In the previous article, we covered how the art style can affect the production costs, if you haven’t read this, I would recommend reading this through first as it sets the basis for what you are about to read below.
When planning an animated video the art style and animation go hand-in-hand, as one affects the other. I covered how certain approaches in the way you draw something can have a knock on impact to the animation and only with experience can an animator balance ‘the look’ with how they intend to animate it in order to keep things within a certain budget. For example there’s little point designing a highly complex Disney style character that would require 25 drawings per second of animation when the client’s budget wouldn’t even cover the first few seconds.
So let’s start by the main styles of animation that exist, the first being the more traditional hand drawn frame-by-frame animation, where every frame of every second is painstakingly drawn out, that’s 25 drawings per second of animation! Then there is the more common style of 2D animation using computer software to help interpret what happens between 2 drawings or movement. Then finally there is the motion graphic style of animation where the animation style is more focused around things popping and sliding into place rather than trying to resemble true physics or human movement.
I am not suggesting these are definitive, and there are plenty of other techniques that perhaps could be worthy of their own category, but for the moment sticking with these more mainstream styles will make the points clear and perhaps open your eyes to why production costs and time can vary so much.
Hand drawn frame-by-frame animation is without doubt the most expensive and time-consuming of any form of 2D animation. Most videos created work on the basis of 24 to 30 frames per second, so for a typical 1 minute explainer video, you would be looking at around 1,500 frames of drawing, now that’s a lot. The reality is most explainer videos would never adopt this approach as the time it would take to create the video and the costs associated with it, would make the whole video impractical and commercially unviable.
I like to think I draw quite fast compared to most, if I drink plenty of caffeine, avoid distractions and get in the zone, I may, just may! be able to create 25 completed drawings in a couple of days. But to work at that rate would be difficult to sustain, and when you compare this to some of the best feature film animators who would produce around 24 frames of animation per week, and that’s with help from a team of clean-up and colour artists.
But this is extreme, and there are ways to minimise the amount drawings required, such as working on what we call 2’s, so instead of drawing 24 frames you draw half the amount, the animation becomes less smooth, but in reality the human eye finds this acceptable and only the keen eyed professional would even notice.
So from a commercial point-of-view, expecting a feature film quality level of animation unless you have very deep pockets and are in no particular rush would be a very wrong mind-set, and you should not have your expectations set this high, it just doesn’t make sense commercially and without doubt would be overkill for your requirements.
This is why most explainer videos you will ever see are unlikely to be done in this approach. What is more likely is to mix elements of the occasional hand drawn frames with computer generated animation. This is where things start to get really interesting as we start to take advantage of time saving techniques built into modern day software mixed with traditional hand drawing.
Computer aided 2D animation is very accessible with a host of different software solutions to feed creativity. We use Toon Boom Harmony for a majority of our character animations, with Adobe After Effects, MOHO and Apple Motion aiding us in our productivity.
With this more common form of 2D animation, we can start to make use of some clever time-saving tools built into the software. The most commonly used feature is known as tweening. This is where the software creates the movement between 2 drawings / key frames. There are many variables to this and many techniques in which this can be utilised to get the desired effect.
By using this software and tools therein, it is more realistic that 1 to 2 minutes of animation can be created a week, a far cry from just hand drawn animation and means you get a lot more bang for your buck.
When we look at how we animate a particular object or character, this all comes back to how we originally designed this in the first place to decide upon how many actual moving parts there needs to be and what range of movement we are able to play with. If for example we created a complex looking character this doesn’t necessarily mean the animation needs to be complex, it may be all that requires animating is just eye blinks or a mouth movement and the character itself stays motionless. This means the scene could look great but has little movement, this doesn’t make it wrong or bad, in fact some scenes look amazing with no animation at all as the artwork style and combination of music and dialogue are enough to ‘sell the scene’.
Alternatively, the character could be quite simple in it’s design but we would have to break it down so that it’s head, arms, legs and face allow us to add lots of expression and movement as it dances around the screen. So where we may have saved time on the artwork creation, we would spend far more time on character animation.
Not every scene is considered equal, when you storyboard the video, we are always thinking about the complexity of a scene and how this balances out through the video. If we compose shots in a certain way, it means we can re-use assets into other scenes, saving on production time. The same is applied to the script, if we are able to re-word and fine tune a script in such a way it means scenes can re-use assets more efficiently, this all leads to an explainer video with a much more polished result.
At the outset of a project we often ask if the client has a particular budget in mind, even though they may not fully appreciate how much animation costs, it is helpful to know what sort of numbers they are thinking. This then helps suggest ideas and a production strategy that can fall somewhere close to meet their expectations. If what they are asking for and budget they wish to spend is unrealistic, then we tell them so. There is little point having high expectations from the client and falling short because you never had the budget to put the necessary creative time into the video.
And so we arrive at motion graphic style of animation. Much like the 2D computer aided animation, motion graphics is more focused around icons symbols and text with no requirement for hand drawing and typically no character movements. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean motion graphics are a cheaper option, in fact the same rules apply when it comes to how the artwork is designed and how many moving parts there are within any given scene. But as a general rule, motion graphic videos can be produced to relatively small budgets but look really amazing.
Although I have written about 3 types of animation, explainer videos can be made up of a combination of all, in fact that’s half the fun as a creator; mixing up ideas and seeing how far we can push the creative envelope within a given budget.
So in summary, when planning a video you need to consider the art style, animation style and your budget. It’’s a great idea to look around and see what you like and don’t like. Really look at how the video is animated and quite often you can see how they have re-used assets or approached scenes in a certain way to make things simpler in order to stay within a budget.
Watching a video in it’s finished state with music, voice over and sound effects. The combination of these things hits all your senses so you never really have time to overly analyse what you are watching, so many of the subtleties to animation are missed. You never noticed that same assets appears several times just in different colours. You never noticed the background was the same but flipped to look different, or the movement of a character was very limited because you were focused on what was being said.
Although nothing is wrong with subtlety, as quite often it’s the little things that make the video great, but I am talking about the ‘big picture’ here of why you wanted an explainer video in the first place. Accept there will be limitations based on budget and time and focus on what really matters; did the video help get your message across, did it explain clearly the points you needed it to make. Visually it could be the best thing ever, but if it falls short of explaining your message, it has failed.