Animation vs Live Action for Corporate Video

By | January 19, 2017 at 2:01 pm | No comments | Multimedia in Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When planning for video marketing or training content, there are a lot of aspects to consider. As a video production company, it’s our job to help advise and educate our clients on the best approach to achieve their goals for the video project, and at the best value. One of the common debates is whether to use animation or live action video. Many times clients come to us with the mandate that a video must be animation or must be live action. We always like to ask why and encourage that debate. We thought we’d explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Ask – Can I Photograph This?
One of the first tests for whether to use animation or live action is simply to ask can this be captured in the real world with a video camera? Is the subject matter tangible or imaginary? Perhaps it’s just an idea or maybe it’s microscopic. If you are wanting to show the physical qualities of a product and how people interact with it, then live action is the way to go. This is especially true of food or fashion products. Customers want to see the real thing. But if you want to demonstrate a product that doesn’t yet exist or see inside the working components of a mechanical part, then animation is probably the way to go.

Neither live action or animation is inherently more expensive than the other. The concept and script are two of the biggest influences in the cost of video production. And a particular concept or scope of actions may be less expensive to create through either animation or live action. It is important to choose the right medium to avoid sometimes unnecessary expense. For example, the concept is to show a person using a new piece of fitness equipment. Both animation and live action could capture the scripted concept. But creating a photo-realistic human character in a realistic environment, animated to show the use of the equipment would likely cost 2 or 3 times the cost of just recording an actor using the product in real life. But then the script dictates the camera pulls out with an aerial shot of that same person working out on top of a skyscraper. Again theoretically both could be captured via animation or live action, but in this case staging the shot in real life and commissioning a helicopter to film a dramatic pull out would likely make a live action approach cost prohibitive.

Though not a universal truth, for us the starting cost of producing an animation is less than producing a live action video.

Another element to consider is the potential for unexpected cost. A live action shoot requires cast, crew, equipment, and location all come together on schedule. Weather not cooperating or an actor falling ill can seriously delay and extend the time for production. There are typically less uncontrollable variables in animation and so potential for unexpected costs is less.

Time is always of the essence and we’ve built our company around streamlining the video production process. When it comes to animation or live action, the live action approach is usually a shorter production. Live action is heavily centered on preproduction – scheduling crew, locations, actors, etc; scriptwriting; getting everything prepped for a day or 2 of shooting. This is followed by typically a few days of editing. 2D animation is about the same timeframe and 3D animation usually takes the longest to produce. Animation typically involves a week or more of designing, illustrating, or modeling assets before animation can even begin. This is followed by animation and then editing the clips into a final video.

Related to time and cost, it is important to consider how likely the video will need to be changed or redone in the future. Animation is typically more changeable. The narration and visuals can be changed to illustrate updated services or products, logos or brand elements more easily swapped out, and videos can be re-cut often with less likelihood of continuity issues. Live action has more permanence. If an employee featured in a video leaves the company to work for a competitor, the resulting conflict of interest may really only be solved by reshooting the video. If the actors demonstrate last years model of an appliance, again a reshoot is necessary to update to the current model. A 3D model of a mascot or product can be reused over and over in different scenarios. So once it is created the first time, future projects don’t require that build process be repeated. Productions can jump off from the half way point instead of starting at the beginning.

Staying true to the look and personality of your brand is usually a big factor. Certain stylistic choices may give obvious preference to the look of live action or animation. Both mediums have equal opportunity to represent brand identity. And if your brand somehow limits the use of one medium over the other, you may find some concepts challenging to create.

The Human Touch
Live action video captures real people. This has the ability to instill trust, evoke emotion, and meet the viewer on a more personal level. You are able to show the face of the business, the people providing the products or services, or the customers who swear by them. Live action is great for answering “why” your business does what it does.

Complex Ideas
Animation has the ability to organize and streamline the explanation or demonstration of complex ideas or concepts. With animation, you are able to isolate just the key components for discussion. Through graphics or iconography you can easily visualize the intangible. Animation is ideal for answering “how” your business works.

We would argue that both animation and live action have equal potential to speak to any audience, when used in the right way. There are a few common misconceptions related to this. Age – kids like animation and older people do not. We would argue that kids have a strong connection with live action videos showing another kid’s face. And an older adult can relate to the formulaic breakdown of a complex process that only animation can provide. Seriousness – the concept that animation is always lighter in tone and doesn’t address more serious topics. We’ve used animation to explain surgical procedures to cancer patients. We’ve also seen animation pinpoint the core of a controversial issue and unveil it through exaggerated dramatization. Animation as a medium is not the same as a cartoon. Lastly, just because others in an industry only speak to their customers through real-life imagery doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact by surprising them with a different medium.

Considering your audience is critical when planning a successful marketing video. These considerations greatly impact your concept and how you deliver your message. These along with other considerations discussed here ultimately dictate the ideal medium for delivery. So you could say audience indirectly influences the choice between live action or animation but should not directly dictate one or the other.

Ultimately, most businesses will use both mediums – an executive interview to explain the company’s core values and then an animation to demonstrate how their services work, for example. The point is to take the time to consider all of these factors when deciding between the use of live action or animation. Consult a video professional on the time, cost, and complexity of production for your specific concept through each medium. Taking the time to make the right choice can greatly impact the practicality and success of the video.

Ben Young
Partner | Head of Production
Rapid Eye Digital



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