Animated Explainer Video: Not Just Cartoons

Shawn Forno 01.25.2017

A lot of companies are afraid an animated explainer video won’t strike the right tone for their product, service, or business. It’s a common concern, especially with new video marketing clients and startups, and it’s an understandable fear. Cartoons can seem like they’re not “serious” enough for your company.

But we don’t make cartoons.

Animation—particularly animated explainer videos—are about so much more than the Disney cartoons you grew up with. Traditional 2D character animation that you might recognize from Saturday mornings just aren’t how things are done these days. Animated explainers are all about ROI, CTA, engagement, and getting the job done with new animation techniques like VR capability, sleek motion graphics, 3D, and more. In fact, the effectiveness of animated video has been studied, and results show that animated explainer videos outperform live action talking head videos every single time. If engagement, education, retention, brand identity, marketing reach, and conversions matter to you and your company, animation is simply the best way to go.

So to help put your concerns about animation at ease, this article will highlight the wide range of animation styles, storytelling techniques, technical advances, and production choices you have at your fingertips when creating a character (or “protagonist” if you’re fancy) for your next animated explainer video. Trust me, there’s nothing childish about it.

Not Your Grandfather’s Animation

When prospects hear “animation” they often worry they’ll get stuck with an off-brand, cartoonish protagonist in their explainer video, but that simply isn’t the case. Gone are the days of hokey drawings and one size fits all animation. Traditional 2D cell animation is a thing of the past. Modern animators have a suite of high-tech tools and software to make your characters look and feel exactly like what you’ve always pictured. Photorealistic, flat, abstract, 3D, anthropomorphic—they’re all on the table. The future of animation is now. What’s even more interesting is that many of today’s best animated explainers don’t feature a traditional central character at all.

Typography is the Real Animation Star

Typography and animated text are the focal points of many of our animated videos. Explainers are great at, well…explaining. One of the best ways to effectively communicate a complex concept or message is by literally spelling it out. With text.

Animated text (in branded colors of course), often called “motion graphic typography” is a popular choice for either a portion, or the entire breadth of your animated explainer. The best typography videos accompany a professional voiceover actor reading from a well-written script, but even simple text animation can help drive home a central theme or point without clunky, cartoonish character animation.

animated explainer video

The point of an explainer is to explain, and often times, the best animations let the fancy character design get out of the way of the simple message. In many of our videos, the words on the screen are the real stars, not the protagonist, not matter what they look like.

Time is of the Essence

Many shorter tv spots, commercials, and 30 second explainer videos simply don’t have the luxury of time to create, and develop a character driven narrative—and that’s ok. Animation is still a fantastic tool for showcasing product features in a way that entices viewers to some desired action—from clicking through to the homepage for a trial or ordering online right then and there. Funnily enough, same thing is true for longer expository explainer videos, like RSA-style whiteboard animation.

RSA whiteboard videos typically last at least five minutes, but can often go well beyond 15 minutes or longer. It’s not unheard of for a whiteboard animation to last an hour, if the explainer video animates an entire talk. That’s way too long deal with an animated protagonist, no matter how charming. Picture listening to the talking DNA strand from Jurassic Park for 45 minutes. Woof. In these special situations, the animation doesn’t focus on a central character, but instead ebbs and flows around the ideas presented in the talk or lecture. Each scene builds a world on the talk itself, then evaporates (or transitions to the next talking point) in a moment. Animation keeps viewers engaged in the message, even without a messenger.

Don’t Shoot See the Messenger

Speaking of the messenger, one of the greatest strengths of animated character design is the ability to craft your character into an “everyman” instead of a specific person. Animation gives you complete creative control over the look and feel of your protagonist. And that’s kind of amazing.

You can design the main character to mirror your target demographic (age, profession, appearance, gender), or go the opposite route and leave them as a faceless, shapeless blank template for your viewer to fill in on their own—the choice is yours.

Flat motion graphic characters with ambiguous faces create a simple, digestible background for your explainer to work from that won’t distract viewers. People have subjective reactions to live action speakers, regardless of how great the live-action actors are on camera. Animation lets you create exactly the type of person (or non-person) you want for your explainer video. Cartoony or basic, either way the viewer will see the information, not the actor, and that’s the whole point.

animated explainer video

Keep it Simple

A final option for your animated character design is not to make them a person at all. While this might seem like the most “cartoony” approach to your explainer video, an anthropomorphized object—like a talking broccoli stalk in a recipe, a traffic cone in a safety video, or a ruler in a corporate measurement explainer—is often the most professional approach to complicated, confusing topics for one good reason: They’re obvious.

Simple, readily identifiable characters set the stage for understanding. Viewers faced with a talking cereal box are primed for information about a balanced breakfast. Viewers faced with a grey-haired CEO in a $3,000 suit need a minute to know what he’s going to talk to them about. And that moment—that tiny comprehension gap—is a big deal in explainer videos.

You only have a few seconds to hook your viewer. Attention spans are laughable, and the move to mobile video means that fewer people are going to watch your explainer video if it doesn’t immediately advertise what it’s about. Animation is about getting a message across quickly. Obvious characters and simple narratives work for a reason—zero ambiguity. Character design has become more complex than ever, but even with all of today’s advancements, sometimes a good old fashioned cartoon is exactly what you need.

Animation: More than Just Cartoons

We’ve worked with dozens of companies over the past decade and almost without exception, our clients have been floored by how effective animation has been for their business. Contact us today and see what animated video service is for you.

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