The pros and cons of live-action and animated video

 In Video Marketing

As a marketer, you know you want to make a video that stands out, but making the choice between live-action and animated video is hard.

You’re not alone.

For most marketers, the pros and cons only reveal themselves once the video is in the can, or worse yet, become apparent halfway through production, at which point there’s no turning back without blowing out timelines and budgets.

This post will help you understand what you should expect from each format so you can best decide which is right for your business.

Live-action or animation? What's right for your business?

Animation

Pro: Anything is possible

For abstract products or services, animated video is your best choice.

It’s a fantastic way to simplify complex topics and bring even the dryest subject matter to life in an engaging, digestible form.

With the right designer and motion graphics artist, style can range from flat iconography to 3D renderings. If you want a superhero to shake hands with your customer, animated videos can bring it to life.

Pro: Future editing

An animated video uses hundreds, if not thousands of illustrations and layers, allowing you to repurpose those assets in future video projects, and in presentations, eBooks, or banners.

With complete creative control of your animated masterpiece, swapping assets in and out to support script changes is feasible, even well after the original production is complete.

And though design trends evolve over time, a flat animation style does offer some level of future proofing.

Con: Slower to produce

An animated video takes three to seven weeks to create, depending on length and complexity. On the bright side, there are no sets to build or locations to find, and no temperamental actors to coddle.

However, you should give careful thought to the design and use of every element before it’s animated.

Pro: Manageable work-back schedule

Though animated videos are slower to produce, the format does provide greater structure.

For animations, a work-back schedule is your best friend as it provides both structure and flexibility for the creative team and the client. And thanks to technology, tasks such as project briefing, feedback, and approvals are as easy, if not easier, to perform remotely as they once were in person.

Plus, there’s no camera gear to lug around, actors to hire, or planes to catch!

Live-action

Pro: Relatable

Live-action is authentic, instructive and humanizing all at the same time.

People relate to live-action video more quickly as the format makes it easier to communicate emotion than in an animated video based on our ability to read body language.

Crowdfunding sites like kickstarter.com or indigogo.com typically feature live-action videos as the format makes it easier showcase products in a real-world scenario.

Odds are you wouldn’t donate to a crowdfunding effort based on a product schematic. Showing your product in live-action is a game changer.

The same goes for software. By mixing live-action with screen cam recordings, you can show actual product functionality and convey the emotional benefit.

Live action humanizes your company and product using body language and emotion and helps you communicate your brand ethos.

Con: Not everything is possible

Though I prefer live-action for telling stories, the format has its limits.

For example, if you want to see someone running around with their hair on fire, guess what? You have to hire a stunt crew.

When you choose live-action video, you must always consider the resources you have to produce realistic footage. From location to camera and sound gear, to talent, and trailers, the more you want to do visually, the more it will cost.

Pro: Faster

Live-action video can be faster to produce, but not always.

If we compare the post-production time associated with a three-minute animated video to that of a live-action video of the same duration, live-action wins every time.

However, the more logistics you add, the longer things take. Writers, actors, locations, camera angles, multiple takes, multiple angles. The list goes on and on and so does production time on set.

You can complete a well-planned, logistic-light video or three weeks. But even when best efforts are made to keep it simple, six weeks is not out of the norm.

Capturing visuals through a lens gives live-action video an edge on production time, but when you factor in additional labor and logistics, things may even out.

To optimize production time, leverage the resources around you to keep the costs down and minimize turnaround time.

Live-action allows you to go as big, or as small as you want. There’s a huge variety of high-quality cameras and equipment affecting price point. To avoid big capital expenditures, you can always rent the hardware you need.

Finally, live-action can be a flexible option if you solidify your story and talent before talking to a production agency.

Con: Future editing is a challenge

Planning is essential for live-action videos because the video will only be as good as the footage you capture. There’s only so much a skilled editor can do.

If you miss something or your camera breaks, you may not get the shot(s) you want.

You have to hire the same actors, a sound and camera crew, and travel back to your location. Issues with continuity are bound to arise.

On the bright side, live-action content endures over animation because humans typically don’t go out of style. That is unless your wardrobe people dress your talent in period apparel.

Cheat Sheet

Use live-action to:

  • connect with your audience on a human level
  • show products in action
  • have a quick timeline

Use animated videos to:

  • express abstract ideas
  • make the video asset easier to edit in the future

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