrated characters to tell a story and often has a strong narrative at its foundation.
3D animations use many of the same techniques as motion graphics and 2D animation, however objects are modelled in a 3D space to give greater depth. When working with 3D, you still have lots of creative options, including photorealistic products, abstract shapes and even characters.
Choosing a style of animation
So what style of animation should you go for?
That’s not a question we can really answer. It always comes down to your company’s target audience, personality and tone of voice. If you’re selling enterprise accounting software, you probably won’t want something bright, bouncy, and character-based – and if you’re running a children’s toy company, you probably won’t want some musty, diagrammatic animation that outlines every component of the product. (Oh and if you are selling accounting software, check out our 16 best accounting videos for inspiration).
When we’ve received a commission for an animated explainer video, we first get to know the client, and make a recommendation based on their preferences, initial ideas, brand identity, and its objectives. Sometimes moodboards can be effective starting points: we’ll put together what we think the client might like, and then they select one or two images that they think best represents their brand. From there, we can narrow it down further and create a bespoke styleframe based on their feedback.
But this whole process is much easier if you prepare a thorough, comprehensive brief outlining your aims and expectations.
Briefing an agency
The best brief should contain:
Quite simply: what’s the point of your animation? Far too many corporate videos exist for the sake of it – and consequently, far too many corporate videos are a giant waste of money. Do you want to attract higher-quality job applicants? Do you want to drive revenue? Or do you want your customers to use a self-help guide on your site instead of contacting your support desk? Whatever it is, defining your objective is the starting point for any animation project.
Your target audience
Who is this animation for? And, perhaps more importantly, who is it not for? You don’t want to spend thousands of pounds on a video that’s not particularly relevant to your most important demographics. Telling them that your target audience is middle-aged insurance salesmen with two ex-wives will prevent the agency from creating something ‘zany’ and ‘on fleek’ for millennial teens.
Your key messages
Effective animations are seldom more than two minutes long. If you think that two minutes isn’t nearly enough time to get all of your corporate messaging across, you’re absolutely right – so don’t even try.
Whittle it down to three or four key takeaways, and ask yourself this simple question: What absolutely has to be in the video? Remove everything else. And if you absolutely have to include more content, consider whether you need another video.
How much money do you want to spend on your animation? There’s usually a sweet spot between Pixar and hand-drawn flip-book-level stuff, and it depends on exactly what your business needs.
Talk to the agency about the pricing structure associated with different animation formats – and be honest about what your company can and can’t afford. A video that’s only half-finished is no good to anyone.
Simply: when do you need it by? The longer your lead time, the better the final product, but if you’re looking to time the release of your animation with an event or a big summer promotion, tell the agency well in advance of said event.
Choosing an animation agency
The best animation agencies are honest, communicative, and willing to put their expertise to good use – if they don’t agree with you, or if they think it could be done more effectively another way, they’ll say so; they won’t simply take your money and shut up.
If you’re going to hire an agency, you also want an end-to-end experience with full project management and a dedicated producer; you don’t want a freelancer who’ll simply animate your idea before promptly vanishing back into the murky netherworld of the gig economy.
Before you hire them, however, look for examples of their work. If they haven’t made an animation that’s caught your eye, you probably don’t want to work with them.
There are also a few telltale signs of a poor animation to look out for when trying to decide if a company is right for you. The most obvious is the way characters and objects move. Shoddy work won’t feel fluid, and can often seem entirely unnatural.
Font size can be surprisingly telling: if they haven’t read the brand guidelines and used the correct typeface for on-screen text, you’ll be able to tell (system fonts like Arial, Myriad and others can be especially revealing). Stock illustrations, icons, and templates can also suggest a studio that’s more or less doing your project on autopilot: a surprising number will throw something together with little care or attention, colours that work together poorly or not at all, and negligible detail.
The ideal animation agency will take care of the big picture and the little things alike.
The animation process
Working with a quality agency, the animation process is straightforward.
Firstly, you’ll be assigned a dedicated producer. They’ll serve as your key point of contact and are largely there to guide you – and the employees working on your animation – through the production process. Got a complaint? Want to change something? Take it to them and they’ll work something out.
The producer will also work closely with the agency’s scriptwriters to develop a concept for your animation. Assuming you’re happy with the script – and this part of the process can take several attempts – the animation team will create a storyboard (accompanied by visual direction) that will suggest a proposed narrative for the final video. This will give you a chance to make sure you’re completely happy before the actual animation work begins.
Fortunately, it’s not your last chance. Based on your feedback, the agency will create style frames to illustrate how characters, objects and environments will look in the final animation. If they’re not quite what you’re after, you can feed back with suggested changes before the team proceeds to the next step of the process.
Most videos will require voice actors and music, and a good agency will have a large rolodex of talent to call on. They’ll send you samples, you’ll pick the ones you like best, and from there, your narration will be recorded in-studio – directed by your producer. In the edit suite, music will be added to your animation, along with any sound effects that you may require.
From there, you’ll be presented with a short preview of your animation – and if you’re happy enough to sign off, all illustrations will be designed and the first draft of your video will be uploaded for your feedback. If you require further changes, you’ll be sent further drafts.
When your animation is complete, it can typically be supplied with finished master files in your chosen format. Specific versions can also be tailored for website delivery and online hosting.
Don’t make these common mistakes
The process of commissioning an animation may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean you can’t screw it up. Here are just a few classic mistakes.
Don’t write the script yourself – unless you’ve got your own copywriters, unless they’re experienced in writing for video, and unless they’re damned good. Leave it to the professionals.
Don’t request a proposal before you’ve got a budget. Unless the agency knows how much money they’re working with, they won’t know what to propose. Ballpark figures are fine.
Don’t overthink – or overpack – it. Not all information is essential information. Focus on what’s necessary for the video to communicate your message and hold the attention of your viewer.
Don’t involve too many stakeholders. It’s very hard to make a creatively satisfying and successful animation by committee. Your opinion absolutely matters – but ‘opinion’ isn’t plural.
Don’t feed back late. Late feedback is feedback that takes longer to action.
Don’t project your personal wants over the requirements of the project. In the 1990s, Hollywood producer Jon Peters wanted to relaunch Superman. His big ideas were for Superman to 1) not fly 2) wear black and 3) fight a giant mechanical spider. These were all terrible, and his Superman project failed because they were terrible. The big spider was eventually featured in Wild Wild West, which is widely regarded as one of the worst movies of all time.
Don’t be Jon Peters. Don’t overcommit to bad ideas. Focus on what your project needs, not what you think is cool.
Don’t suggest your CEO does the voice over. She probably has a lovely voice. But there’s more to it than simply reading lines off the page.
Don’t do anything unless you have a plan for it. If an animation won’t help you provoke business growth, drive sales, hire better people, or meet any of your other goals, don’t spend money on an animation.