Animated Video Production

How to Choose an Animation Studio: Portfolio Assessment Tool

Shawn Forno 02.19.2019

If you’re looking for an animated explainer video or a corporate animation, it’s important to shop around. Reviewing animation portfolios is the best way to choose an animation studio that is the right fit for your project. By looking at the studio’s previous work, you can get a sense of their style and quality. The problem is, there are hundreds of studios to choose from. How do you know what to look for?

Will Gadea, our CEO, had this to say about finding the right animation company:

“When you are assessing the quality of animation providers, trust your instincts. Just as how a person untrained in music can recognize a good song, you are most likely a trustworthy arbiter of the quality of a video.”

But if you’re not an animation expert separating the good from the generic can be a daunting task. Luckily, we’re here to help you narrow the field down with our free animation portfolio assessment tool.

Just click the link up above to get our simple evaluation spreadsheet, broken down into six separate metrics by which to judge a studio (including how to weigh each category appropriately with useful percentages). Judging an animation company’s portfolio isn’t rocket science, but there’s more to it than just a gut feeling. This tool will help you gauge, and more importantly track, each portfolio you see in your exhaustive search.

 

Choose an Animation Studio: The Script

free video script template download

The single most important element in a great animated explainer video is the script. Your script should leave viewers with a clear idea of your product and brand. The most memorable way to convey that information is through story. You only have a few seconds (literally) to hook viewers with your video. A compelling story makes an impression that lasts.

A great script needs to help viewers easily understand what your business is all about. Your video can’t feel like a lecture. Viewers will click away the instant they get bored. Your only defense is a great script.

When reviewing a studio’s animation portfolio, ask yourself: Does the script explain the product or service while entertaining viewers? Does the narrative flow, or does it feel contrived? Will viewers invest time and emotions into this story?

The script in this video from Venmo feels like a friend telling you about her weekend, not a blatant sales pitch. At the same time, it clearly explains Venmo’s key value proposition, benefits, and features. Yet it never breaks away from the story.

When this video came out, sending a friend money from your phone was a new concept. This great idea needed the help of an interesting, straight-forward script to explain the service in a way that made sense to everyday users.

The script is the scaffolding of your animated video—if the story’s not there, even the best ideas will get lost amidst the distractions of the internet.

Choose an Animation Studio: Design

Aesthetics matter. People click on videos that look interesting, and they’re far more likely to stick around until the end (and your ever-important CTA) if the design is compelling. Good design is an essential element of any studio’s portfolio.

When you browse through an animation portfolio, examine the characters, the scenes, and the settings: do they have personality? Are they memorable or unique? Most importantly, does the predominant style of the animation fit with your brand and your message?

Don’t confuse complexity with good design. Sometimes simple is better. A clean design takes true skill and top-tier studios can create a circle character with more charisma than a Hollywood star.

animated character design GIF

Executive producer at Outpost Worldwide, Michael Wunsch says:

Style, flavor and creative approach play a huge role in the messaging of your video. Choose a company in which your creative tastes match with theirs, but don’t let creativity override clarity of message. You can have the most cool, creative video on the web, but if the viewer doesn’t understand it then the effectiveness may be lost.

An animation studio’s portfolio should be full of engaging designs. The animation should draw you in and keep your attention. Take for example, this video from gTeam. The vibrant colors, imaginative character design, and psychedelic style keep viewers hooked all the way through to the end.

You don’t have to be able to explain what great design is, or why a certain style moves you. You’ll know good design when you see it.

One final note: Be wary of trendy animation. Work that just copies a popular video or style will seem predictable or hackneyed. That reflects poorly on your brand in the long run. Don’t imitate. Innovate. A professional, memorable, and, above all, original design will elevates your brand and ensure your message is heard for years to come.

Choose an Animation Studio: Movement & Motion

principles of animation arcs gif

Ironically, it’s easy to overlook the actual mechanics of animation while evaluating an animation portfolio. Yet movement is an essential part of successful animation.

