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Which animated video styles and uses are best suited to my marketing?

Which animation style is right for my budget and my needs?

We have all seen animated TV commercials, animated feature films, like Kung Fu Panda and Toy Story, and animated cartoons like Gumball and Adventure Time (don’t worry if you haven’t; you will when you have your own kids. Ye shall watch Gumball 682 times before your child is 5 years old).

We are familiar with the different styles of animation that exist but when it comes to choosing one for our business needs we are inundated with the endless choice of genres, visual styles, and techniques.

In the following paragraphs I have tried to provide you with a comprehensive list of animation styles that you could use in your marketing efforts and explained some of their uses and benefits. This list is almost exhaustive, with a huge emphasis on almost, but you should consider the fact that different people or companies my call these techniques by other names, or classify them differently. This is the list of animation styles included in this post:

A) 2D animation

B) 3D animation

C) Other

For those of you unfamiliar with the term explainer video, an explainer video (2D or 3D) is a short animated video that usually lasts between 1 to 3 minutes and which seeks to introduce a product, service, website, or concept using simple graphics and cartoon-style animations.

The terminology we have used here is what is used most frequently on the web; animation is not an exact science and we don’t have a governing body that standardizes nomenclature; let’s not forget that what we do is a mix of art, creativity, mechanics, mathematics, technology, and a few other disciplines and sciences.

Furthermore, new styles and techniques of animation are being created as we go along and it is futile to try and include every conceivable form of animated content in this article; and I don’t even believe that would be very useful to our audience.

The purpose of this list is to not only familiarize you with the existing styles of animation, but also to inform you of the possible ways of using them for your marketing, communication, or branding needs.

To facilitate things I have grouped the animation techniques into 3 distinct styles: 2D, 3D, and other.

Animated video styles:

Before we delve into the details of the different styles of animation I would like to point out that although there exists such a wide range of animation techniques, about 95% of them are based on the principle of “illusion of motion” where a sequence of images shown in rapid succession trick the mind into thinking that they are watching life unfold on screen or a piece of paper.

The definition provided by Wikipedia is very concise and complete:

“Animation is the process of making the illusion of motion and change by means of the rapid display of a sequence of static images that minimally differ from each other. The illusion—as in motion pictures in general—is thought to rely on the phi phenomenon.”

To give you an idea you can watch the cute little flip-book animation provided below:

 

Obviously, with modern software and techniques we don’t need to create every single image anymore but although the process has been simplified by software applications the foundation still remains the same.

 

1) 2D animation

a) 2D character animation

 

What it is:

2D animation is the classic style of animation which was invented decades ago and uses the technique of illustrated drawings made on paper or in software to create the illusion of life. Certain techniques such as perspective drawing and coloring are used to give the final product a more believable look and feel.

In this technique, 2D drawings and illustrations are used to create the backgrounds and the characters, while the software application helps to animate these drawings, control timing, and render the final images.

Contrary to motion graphics animation, this style takes advantage of illustrated characters to convey more emotions and a deeper feeling of affinity.

Human or humanoid characters in particular tend to create a feeling of empathy in the audience and heighten our sense of immersion in the visuals being presented.

 

What it is used for:

2D character animation can be used universally and for a plethora of purposes, from simple 2D explainer videos to full-fledged animated cartoons.

 

Who is it for?

From small businesses to medium and large businesses, 2D animations can be created using different budgets; it will depend on the graphic quality, number of characters, the music and audio, and the overall production quality you expect.

 

Feature comparison: I have created a subjective list of comparison features to help you compare the costs and usability of these videos for your requirements; please take into account that these are my personal estimates based on years of experience and not an absolute scale of measurement.

