Brands choose animation for many reasons: because it has explanatory power, because it captures the imagination, because it’s timeless and compelling. Once you’ve chosen animation, however, there are still important decisions to be made.
You’ll need to select an animated video technique and style that fits your message and brand. At IdeaRocket, we tend to think about animation as falling into five main categories: 2D, 3D, whiteboard, motion graphics, and stop motion. Each one brings its own flavor to your content.
2D animation uses a series of flat images sequenced together to create the illusion of movement. Traditional 2D animation was made up of images drawn on transparent paper. This hand-drawing process was time-consuming. How time-consuming? It took three years for Disney animators to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film.
Computers can help speed the process, but the animators still draw the images frame-by-frame. This means that 2D animation can be expensive and time consuming. If you’re working on a compressed timeline or a tight budget, 2D animation might not be right for you.
While all styles of animation excel at storytelling, 2D animation might be particularly suited to emotionally engaging stories. Because the style tends to be less flashy, viewers can focus more on the characters and their interactions.
The classic look of 2D animation might not be right for all brands. If your brand is edgy, modern, or technology-focused, you might see better results with another animation style. If you’re looking for stunning effects or intense action, 3D might be a better choice.
2D character styles
If you decide on a 2D animation style, the choices are just beginning. You can select a range of 2D character styles to give your animated spokesperson a brand-aligned image. A professional animator can help you make smart decisions about character design, but it’s good to be prepared before you talk to one. We’ve broken down the choices here to help you start thinking about your character design.
Self-line vs no self line
A self-line is the thick black border you see around some characters. Many classic cartoons use self-lines and this style can give you animation a classic look. For a more modern feel, use a character with no self-line.
Iconic vs. detailed
Iconic characters are simplified, with few lines and minimal detail work. Detailed characters are more realistic in this style. They might have detailed facial features, or clothes with buttons and zippers. Iconic characters tend to be more modern looking, while detailed characters can seem old fashioned, recalling classic cartoons and comic strips.
Proportional vs distorted
Proportional characters are drawn with realistic proportions. The size of their limbs matches the size of their body. Distorted characters are out of proportion, often with comedic effect. The motion of these characters might also be distorted. Like a classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon in which a character could be flattened or blow up like a balloon. Proportional characters are best for more serious brands and those that require a realistic look. Distorted characters are more playful.
Line only vs colored-in
Outlines define line-only characters. Imagine drawing with only a pencil and paper. You’re left with just the outline.
3D animation relies on computer models. Each character and their environment is modeled on a three-dimensional plane. This allows for realistic motion and characters.
In fact, 3D animation can sometimes look too realistic. There’s a concept known as the uncanny valley, which is when animated characters look almost real, but are just unnatural enough to cause cognitive dissonance. Because the human brain is so keyed in to faces, this most often happens when you have humanoid characters. A professional animator can help keep your characters out of the uncanny valley. On the other hand, that realism can come in handy for showing how a product works.
3D animation is the most common animation style in use today. It’s the animation style of choice for brands that want a modern or futuristic look. It’s also perfect for showing objects in space and how they relate to each other. 3D animation demands realism in regards to how objects interact in space. If you want the freedom to distort physics, you should probably stick with 2D.
Some of the character considerations in the blue section above also apply to 3D characters. You’ll need to decide if you want distorted or proportional figures and how detailed they should be.
Whiteboard animation mimics the experience of watching someone draw on a whiteboard, assuming the person holding the marker is a talented artist. It usually starts with a blank screen or simple drawing and then details are added as the animation unfolds.
This animation style evokes the experience of learning, which makes it perfect for explaining a concept or illustrating a logical thought process. Whiteboard videos are very popular in the healthcare industry because they help to simplify complex medical concepts. They can also explain how investments grow over time or how solar panels work.
Of course, whiteboard animations can tell stories, too. The 8th season of the Showtime series Weeds used whiteboard animation to show the story up to that point.
Whiteboard animation is a less expensive option than 2D or 3D. With whiteboard, you can make the illustrations simple or you can make them much more complex and detailed than you could in 2d puppet animation. The result is a high-quality and detailed illustrative style that would be very expensive to animate in frame-by-frame. Whiteboard delivers it on a much smaller budget.
It’s best for brands that need to educate or inform their customers. To tell a character-driven story and build customer engagement, your brand might benefit from 2D or 3D animation instead.
The line between motion graphics and 2D animation is sometimes difficult to draw. Motion graphics animation is exactly what it sounds like, graphics that move. Most often, this style uses abstract or simplified shapes to convey an idea. Many classic movies of the 60s, 70s, and 80s used motion graphics to great effect.
Text is often more important than characters in motion graphics. Many motion graphics animations don’t feature characters at all. Instead, the text tells the story while moving graphics hold attention and illustrate ideas.
Motion graphics animation tends to involve less up-front design work. With no characters and a simplified story-line, motion graphics is an inexpensive option. It’s perfect for a brand that wants to convey a clear and simple message. To evoke an emotional response or showcase your animated spokesperson, another style of animation might be better.
Instead of drawings, stop-motion uses photographs of physical objects. The object moves slightly from frame to frame. When all of the images are played together, the object appears to move. Clay figures are most commonly used to create stop motion, but puppets, household objects, or brand items could all feature as well.
Brands rarely use stop motion because it’s labor-intensive, which means it’s more expensive than other animation styles. The distinctive look and style of stop-motion just isn’t appropriate for most brands. It’s also the only style that can’t be speeded up by using a computer. Choosing stop motion could make your brand stand out, but the benefits may not outweigh the costs for most brands.
In some cases, brands might choose to mix multiple styles of animation. For example, you might include a 2D character in a whiteboard video to make the animation more relatable. Or you could use stop motion animation of your product against a 2D animated background.
Combining multiple styles of animation can be both expensive and labor-intensive. It adds a layer of complexity to the project. It can also create amazing effects when well-executed. Before choosing a hybrid animation style, make sure you have a clear and compelling reason to do so.
How to choose an animated video style
Now that you understand the five basic animation styles, you’re ready to choose the one that’s right for your brand. To make the right choice, take these three factors into account.
1. The style should match your brand
Consider your other brand elements. Look at your colors, logo, and messaging. If you already have a website, product packaging, or other collateral, consider which style of animation most closely matches the style of those elements. A brand that is modern, dynamic, and cutting edge would probably benefit more from 3D animation. A brand that is classic, approachable, or playful might benefit from 2D.
2. It should fit your budget and timeline
3D animation is more expensive than motion graphics. Both are less expensive than stop motion. Choose a style of animation that fits your budget. Keep in mind that some animation styles are more labor-intensive than others as well. A whiteboard video is often quicker to put together than a video that requires character designs.
3. It should help achieve your goal
Ultimately, you should choose your animated video style based on your brand goals. If you’re educating your customers you might use a whiteboard video. Motion graphics might help you convey a single clear idea. Telling a story to build customer engagement? Go for 2D or 3D with well-developed characters.
The style you choose should be well-suited to your target audience. Gen z consumers have a different aesthetic than baby boomer B2B buyers. Each audience brings its own sense of humor and associations. Choose a style and characters that speak to your audience.
If you’re still not sure which is the best-animated video style for your brand, don’t worry. The animation experts at IdeaRocket can help you choose a style that matches your brand, fits your budget, and helps achieve your goals. Contact us today to start planning your video.