When you watch an explainer video, ask yourself: Is the motion in this animation fluid and true to life? Is it varied and interesting? If you’re not sure what to look for, take a quick peak at the 12 Principles of Animation. It’s a six-minute read (with GIFS!).

Now that you’ve seen what animation is all about, watch that video that you love one more time. Is the animation jerky and stilted, or smooth and flowing? Are the transitions distracting or effortless?

This explainer video for Skyhook is a great example of quality motion in animation. See how that smartphone swivels and curves fluidly into the frame in the opening seconds? That animation infuses an inanimate object with energy and personality. Notice the smooth transitions from the scene to scene, and the subtle point-of-view pan in the café? It gives the entire video a professional, polished, and authoritative style. A lot of that sleek, polished impression rubs off on the brand.

A rushed project may feature fewer frames per second or fewer animation layers, resulting in jerkier motion that feels inauthentic and cheap. If you’re paying for a premium explainer video, shouldn’t you get premium quality? Fluid animation is a subtle yet fundamental indicator that the animation studio knows what it’s doing. Mastery over the mechanics of animation is one of the “little things” that separate great animation from work that’s just okay. Trust us, people will notice the difference even if they can’t explain it.

Choose an Animation Studio: Voiceover

Voice talent is an integral part of any animation. Some videos call for a soothing, sonorous tone—others are better served by high-pitched excitement. Choosing the right voice for an animation delivers subtle cues to the viewer. Take this explainer video from Scandis:

The narrator’s voice is amiable and nimble, even playful, just like Scandis’ brand. Listen in particular to the line, “furniture that has been marked up, just so it can be marked down,” about 20 seconds in.

The narrator peels back the curtain on the whole furniture buying experience and invites you to take control of your furniture shopping with her warm, welcoming voice. Her tone is knowing and makes you feel like you’re in on some kind of secret. She respects your intelligence while reflecting Scandis’ style.

The voiceover hits each line nearly perfectly. The result is an explainer video that’s convincing, compelling, and memorable. That’s the kind of voiceover you should be looking for in an animation portfolio.

Choose an Animation Studio: Music & Sound Mix

How to choose an animation studio

Another hallmark of a great animation studio is the ability to pair the right soundtrack with the animation (and mix it properly). Although many viewers (particularly on mobile) are choosing to watch video without sound, the right soundtrack still brings depth and emotional resonance to your animation.

When listening to a soundtrack, ask yourself: Do the audio elements clash or compliment each other? Does the tone of the music match the tone of the subject matter? Do the transitions and wipes match up well with the beat of the music? Are the sound effects overdone, or does every element add to the message? If there’s a song (instrumental or vocals), does it enhance the animation, or distract from the visuals?

In this spot for Breton Gluten-Free Crackers, the jaunty ukulele sets the tone, while brilliant sound effects amplify the animation. Hear the whoosh of loosed wheat-arrows, the drip of the tear of happiness and hope, and, of course, the satisfying crunch of the cracker itself. The message is a serious one, but the tone is still light and optimistic.

Choose an Animation Studio: Years of Experience

In the grand scheme of things, a studio’s length of experience is the least important element to consider. Animation is evolving at an incredible pace, and there are some great young studios working in a host of new mediums. However, experience is a sign of sustained success and time-tested professionals. It signals not just tried and true animation chops, but also the ability to work with clients year after year.

The best animation portfolio in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the studio can’t keep the lights on because they’re impossible to work with or don’t meet client expectations for edits, revisions, and deadlines. Remember, you’re not just hiring animators, you’re contracting with a business. Years of experience says a lot about the ability to deliver the product you want.

How to Choose an Animation Studio

DIY explainer video

Your animated explainer video is a big deal. The right animated video has catapulted businesses from obscurity to phenomenal success. Take the time to evaluate as many animation studios as you need to come to a decision, but do so in a calculated, trackable way. You’re video is a big investment; don’t just shoot from the hip.

 

Rate every animation portfolio from 1-10 using our six category scale and add it up. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable moving forward with your purchase armed with a host of tangible metrics.

Download our free eBook for more information about how to succeed with animated video (once you decide to make your own!)

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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