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

 Examples:

 

One of the best examples of 2D animation for entertainment use is “The Simpsons” series where extremely simple graphics and drawings and crude animations have created a comic cult series just by using great story-telling and phenomenal humor:

 

Another great one is this educational video for Virgin Atlantic which, in my opinion, is one of the most creative flight safety videos ever created:

 

 

And this one was done by us, Vishka Studio, for the number one job search website in Iran, IranTalent:

 

 

b) 2D motion graphics animation

 

What it is:

This is very similar to 2D character animation with the difference that no characters are used and most of the video consists of giving life to inanimate objects and text.

Visual effects, transitions, audio, and music are used extensively to make the final product more compelling.

 

What it is used for:

Same as 2D character animation; it can be used as 2D explainer videos, product intros, or for presentations, but the cost is lower since customized character designs or animations are skipped. Generally, a lot of 2D explainer videos use this technique to speed up production times and lower costs, and may even sometimes use existing graphic templates in the process. Even if they do use characters they are frequently generic templates that are not very costly and may be used by other companies or individuals.

 

Who is it for?

Startups who need to introduce a website, product, or service.

Small businesses or medium businesses that want to launch a series of low-cost educational videos. These are also good candidates fro Instagram and Vine if they are short enough.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 Examples:

 

 

c) 2D infographics animation

What it is:

This technique is almost the same as 2D motion graphics but the focus here is more on presenting concrete visual data than to introduce a concept or a product.
Data and graphics are intertwined here in a visually pleasing and easy to remember manner.
This product frequently wants to make a point or prove the validity of some assumption or hypothesis by presenting the audience with a series of data points, statistics, or arguments in a visual manner.

 

What it is used for:

Presenting difficult concepts that need explanation
Showing data and statistics in a visual and comprehensible manner
Proving a hypothesis or advancing an argument

This kind of explainer video is mostly used in the later stages of your sales and marketing funnel for persuading leads of your expertise but they can also be used in the awareness stage to attract potential clients through social networks.

 

Who is it for?

Infographics can be a very effective marketing and communications tool and can be used by all companies, from small startups to big corporations. They are pleasant to watch and present the viewer with engaging data and information visually and quickly. They can be used in most stages of your sales cycle to present potential customers with proof of your expertise.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)


Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 Examples:

 

d) 2D kinetic type (typography) animation

What it is:

This is a low-cost but effective technique where only written text, using creative typography, and the camera are animated.

Because of the simplicity of this technique, the graphic design of such a project is very important and requires good knowledge of graphic design and typography.

 

Fluid camera animation, choice of fonts and animation effects, and great audio are some of the elements that can make these videos appealing.

2D kinetic type or typography animation are mostly effective when you need to communicate a long message or concept. By adding an exciting soundtrack and/or compelling narration you can captivate your audience with a low-cost video (unless you decide to go with Morgan Freeman’s voice). Furthermore, the animated text will help your audience better retain your message by giving them a visual boost.

 

What it is used for:

Presenting a text-based story that needs verbal explanation or a visual cue for better understanding. Educational videos and music videos are some of the best candidates for typographic animation.

 

Who is it for?

This technique is mostly used for lowering production costs or for producing content in a short deadline but it can be effective if the design is top notch. They are also sometimes used to display the lyrics of a song or educate your viewers. An alluring narration can occasionally create great emotion and make your message even more engaging.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

 Examples:

 

 

e) 2D whiteboard animation

What it is:

I’m sure most of us have seen at least one whiteboard animation on the web before where a hand holding a crayon or marker starts drawing simple black and white visuals and doodles in a simple graphic style on a white background. For a while this technique was the latest craze but it is still used broadly due to its simple technique

Although these videos seem simple to make, and the technical part of it is not that difficult, a good whiteboard animation is directly dependent on the quality of the graphics and how they are ultimately laid out and harmonized.

Famous brands such as Coca Cola and RSA have used this technique to create video that have resonated with large audiences and have been very influential, whether socially or from a marketing viewpoint.

One of the most famous ones has been adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award, on changing education paradigms.

