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A collage of different animation styles

How to Choose the Best Animation Styles for Your Brand

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’s still an important decision to be made. You’ll need to select an animation style that fits your message and brand.

At IdeaRocket, we tend to think about animation as falling into four main categories: 2D, 3D, Whiteboard, and Stop Motion. Each one brings its own flavor to your content, either supporting or distracting from your overall brand message. Here’s how to pick the best option for your brand.

2D Animation Styles

2D animation uses a series of flat images sequenced together to create the illusion of movement. 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 an inexpensive technique, most brands find that it’s well worth what they spend.  

Under the umbrella of 2D animation, we find a range of styles. William Gadea, Creative Director and Founder of IdeaRocket, puts 2D animation styles into three main buckets: Pop, editorial, and iconic.

  • Pop 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 categories 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 pop 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.

From classic to contemporary, heart-warming to cutting edge, 2D animation offers the widest range. Most brands can find one that matches their brand persona. However, if you’re looking for stunning effects or intense action, 3D might be a better choice. 

3D Animation Styles

2D animation has a lot of appeal, but if you want to actually show your product, 3D offers all the realism without the complications of a live-action video shoot.

3D animation relies on computer models. Each character and their environment is modeled in a three-dimensional mathematical space. While talented artists can also bring a cartoony nature to 3D, what separates it from 2D is that it can create images that are richly shaded and textured. 

In 3D animation you can also create simulations of physics, so that an action that might take a long time to draw accurately in 2D animation, like a bowling ball hitting some pins for a strike, could be simulated easily in the software.

While 3D animation can look great, creating the mechanism to animate a character, known as the rig, and animating it realistically, can be time-intensive and expensive. Plus, characters that are too realistic tend to look strange, leaving viewers feeling unsettled. When dealing with humans in 3D, it’s usually best to stylize them enough to escape the uncanny valley problem

For example, 3D animated medical illustrations can look truly spectacular. They allow you to zoom in on details that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to show. For companies trying to project a high-tech or advanced image, 3D animated motion graphics can do the job.

3D animation is the animation style of choice for brands that want a modern or futuristic look. 

Whiteboard Animation Styles

Whiteboard animation mimics the experience of watching a talented artist draw on a whiteboard. 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. For its 8th and final season,  the Showtime series Weeds asked IdeaRocket to create a whiteboard animation that showed the story of the series up to that point.

Whiteboard animation is a less expensive option than 2D or 3D. With whiteboard animation styles, you can make the illustrations simple or detailed. The result is a unique illustrative style that would be very expensive to animate in frame-by-frame. 

High-tech brands might want to steer away from whiteboard animation because it tends to be seen as lower tech, and classic rather than contemporary. Also, if you want strong branding in your video, other animation styles might be a better choice.

On the other hand, the simple, stripped-down feel makes it perfect for workflows or illustrating complex concepts. Because the action unfolds line-by-line, whiteboard tends to be less character driven than either 2D or 3D animation styles. It’s ideal for brands that need to educate or inform their customers. 

Stop Motion Animation

Instead of drawings, stop-motion uses photographs of physical objects. The object is manipulated 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 be featured as well.

An animated woman sculpts a giant clay replica of her head for use in stop motion animation

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.

Brands rarely use stop motion because it’s labor-intensive, which means it’s more expensive than other animation styles. It’s the only animation technique where production can’t be sped up using a computer. Plus, the distinctive look and style of stop-motion is charming and intriguing, but it’s often not appropriate for many brands.

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’re looking for a special viral moment, stop motion might be the animation style for you.

Motion Graphics

There’s a technique that we haven’t mentioned yet because it straddles both 2D and 3D. Motion graphics animation is exactly what it sounds like: graphics that move. It relies on text and shapes rather than characters to convey its message. Many classic movie title sequences of the 60s, 70s, and 80s used motion graphics to great effect, including the works of pioneer motion graphic designer Saul Bass

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 animation is often a less expensive option. It’s perfect for a brand that wants to convey a clear and simple message, or wants to avoid some of the complications of being associated with a particular character. To evoke an emotional response or showcase your animated spokesperson, another style of animation might be better.

Hybrid Animation Styles

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. You could also combine any animation style with live action.

Combining multiple styles of animation adds a layer of complexity to the project. But, when well executed, it can also create amazing effects. Before choosing a hybrid animation style, make sure you have a clear and compelling reason to do so.

Animated Character Styles

Just as your animation style sends messages about your brand, so do your character styles. 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 some of the choices here to help you start thinking about your character design.

Iconic vs. detailed

  • Iconic characters are simplified, with few lines and minimal detail work.
  • Detailed characters are more realistic. They might have detailed facial features, or clothes with buttons and zippers.
Iconic: Iconic characters are designed with simplified elements. Sometimes, we can even leave out things like facial features. 
Detailed: Detailed characters are rendered to show more detail, and are thus more realistic.

Iconic characters tend to be more modern looking. They simplify the viewing experience and obscure the race and sometimes even gender of the character. Many B2B brands prefer the iconic style because it makes their video feel more inclusive. 

Stylized vs Realistic

  • Realistic characters are drawn with realistic proportions. The size of their limbs matches the size of their body and their joints bend realistically.
  • Stylized characters are out of proportion. You may see longer legs, longer necks, or heads much too small for bodies. The motion of these characters might also be distorted. 

Proportional characters are best for more serious brands and those that require a realistic look. Distorted characters are more playful, like a classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon in which a character could be flattened or blown up like a balloon.

Line vs Color

How much your character stands out in their animated world depends on design choices related to line and color. Those choices impact the overall style of your video and send certain signals about your brand to the viewer.

With 2d characters, we can also talk about specific choices that were made in their design: 
Line-Only: these characters are created just with lines.
Line and color: These characters have color filing in the spaces between the lines.
Color only: These characters don't have an outline - they are just solids.

As the graphic above illustrates:

  • Line-only characters are created with just lines. You can add shading and details with more lines, but the characters aren’t colored in. This creates a classic or editorial look. 
  • Line-and-color characters are fully colored in but still have a strong self-line, the outline that defines the edges of a character. This gives you a cartoony look.
  • Color-only characters don’t have outlines, they’re built of solid shapes. This style tends to feel very contemporary and is really popular with brands at the moment.

How to Choose an Animation Style

As you weigh the pros and cons of each animation style to choose the one that’s right for your brand, consider these four factors. 

1. The Animation Style Should Match Your Brand

Does the style align with your other brand elements? Look at your colors, logo, brand personality 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. One that is approachable or playful might benefit from 2D. A brand that has a more classic outlook and is focused on numbers and results might benefit from whiteboard animation.

2. It Should Fit Your Budget and Timeline

3D animation is generally more expensive than 2D or whiteboard. Stop motion can be more expensive than all of those. Choose a style of animation that fits your budget. Keep in mind that some animation styles are more time-intensive than others. 

A whiteboard video is often quicker to put together than a video that requires character designs. Motion graphics are often the most accessible option, but can look cheap without an experienced artist in the mix. 

3. It Should Help Achieve Your Brand Goals

Ultimately, you should choose your animation 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.

4. It Should Speak To Your Audience

The style you choose should be well-suited to your target audience. An 18-year-old consumer probably has a different aesthetic than a 50-year-old B2B buyer. 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 animation 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. We make explainer videos, healthcare videos, HR videos, animated commercials, and more. Contact us today to start planning your video.

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