5 December 2016 Video tips

Animation vs Live Action: Which Makes the Best Corporate Video?

What's the right choice for your next corporate video - animation or live action? We look at the pros and cons of both approaches.

Mary Poppins had both. But should you choose live action or animation?Tea vs coffee. iOS vs Android. Dogs vs cats.

These are all important (and probably eternal) debates.

Today we'll be considering another: should you pick animation or live action for your latest corporate video?

There are many options you need to think about when it comes to creating a piece of video content for use in your business, whether for external marketing or internal communications.

Not least of these is the decision between a live action video or an animation.

Let's take a comprehensive look at the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, as well as the best way to choose between the two, keeping in mind your audience and goals.


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Live Action: Pros & Cons

thumbsup.png1. It's Humanising and Personal

If you want to make your business appear more human, you can't beat a live action video featuring real people. We're all instinctively drawn to real human faces, especially when they show real human emotion, and it's an effect you just can't achieve in animation.

This is especially important if your business revolves around personal, human interaction or a specific real-world location. For example, it's unlikely that a high-class hotel chain would benefit from using an animation in their advertising. No, a focus on personal customer service and the beauty and comfort of their hotels (illustrated through live action video of the staff and premises) would serve their brand image and message much better.

This is also why video case studies or testimonials work best as live action. When you can see a person's face and listen to their story, their message immediately becomes more genuine and convincing. 

Thumbs up2. It Shows How Things Work in Practice

Imagine you sell a really tangible product, like hamburgers. Or handbags. Generally, if your company USP is on the quality of the product (rather than, say, the ease or efficiency of the buying process), you'll want to use live action video to show off how those products look and are used in practice.

The more tangible the product, the more likely it is that live action will work best for your corporate videos over animation.

Live action is also invaluable when you need to show your audience exactly how a process works in exact real-world detail. For example, in a training video shown to your team to teach them the Heimlich manoeuvre, a live action reenactment may be both easier for them to understand and more likely to be remembered.

Thumbs up3. It's Faster (Usually), but More Limiting

Live action can be quicker than animation, but it isn't always. After deciding on the strategy and building the plan around your video content, a live action film can be organised, shot and edited within a few days (depending on its length and complexity, of course; a long and ambitious video will take weeks or even months to produce).

It's true that live action does have a head start. Unlike animation, the visual style and digital assets in a live action video don't have to be constructed from the ground up.

On the other hand, live action video does sacrifice the raw potential power of animation. In animation your end result is only limited by your imagination (and of course other factors like budget and deadlines). But live action is constrained by the boundaries of reality, which means you can't have unicorns bounding over rainbows. Unless you really want to blow your budget.

Thumbs down4. It's Harder to Alter Down the Line

The nature of live action means that, once filming is done, it's pretty much done for good. The prospect of re-hiring actors, locations and equipment makes reshooting a difficult, time-consuming and costly business.

So if you're a well-established business confident of your products, services and aims, live action can be the perfect choice for your corporate video. If you're running a startup where everything is in a constant state of flux (and where flexibility in your marketing content is a bonus), it might be less ideal.

Animation: Pros & Cons

Thumbs up1. It's Simplifying and Stylized

There's a reason why there's such a thing as explainer animations. It's because one of animation's strengths lies in its ability to express complicated ideas quickly and easily. Or in other words, it's great at explaining things.

If you want to get across a tricky idea or complex subject, animation can be far better than live action at boiling down your message into the most important and relevant points. That's why so many online and technological businesses nowadays (often selling complicated cloud-based services) have taken to producing animations to explain the value they offer to customers.

In addition, all animation has some sort of style, no matter whether it's 2D, 3D, hand-drawn or hyper-realistic. As such animation provides a powerful, and infinitely malleable, canvas on which a business can express their brand. If you're a children's charity, you can use a cartoony, friendly, bright animation style. If you're an online banking system, you can embrace a clean, professional, traditional look.

Thumbs up2. It Can Express More Abstract Ideas

Remember how live action is effective at advertising tangible products? Well, animation is best suited towards advertising more intangible products and services.

Unlike tangible products (like shoes or bread), with intangible services we're less concerned with how the product looks, feels, or tastes. Your customers want to know how the process works step-by-step and how you can actually help them, especially if you're offering a complicated e-service (see the point above). This can be shown visually through animation in ways that would be impossible in live action video.

The same applies to other abstract information like numbers or statistics. Say you need to deliver a business update to your internal team, but you're uncertain of the most effective medium. An animation would enable you to convey this data in a manner that is fast, clear and uncomplicated, with supporting icons and graphs.

Thumbs down3. It's Slower (Sometimes), but More Liberating

The production time associated with animation tends to be longer than live action video, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. Of course, both approaches need to have time put into the creation of their video strategy. But past this stage, animation can often take longer to complete than a live action video of similar length and ambition.

It's due to the way animation is created. Because an animated video is put together on a computer screen, rather than filmed in the real world, it has to be built from scratch. The backgrounds have to be drawn, the characters designed, the whole visual style decided on.

But this also gives animation a unique strength: it can look and sound any way you want it to. While live action is restrained by what is physically possible, there's no such word as 'impossible' in animation. It might take a long time and cost a lot of money, but technically anything you can think of can be created. Does your corporate video need to contain flying pigs? Then choose animation.

Thumbs up4. It's Easier to Alter Down the Line

While animation can be intricate and time-consuming, it also enables you to make changes to your video at any time, which is virtually impossible with live action (without expending lots of time, money and energy).

Do you still have some changes you want to make to your animation, even at the very end of the production process? Or do you want to return to it in 6 months' time and alter some of the information? None of this is a problem for animation, whereas reshooting a live action video would be a lengthy and expensive headache.


Round-Up: Choose What's Right for You

At the end of the day, your choice between animation and live-action will depend on many factors:

  • Your business culture, identity, and image;
  • The message you need to express and its complexity;
  • Your audience and their preferences; and
  • The objectives of your video content.

When it comes to speed and cost, no approach is inherently better than the other. So weigh up exactly what you want to achieve and be sure you base your choice on evidence (if you're still confused, it's best to ask the advice of an experienced video agency like us!).

And don't forget that it's always possible to incorporate both, live action video including animated graphics or imagery can offer you the best of both worlds.


Video Production Brief TemplateVideo Production Brief Template

Start planning for your next video project right now.

Our simple template asks the right questions to ensure your video content is produced as smartly and efficiently as possible.

Download the template

Ellyn Cook

Written by Ellyn Cook Copywriter for Skeleton — a full-service video production agency that specialises in producing creative videos & campaigns that get real results.

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