Video vs. animation? Which format is right for your message? How to choose? This blog post delves into the pros and cons of each, as well as provides some guidelines for choosing the right format for your communication or training needs.


What we mean when we say “video” vs. “animation”


While both video and or animated videos can be considered videos, for the purposes of this discussion, the term “video” here refers to live action, filmed content using real people.


An animation or animated video entails the use of stock or custom designed characters, motion graphics, text-animations and often has a voice-over audio track.


(There are blended forms of content that use both, but we are focussing here on the factors that drive choosing one or the other.)


There are some commonalities to both formats.


For example, whether you are filming a video or designing an animation, you will still need:


  • A written script-preferably a final, authorial changes frozen version that has already been approved and gone through any necessary revisions or changes (as it is much cheaper to correct a text document than to re-shoot or re-record a voice).
  • As well the script should contain a description of desired camera angles and any on-screen elements.
  • Both videos and animations also usually use some rights-free music tracks.
  • Depending on whether you are producing in one or more languages you may also require subtitles, and multi-language voiceovers.


For filmed videos you will also likely need:


  • B-roll (stock footage to help move the story along, provide interest/context to the content)
  • Actors or staff prepped for their roles
  • Possibly a make up artist (see benefits of having a makeup artist here)
  • Health & Safety person during shoot to make sure there are no accidents and all safety precautions are being taken
  • At least one, usually two cameras / videographers
  • Sound recording equipment (provided by video team)
  • Lighting equipment (provided by video team)
  • Transcript (esp. if using subtitles/multi-language voiceovers)


Animations require:


  • Brand guidelines with respect to colour palette (if applicable)
  • Descriptions/samples of any on-screen elements that may require text animations or motion graphics
  • Voice over tracks in each target language


Having clarified the key differences between the two formats, let’s look deeper at some of the factors that will influence your decision.


Video makes it real


Does the piece need to show a specific way of doing something, or does it relate to a particular environment or setting? Is it about a place or a process fixed to a place? Does it serve to highlight the contributions and service of certain employees? Are the goals to showcase a work culture? Tell the story of what it’s like to work here? Induce a younger cohort of candidates to seek out you as an employer of choice?


If your goal is to create a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for your company, what it does, the customers it serves and what it’s like to work there, then video is a good choice as it can show your company, its offices, facilities and employees in an attractive light. Video breaks the wall between perception and reality and can convey a sense of actually being there in the midst of the action. It shows things how they really are (albeit in an enhanced, curated and edited way)


Animation simplifies complexity


On the other hand, an animation is helpful if what you are trying to do is explain a complex process, or show employees how to access company portals for HR related questions, or access specific tools or documents.


Animations can also provide a visual map for streamlining a process, or showing viewers how to navigate a specific hierarchy of information efficiently and effectively to help them do their jobs better.


They can also be fun to watch, and transform material that might otherwise be ignored or considered a bit dull. Think how banks leverage animations to sell credit cards, or present a simplified version of complex financial instruments.


What is the purpose?


The first and most important question we ask is what is the purpose of this specific piece of content? Will the content be used as a recap of past success? Provide an overview of what’s to come? Teach or model a specific set of behaviours you want your employees to exhibit? Draw your viewers’ attention to an in-house platform or toolset you want to encourage them to use or access? Being clear about your purpose will help you pick and develop the right tool for the job. 


While both video and animations are attention-getting options they each have their strengths. If you are looking to tell a story about your organization, position yourself as an employer of choice, or target new candidates showcasing what it’s like to work for you, then a video is a better tool. Conversely, if your aim is to educate, or explain a process or policy, animations can often do a better job of bringing out the essential information in a clean, easy to understand way.


When defining purpose the question often breaks down into two interrelated ones: who is it for? And what do you want your intended audience to do with your content? Thinking through this stage is enormously helpful later on when developing the story or theme of the specific piece of content. As well it begins to draw lines around the central message which then informs the decision on video vs animation.


We’ll look at these two questions next.


Who is the target audience?


Once you have a clear idea of purpose, you should immediately be thinking about who your targeted audience is. How wide an audience are you aiming at? Is it for an internal set of specific tier employees only (ie, Managers and up? C-Suite? New recruits?) or a general public? Or perhaps your intention is to use the content created to bolster and add interest value to a presentation at a conference, or to your board of directors. Think about all the potential audiences you will reach and try to match the content form to what you know about their preferences and expectations.


