September 2016


3 Rules for Leveraging Animated Video

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAe9AAAAJDU1NDk5Y2U0LTk0NWUtNGZmOS1iODhlLTcwNDNkZmE5ODg5MA

Most marketers are well aware that video can be a great tool for marketing. It’s well liked by search engines, in fact YouTube alone is the second largest search engine, which can give your website and content a better chance of being discovered, shared, etc. Video also happens to attract customers more than written content. It’s engaging and easy to consume.

However, for a marketer, video also happens to be one of the most expensive tools in the marketing toolkit. Generally speaking, media companies aside, only the elite Fortune 1000 companies can afford to make video on a consistent basis. And even they struggle with the economics afforded by their agencies and production company counterparts.

Enter the animated video, or what some refer to as the explainer.

Animated video has become a popular genre because of several advantages it has over more traditional live action video. First, it doesn’t require the vast amount of on-location filming resources that live action video does. No need for a crew, a fancy camera, permits for filming, and so on. Second, it provides flexibility. If you can imagine it, you can animate it. Let’s say you want to do a scene with penguins in Antarctica. With the help of a talented designer or art director, you can storyboard that in less than a day and be on your way to your moment with the penguins.

Yet for all the benefits animated video brings to the table, it is often a misunderstood genre. For starters, animation is not inherently cheap. If you’re not careful, you could actually end up creating a video that is more expensive than a live action one. Additionally, it can require more precision and planning than some traditional forms of video. Animation is precisely timed out to music and / or a voice over. So the idea of “just editing something out” does not always apply to creating an animated video.

That being said, with a few ground rules, Animation can be a marvelous tool for marketing a company. It can provide flexibility and scale in a way that no other genre can. So here are my rules (and rules we follow at my company: Marching Penguin – gomarchingpenguin.com) for getting the most out of your animated video.

1. Do not skip steps in the process – Animation, like most video production, is inherently a linear process. You start with a script, move on to production, and then to post-production. Yet with animation, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and run towards the animation part. We’re so eager to see what the final product may look like, that we overlook vital parts of the process.

So start with a solid script. I suggest hiring a copywriter, no matter how great your (or someone on your team’s) writing skills may be. It’s tempting to want to do this piece in-house to save resources. However, it’s important to have a writer that not only understands how to write a great voiceover track but how to write for animation as well. You can have the best line of voice over, but you need the accompanying direction for folks on down the line (e.g. designer, animator, etc.) to create that important part: the animation.

Additionally, make sure to lock in your storyboards before moving on to animation. In other words, don’t wait to make design changes in the animation phase. If you do, you may add unnecessary hours to the process. It is generally easier to change the color of an object or its orientation, prior to animating. What those new to animation often don’t realize is that animation files often have hundreds of layers. So making seemingly straightforward design changes can get complicated and may require the animator to have to re-do parts of the animation.

2. Choose a specific sub-genre – Animation is made up of many different sub-genres. To name a few, there is Kinetic Text, 2D, frame by frame and 3D. Each sub genre not only has its own look and feel, but requires its own skill set to produce. As a result, the costs associated with each sub-genre are different.

Kinetic Text is one of the more basic sub-genres to create. The name implies what it is. You take words and animate them on screen. Often, the words are paired with voiceover to create an iterative effect. Personally, I love kinetic text. Something in the simplicity of its presentation makes it a very approachable form of animation.

2D isn’t so much a style as it is a line of demarkation, separating it from 3D. Most kinetic text animation is actually 2D, although it can be 3D. What tends to separate the two can get quite technical. The reality is that you can make 2D animation look like 3D, by using visual hacks. For example, in 2D animation you can make it seem like an object is getting closer, simply by making it bigger. However, technically speaking, it’s not actually getting closer. I will dig into more on 3D in a moment.

The other point I’d make just to separate most 2D from kinetic text is that there is usually an implication that 2D is about animating objects and designs. 2D gets us closer to reality. Whereas kinetic text is about words floating in an undefined space, 2D animation is about a scene when an action is happening. A penguin, for instance, could be diving into the water.

Frame by frame animation is really how animation began. If we think back to some of the cartoons first created by Disney, they were all animated frame by frame. In other words, an artist would make many drawings for an individual movement happening in the cartoon. So for example, if Donald Duck was going to open his beak, that would be accomplished by capturing a series of drawings whereby his beak progressively opens.

Frame by frame animation is tedious and can get quite expensive. So, I generally only recommend it for those that have the stomach for a big project.

Finally, 3D animation, like 2D animation, tends to be about animating designs and objects. The main difference is that these objects are naturally 3 dimensional. So this type of animation is obviously the most complex and realistic. It requires that designers and animators work with more detail and data. Let me provide an example. Say we wanted to animate a smartphone. If it’s animated in 2D, then we’re limited to movements on the X and Y axis. We can move it side to side or up and down. We can also zoom in or out on it. However, we lose the Z axis, meaning that we cannot rotate the object or rotate around it. We lose that part of perspective, which is so vital to realism.

3. Use a separate designer and animator – Designing and animating are generally considered two different skill sets. There are some very talented animators that are able to do both design and animation, but they’re a rare breed.

At Marching Penguin, we’ll use a designer or art director for the storyboarding phase. S/he will create the assets that we’ll later animate. It’s important that this person have some experience with designing for animation. That way, they create assets that are appropriate for the sub-genre you choose. Plus, they end up giving the animator assets that are easier to work with, from a technical standpoint.

Animators also have a tendency to specialize. Though most have experience with multiple sub-genres, each animator will likely have one or two that they are particularly good at. So take advantage of the specialization to make the most out of the video you create.

Bringing it all together.

Production for animated video can be complex and feel overwhelming. However, the good news is that there are a lot of talented people, agencies, and production companies that can help you get to a great end product.

These rules, though simple at face value, can help you stay in control of your project. You can better manage and predict costs. Plus you can ensure that the quality of the work meets your expectations.