Animated Video Production

Choose the Best Animation Technique for Video

Emma Gallimore 12.17.2018

You know you want to make an animated explainer video but you’re not sure which animation technique to choose. Of course you don’t want just any technique, you want the best one out there. It should be the most  relevant, most effective, most engaging, animation technique available. But there’s one problem. There is no best animation technique for all applications.

Each animation technique has its pros and cons. Your unique goals, audience, and plans for the video will dictate which animated technique is best. Start by understanding the different animation styles available to you including: 2D animation, 3D animation, whiteboard animation and stop-motion.

Stop Motion Animation

Pros: high viral potential; trendy, handmade look
Cons: expensive; time consuming

Stop motion videos get a lot of viral play but they’re also time-consuming and difficult to produce. The basic technique of stop motion is to point the camera at a puppet, clay figure or other object in a scene. You take a picture, then make a slight change to the scene. For example: you move the puppet’s arm a few centimeters. Then you take another picture. When the pictures are put together in sequence, they give the impression that the object is animated.

This style is most effective when companies find ways to integrate the product into the animation. There are also ways that stop motion can be combined with 2D or 3D animation, or even with live video, to create a hybrid style. This can be an effective way to integrate your real life product into the virtual world.

Stop motion animation is often beautiful, but it is also inherently time consuming. Slight errors can result in whole scenes needing to be reshot. Unsurprisingly, budgets for stop motion can be high and timelines are long. For most companies, the cost isn’t worth the reward. But there are some exceptions. If you can integrate your product into the animation, or if you really want to invest in your brand image, stop motion can be the best animation technique for your video.

Whiteboard Animation

Pros: Classic style; easily explains complex concepts
Cons: Can be seen as old-fashioned; limited opportunities for branding

Whiteboard animation broke out more than 10 years ago, pioneered by the nonprofit RSA. Although other businesses had filmed a person standing in front of a whiteboard, RSA was the first to fully animate the experience. They found that these videos are relatively affordable and easy for viewers to understand.

There are a couple of different techniques for creating whiteboard animation. One is to draw the images by hand and then speed up the camera in After Effects so that the drawing syncs with the voiceover. Another technique is to create the drawing digitally, shoot the arm over a green screen, then composite the elements together. The former technique often has a charming, authentic feel. The latter technique is more versatile in terms of making changes, and often has a more polished and professional appearance.

Viewers tend to see whiteboard animation as classical rather than contemporary. You can update whiteboard video by layering your whiteboard images to create a dimensional effect or incorporating pops of color and other simple branding elements. However, if you want really strong branding, another form of animation might be a better choice.

Whiteboard animation is not the best animation technique for every brand. High-tech brands might want to steer away from it if they want to project a high-tech feel. Also, if you want strong branding in your video, whiteboard is probably not the right choice. On the other hand, the classic stripped-down feel makes it perfect for workflows or illustrating complex concepts.

2D Animation

Pros: Wide range of styles and tones; good value for money
Cons: Must match your brand voice to be effective

2D animation is what most people think of when they think about animation. Although most people grew up watching 2D animation, it goes way beyond Saturday morning cartoons. This flexible technique can be adjusted to achieve different effects and tones.

William Gadea, Creative Director and Founder of IdeaRocket, categorizes 2D animation into three styles: Popular, editorial, and iconic.

  • Popular style – has that comic book feel. The animation is fun and colorful. Characters have exaggerated proportions. Think Bugs Bunny.
  • Editorial style – figures and scenes are more realistic, a little more buttoned up. Think New Yorker Magazine.
  • Iconic style – simplified geometric shapes, few facial features, modern and contemporary.

Choose from these styles based on how they fit with your brand voice and style. For example, the branding of a financial services company may align better with the iconic or editorial style rather than the popular style.If you’re partnering with a professional video production company like IdeaRocket, they can help you choose the style that best matches your brand.

2D animation is a versatile technique. From classic to contemporary, heart-warming to cutting edge, 2D animation offers the widest range of styles. Most brands can find one that matches their brand persona. In addition, because many people grew up watching cartoons, they’re often eager to engage with a story in 2D animation. This technique creates an emotional resonance that strikes a chord with many viewers. Although it’s not a inexpensive technique, most brands find that it’s well worth what they spend.  

3D Animation

Pros: high-tech looking; ultra modern; illustrates physicality
Cons: human figures are a challenge; can be expensive

One of the strengths of 3D, also called CGI, is how well it describes the shape or physicality of a product or place. 3D animation has depth and objects in the scene exist in realistic relation to each other. If the shape and look of something is important then 3D is often a good choice. With careful lighting and shading, 3D animation gets closer to real-life than any other technique. About 75% of the Ikea catalog is CGI, so sometimes it’s difficult to even tell the difference.

What is hard to do well realistically in 3D is human faces and figures. High-quality 3D suffers from a problem known as the uncanny valley. The human face and figure is complex, and people instinctively try to read facial expressions and body language. When characters are hyper-realistic, the human eye sees them as real but the brain signals that something is a little off. Watching this type of animation can actually make viewers uncomfortable. The characters seem creepy rather than approachable.

While 3D animation can look great, creating the mechanism to animate a character, known as the rig, and animating it, can be time-intensive and expensive. 3D animation is the best animation technique when there are no human characters, or when the human characters are stylized enough to escape the uncanny valley problem. For example, 3D animated medical illustrations can look truly spectacular. For companies trying to project a high-tech or advanced image, 3D animated motion graphics can do the job well.

Choosing the best animation technique

Your animation technique shouldn’t be an arbitrary choice, it should be based on how you plan to use the video, your budget and timeline, your goals and other considerations. Choose the best animation technique by selecting the one that best fits your needs.

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