What do you want your viewers to do?


While there is a constant demand for content on many teams within organizations these days (not just communications and marketing, but HR, health and safety teams, ethics, environmental, social responsibility, community relations, etc), every piece of content your team commits resources towards creating should serve a clearly defined purpose aimed at soliciting a specific action or change in behaviour from your target audience.


A few questions to ask yourselves:


  • Are you trying to provide a template for behaviour you wish your audience to emulate? (Video and animation are both good for this)
  • Do you want your viewers to click on a specific link embedded within the viewer? (Again, video and animation can do this)
  • Do you want your viewers to learn how to do, or learn about something specific that they will then be measured against? (Animations are useful for learning and training and can be developed as a series based on planned learning modules leading up to a certification or completion of training requirements)


How will your content be consumed?


Another important criteria for choosing between video and animation is to consider how your content will be accessed and used by your intended audience. Do you plan on posting it to a company or public facing website and then send out a link? Will it be embedded in a weekly or monthly newsletter? Shown live at a townhall, conference, or general employee gathering?


What are the in-house optics on video vs. animation?


Has your company just experienced a downturn or had to let go of any staff? Are you in a growth phase or are you cutting back? Sometimes a simple video interview with key executives told against a plain or simple office background is all that is necessary.


Cost factors


Finally, but perhaps most importantly, what constraints do you have in terms of time and budget? First let’s look at timelines.


When do you need it by?


It’s a cliche dance all clients and their suppliers do at the outset of nearly every project. As a client you will say you need it as soon as possible, and as a creator you will say you need more time. This dichotomy never really goes away and is part of the game, but when it comes to the difference between making a video or an animation, there is merit to it. An animation takes more time. For real.


While all projects can be pushed through for rush deadlines, this usually impacts both costs (drives them up) and quality (drives it down). If you are under pressure to deliver something quickly, a video is definitely a better choice as a video team can usually be scrambled quickly and adjust to whatever on the ground conditions there are. Animation by definition takes longer and does require more back and forth and interaction between the creative team and the client which can become very stressful for both if time pressures are mounting.


Time is money


Generally, an animation will cost more than an equal length video. There is a higher cost of production and often more extraneous costs like voice fees and additional graphic elements that influence the price. However, there is also a good chance the animation you create will have a longer shelf life than a video covering the same topic, giving you a better return on your investment in the long-run.



Stand alone or part of a series?


Another factor to consider is whether the work you are creating will serve as a standalone piece or if it is intended to be a part of a series. While both video and animations can function as either, if your series is meant to be an in-house set of training materials consider including a consistent set of animations to cover off all the explainer segments. As mentioned in this article, animations work best when used to simplify complex multi-step processes into bite-sized, digestible units.  


Differences in process


The creation process for video vs, animation is also a bit different. Video is more visually accessible and most people have seen so many videos they are able to visualize what the final outcome will look like without too much trouble.


Animations, by definition, only spring to life once the work is done and it can be more difficult for clients to imagine what the final look should be. Often clients don’t know what they like (or don’t like) until it is presented to them which can impact deadlines and production schedules if an animator rigs a series of characters that a client decided post-factum they don’t like the look of. While this can be mitigated to some degree by presenting character sketches and screen shots before fully animating a sequence, clients can – and do – change their minds even after they’ve given the go ahead which leads to both an increase in costs, time and some hair-pulling frustration for the animation team.

How will you measure success?

A final but important consideration should also be how will you know if your investment in creating either a video or animation is paying off? What does success look like for your organization? An increase in the number of monthly logins to your self-service HR portal? Amplified use of LinkedIn for posting employee-generated content? Visible increase in awareness of diversity and equality in the workplace issues? Fewer mistakes in a given process? Happier employees? Whatever your goal, you should think about how you will keep track of and quantify the change you are trying to provoke through the creation of this particular piece of content.


So which will it be, video or animation?


The choice, of course, rests with you and your team based on the factors discussed here as well as your own preferences. In ether case, you can always reach out us directly to discuss your ideas whatever stage of the planning you are at. 


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Julian Haber Photographer
Julian Haber is an events, corporate portraits and conference photographer based in Montreal. He is the author of a book on freelancing and runs a busy boutique agency of creative professionals in the fields of photography, videography and design. |