 

What it is used for:

It is usually used for concepts that can be difficult to explain or that need to be accompanied by graphics to make understanding them easier. The process of waiting for the doodles to be drawn on screen gives us ample time to include a lot of audio without boring the audience to death. The audience is hooked by the movements of the hand drawing on the whiteboard and they are excited to guess what will be drawn next while listening to the narrator.

 

Who is it for?

Startups who need to explain their product or its functions

Charities and non-profits who need to delineate their philosophy or viewpoint

Medium and large companies who want to tell a story or explain a concept.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

 

f) 2.5D animation (hybrid 2D and 3D)

What it is:

As the title suggest this is a technique where two animation techniques, 2D and 3D, are mixed to create a hybrid solution.

Most of the time the 2D parts establish the background and environments, while the characters and foreground protagonists are created in 3D.

This technique is mostly used when the creator is attempting to obtain visually engaging imagery but does not want to get into prohibitive 3D production costs, or the producer is aspiring to create a unique or particular graphic style.

 

What it is used for:

This technique has mostly been used in entertainment but it is a good candidate for creating a visual message that can be graphically different or unique. These are good candidates for going viral and can even become cult classics if done well.

 

Who is it for?

Medium to large companies who want to cut through the clutter and get their message out using a video that is hard to ignore and visually engaging, but less costly than full 3D animation.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

 

g) Screencast animation

What it is:

Although I wouldn’t exactly categorize this technique as animation, I decided to include it because of its wide use in promotional and educational material and particularly marketing purposes.

It may not always be used on its own but it is frequently included in explainer videos as a means to show the workings of some software application or web service, or to depict a user working on a WIP project.

Specialized screen capture software is used to capture the user’s screen while working in order to show the flow of work or certain features of the software or service.

 

What it is used for:

Mostly used by software companies or SAAS websites; it allows these companies to show the features of their products or services

 

Who is it for?

Any company who needs to visually show how their web product or application works, or what features they provide to their users.

They can also be used as a means to educate users on how to use a certain software or feature.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

 

2) 3D animation

a) 3D full animation

What it is:

This is the ultimate animation technique because of all the potential it can provide from a graphical and story-telling perspective but there are caveats which I will explain later.

Specialized and highly intricate 3D production software is used to create 3D assets that are further shaded, lighted, animated, and rendered to create a vivid 2D movie. One of the reasons 3D production is more costly than the other techniques is because of the fact that due to its 3D nature every object, asset, prop, environment or character has to be created in the application before they can be used.

Additionally, every one of these assets need to receive materials and textures, lighting, skeletons and movement rigs (in the case of characters), and have to be laid out in the final scene where the animations are generated.

You can read some of our blog posts if you want to become more familiar with the production process of 3D animated content:

The Undertals Production Focus

The caveat I mentioned earlier is due to the fact that 3D animation has become pervasive, it has also brought forth a slew of companies that are creating low-quality but less expensive content. Although I’m not claiming that only expensive 3D animation can be compelling, I firmly believe that you should go the 3D animation route only if you can create a great end-project.

It is better to create a good 2D animation at a fraction of the cost than to create a cheap but mediocre 3D animation.

 

What it is used for:

Broadcast commercials

YouTube videos

Explainer videos

Game trailers and adverts

 

Who is it for?

Due to its high production costs full 3D animation can be prohibitive for small startups or businesses and is better suited to companies of a certain size with deeper pockets.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

The Undertals; an action-packed 3D educational series for pre-school children (in pre-production) aimed at teaching small children about animals:

 

Paper City Adventures; a 3D educational trilogy created for Tehran Municipality Traffic and Transport Authority to educate children on traffic best practices.

 

b) 3D explainer animation

What it is:

A hybrid between full 3D character animation and 2D explainer videos, it uses 3D technology to demonstrate a concept using a simple graphic style and simple 3D assets.

The frequent use of simplified characters, low-poly assets and environments, and crude animations is a characteristic of this sort of animated content, where the emphasis is on creating low-cost CGI assets that can be used to create a visually stimulating experience.

