Updated: Aug 24
Both animation and ‘live action’ (filmed videos) can be great mediums to visually tell your story, communicating what you do and who you help, and tell the stories of your community, members and supporters.
But there are instances where one medium may be better suited than the other.
When marketing and comms budgets are tight and set in stone, it’s important to make a well-considered decision from the outset.
We’ve put together some information to help you understand the process behind each medium, and the pros and cons, in order to understand which is the best form for you.
A typical animation process would normally go as follows:
Scriptwriting and Visual Scripting;*
Style framing and design concept;*
Casting and voiceover recording;
Animatic (storyboard timed to the voiceover);*
Sound editing including any effects, and music*
*Revisions/rounds of amendments will during these stages of the process.
Animation is top heavy. The bulk of feedback, revisions/rounds of amendments occur at the earlier stages of the project with scripting, design work and visual storyboarding. This is because these elements need to be set-in-stone before animation begins. Animation takes a long time, which means any changes beyond tweaks take a long time to undo and redo.
The live-action process tends to follow a similar line to animation; however, you’ll notice that the bulk of feedback, revisions/rounds of amendments occur at the tail-end of the project. This is because the Edit process of live action is much quicker, which means things can be re-structured, re-edited etc much quicker and much easier. This is why we call live action bottom heavy – the story happens in the edit.
For comparison, a typical live action video process would normally go as follows:
Video structuring / interview questions*
Production logistics / shoot planning
Editing, including story producing and assembly*
Colour grade, sound mix and music*
Any voiceovers (if necessary).
Now that we have an overview of what both animation and live-action videos requires, let’s take a look at the possible pros and cons of each.
Showcases your real-life supporters and community: this can be especially valuable when you want to show potential donor the people they are helping – your community – as well as showing celebrity ambassadors, or even important figures in the organisation. Your own personal relationship with your supporters, donors and corporate partners can be incredibly important, so it can be great to show your face.
Humanising and authentic: live action naturally comes with a sense of authenticity. It is the closest medium to our human experience, and this has a humanising effect which can be valuable. There’s also scope to be highly emotive, with audiences responding to human body language, facilitating response to calls-to-action. Here’s one of our favorite examples produced for Alzheimer’s Society.
Live action can be faster and cheaper, and even more accessible: simple live action (such as a talking head video) tends to be faster to produce, particularly if using user-generated mobile phone footage or Zoom-recorded footage.
Live action can end up more expensive than animation if the film is a dramatisation, involving multiple locations, the use of actors and solid scripts. The location/set costs, actors, and other costs such as catering costs across multiple days of filming soon add up very quickly.
It’s harder to instill visual/brand identity: tone of voice and brand style guides around photography/imagery will help a production company capture the essence of your brand, although hard branding will only be apparent in logos and graphic slates. However, check out this example case study from the Encephalitis Society of how branding can help elevate zoom-recorded footage.
Animation provides a lot of visual freedom, so can be great at simplifying complex ideas or abstracts topics. Check out animation produced for Fair4AllFinance, which uses metaphors of ladders and shapes to visual the problems and solutions.
The visual identity of your charity is highly important when it comes to awareness, and animation is great if you want to instil brand identity. Animations allow you to incorporate brand identity into the imagery to a greater extent compared to live action, and even create the entire video using nothing but the brand colour palette. Check out this animation for Women for Women International’s re-brand.
Longevity: Animation offers a timeless visual storytelling tool that tends to ‘age’ much less quickly; unlike the shorter shelf-life live action, which change as quickly as camera technology evolves. As there’s much less risk of an animation feeling dated quickly, charities can end up getting more bang for their buck.
Animation tends to be more impersonal due to lack of human presence: it’s much harder to create characters that can replace humans and emulate human emotions. Character animation, such as nuanced facial and body movements, are also costly.
Animation can be more expensive with longer timelines. The production time associated with animation tends to be longer than live action video. An animated video has to be built from scratched: the backgrounds have to be drawn, the characters designed, and every movement – from a blink to a transition – has to be precisely rigged. But this means that if you can imagine it, we can create it!
Overall, while there certainly isn’t a right or wrong answer and the best medium depends on multiple factors including your comms needs, we’d recommend the following:
Live action is a great choice for case studies, testimonials and patient journeys, fundraising event promo videos and videos where you would encourage the public to donate to the cause.
Animation is a great choice for charities pushing a re-brand or raising brand awareness such as ‘About Us’ videos, and educational and explainer videos which describe processes and solutions.
You may also want to look into how to combine live-action and animation. Take a look at this collaborative effort for Women for Women International's #16DaysOfActivism campaign for some inspiration.
We can help you decide on what medium best suits your brief. Email firstname.lastname@example.org