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Live Action or Animation: Which One Is Best For Marketing Video?

Aisle or window? Boxers or briefs? Beach or mountains? These important decisions say something about who you are as a person. In video production, we have our own this-or-that query: live-action or animation. Your answer says something about your brand and its message.

Even though we started as an animation studio, we have added filmed video to our offerings a few years ago. Why? Because we think there are often excellent reasons to pick live action over animation when making a marketing video.

There’s no perfect right answer for all occasions. For a short, scenic flight, the window seat might be a perfect choice. But your answer could change if you’re on a 14-hour trans-pacific journey. If you want to show off your beautiful new hotel, live-action is probably the right choice, but if you want to tell customers your origin story, animation might be the right decision.

What matters is that you pick the choice that fits your unique circumstances. Here’s what to consider when comparing live action and animation for marketing video.

Showcase Your Location With Live-Action

If you are promoting a venue such as a bar, restaurant, event hall, or hotel, there simply is no substitute for showing the space in live-action. For architectural or real estate services, where people aren’t a big part of the picture, you might be able to rely on computer-generated imagery (CGI). If that last statement has you feeling skeptical, consider that roughly 75% of the Ikea catalog is CGI. The results are often indistinguishable from a photoshoot and look cleaner.

However, CGI can’t capture the ambiance, that interaction between people and the room that is a selling point for so many businesses.

On the other hand, if you want to travel around the world, or even just across the country in your video, animation might be a more cost-effective option. Rather than setting up shoots at multiple locations, you can have one animator or small team create the whole video.

Should You Animate Your Product?

There are some products that you really need to see. Would you buy a hamburger, without seeing the juices glisten? Would you buy high-end clothing without seeing the design? The answer is usually no.

Again, CGI can sometimes pinch-hit very effectively. However, for a wide range of products, from clothes to make-up to handcrafts, live-action is the preferable option most of the time. Especially if you want to show your product in action. A makeup tutorial is a lot more effective when presented by a real person instead of an animated character.

Live-action Lets Viewers Experience a Lifestyle

Some products promise more than themselves; they promise a lifestyle. Your selling point isn’t the design or quality of your product, as much as the experience of owning it. If you’re selling luxury items, housewares, or other lifestyle-based products, you’ll probably see the best results with live action. Customers experience that lifestyle when they see real people living in ways and places they aspire to.

Build Trust By Showing Your Face

Sometimes ‘who’ matters a lot. If you want to get your CEO out there, or if you have a testimonial from a customer or celebrity, it’s much easier to capture their essence with live-action video.

That’s not to say we can’t use animation to transmit the essence of a person. Most notably, we can use their actual voice in the soundtrack. We’ve recommended this strategy to our clients more than once. It’s especially useful if the person you’re featuring is uncomfortable on camera. You can also combine live-action and animation using a green screen or other technology.

We’ve also turned our staff into animated characters to help tell Our Founder’s Story. It was the right choice for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for every business.

Are You Creating a Record?

All things pass, but it is our human nature to want to hold on to them. Whether it be for educational, legal, or sentimental reasons, if you need to capture an event for posterity, filming it is the way to go.

While animation can show an interpretation of an event, person, or business, only live-action can capture the details of what it really looked like. Even so, we’ve seen some interesting projects that use found audio to inspire animation. For example, a company might choose to use real customer testimonials, but animate the customer. Or they could snip a section from a presentation or zoom call and combine that audio with animated images.

A Question of Budget: Live Action vs Animation

Both live-action and animated production budgets can go as high as you want them to. Pixar-quality animation comes in at around a million dollars per minute. Extreme examples, like Toy Story 3, are even more pricy. That movie had a budget of around $200 million and ran about 103 minutes. You might think marketing videos aren’t as expensive as box-office hits, but high-end animation is expensive regardless of its purpose.

Of course, live-action commercials won’t necessarily save your budget. The cost of producing a commercial for Superbowl viewing can exceed $8 million for a one-minute spot.

However, while low-budget animation often looks clunky and unconvincing, low-budget live-action can accomplish a lot. With the video tools on your laptop or smartphone, you can create live-action video content for literally nothing.

If you want to impart a simple message, you have a knack for talking to the camera, and the informality of non-professional video works for you, you can get very good results for little investment. Gary Vaynerchuk is a master of this sort of video.

When Animation wins the Live Action or Animation Debate

So, when should you skip live action? When you don’t use the medium fully. Live video fails when it becomes a low-information medium. That is, when you might as well be reading the material, instead of taking 2-3 times longer to see someone pronounce it ponderously. Avoid talking heads.

Keep in mind that Animation is also easier to update than live action. You can always add an extra scene, insert your new logo, or reletter an animated sign. Those kinds of changes aren’t so easy in live-action. Plus, animation often gives you a bit more control over the process. You don’t need to rely on the weather or other external conditions to get the footage you need. With progress deliverables at every stage, you’ll know exactly what your project looks like along the way.

Whatever technique you choose, put your energy and resources into telling your story in the most compelling way. Whether you choose live action or animation, the story should always remain your focus.

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our animation production services and how they can help your business.

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