 

What it is used for:

Explainer videos, events, corporate presentations, broadcast commercials, Instagram and Vine videos.,,,

The list goes on; the possibilities are endless.

 

Who is it for?

Small to medium companies with a marketing budget who need to create an explainer video that is more visually engaging than a 2D explainer.

Large companies and corporation who need more differentiation and strive to create visuals that will stick with their potential customers.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

A 3D explainer video we created for Pars Online, one of the maojor internet service providers in Iran, to introduce their new Traffic Management services:

 

3) Other

a) Stop motion, Claymation

 

What it is:

Stop motion animation is created by incrementally moving an object, or part of an object, and capturing its movement by photographing it. When these images are put together and shown as a sequence they create the “illusion of motion” as we explained above.

Stop motion is one of the oldest techniques used in animation and film-making. One of the most famous precursors of this technique was Ray Harryhausen who created classics such as “Jason and the Argonauts” (one of my favorite childhood movies) and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”; you can have a complete overview of its history in this wikipedia article.

Creating stop motion animation is an arduous process and requires considerable time, patience, and oftentimes financial means but the results can be magical. Personally I have always been mesmerized by stop motion animations like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by Tim Burton or “Wallace and Gromit: The Cusrse of the Were-Rabbit” and would love to see more marketing content using this technique.

Many brands have been using this technique for their Instagram and Vine videos, like GE, for instance, who has used stop-motion for 80 percent of its over 100 Vines, Home Depot, and M&Ms.

 

What it is used for:

When it comes to marketing many brands have decided to go for stop motion for short videos because they know that not everyone can afford to use this technique and because it creates a final product that is different from the slew of images you see on the web today.

 

Who is it for?

 

Companies looking for a unique approach and differentiation from existing content who have deep pockets, patience, and time.

Stop motion can be created cheaply as well, using existing everyday objects, but if the end result is not visually creative and awe-inspiring the expected ROI may be lower than expected.

 

Feature comparison:

 

Costs: (Cost of producing the video)

Visual Appeal: (How visually pleasing the final product can be)

Immersion: (How much the audience will be mentally involved in the video)

Story-telling potential: (How much story-telling can be used to create a more engaging video)

 

Examples:

 

Batman vs. Superman Stop-motion (has 35 MILLION views on Youtube!!0

 

Lego Batman game cut-scenes:

 

Conclusion:

Animation techniques are progressing and becoming more visually stimulating and cost-effective as we go along, and they are powerful weapons to use in your content marketing efforts. You can read more about how animation can help make your business thrive in this post.

The great thing about animation is that you can choose from a broad range of techniques and graphic styles to convey your message; whether it’s 2D character animation, motion graphics, or full 3D animation, you can always find a style that will be suited to your budget and to your story-telling needs.

The most important thing to consider when you decide to create an animation, as for any other media, is the importance of story-telling. The most expensive animation techniques will not save a mediocre script or story, whereas a great story can become very engaging using the simplest animation graphics.

The first step therefore will be to create a great script, whether it is going to be done by yourself or a professional scriptwriter (for your money’s sake please decide to go with the latter). The next step is to decide which animation technique will potentially have the capability of depicting your story.

The final step is to use a professional animation team to turn your idea and script into the masterpiece you are aiming for.

In a future article I will write a complete how-to on how to choose the best animation production company for your budget and your needs.

I would love to receive feedback from you if you lied reading the article. What was your biggest challenge in creating your animated marketing content? Was it choosing the right style and format? Was it finding the right production company?

Reza Ghobady
Reza Ghobady

I have a passion for creating visual stories using CGI, interactive media and digital tools

I founded a creative studio in 2003 called Vishka Studio for designing and creating animated CGI content for broadcast. Our vision is to become an entertainment company focused on creating digital edutainment for kids and families.

I love watching movies (particularly CGI), playing casual games, writing short articles and playing with my son.

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