Animation basics: 7 stages of creating an animated explainer video

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    In order to create customer engagement, the consumer must be able to fully understand and trust what it is that you do. Unless your brand is very established, this information can be difficult to translate to potential customers.

    Currently there is a boom in new businesses; the tech industry in particular is vastly growing. For a new business it is essential that their brand can be clearly understood without bombarding their audience with too much information.

    Studies show that presentations which contain words and images are more effective if the words are communicated verbally. This is known as the Dual Channel Hypothesis. Our brain processes information using two channels, verbal and visual, but each channel has a limited capacity for comprehension. If too much information is directed to one channel you can experience an overload and comprehension is lost. However if the information is split between the two channels then more can be processed, therefore achieving greater comprehension.

    This is a reason why explainer videos have become so popular, because they use the Dual Channel Hypothesis to create a short and engaging presentation of who you are, what you do and why customers will love you.

    As a motion designer I spend most of my time developing explainer videos for various clients. Developing explainer videos is a fun and interesting process as there are several stages which help to battle the work blues by offering a new challenge regularly.

    There are seven stages to develop an explainer video. Here, I break down each stage to offer an insight on how to create an effective video.

    Stage One – The Script

    In my opinion this is the most important stage. If the information is poorly presented then your graphics, animation and sound will end up over-compensating.

    The key to writing a great script is to make it translatable to everyone. This means removing any jargon or techy language, you want your script to use simple language so that any audience can understand exactly what you do.

    Keep it short. It has become very difficult to hold people’s attention as we are surrounded by so many distractions. The average attention span has shrunk to just 8.25 seconds.

    The most effective videos are between 1 – 1:30 minutes long, roughly 150–250 words. This is enough time to entice your viewer to want to engage with your brand, so make sure all information in the script is edited. If it is not important and can be saved for further reading then cut it out. There is nothing worse than a viewer getting distracted and leaving your video before they have heard your call to action, keep it short and punchy.

    Make it engaging and relatable. If you can tap into a current trend then you’ll succeed at engaging your viewer by giving them something to connect with which will help to keep their attention.

    Finally, another effective way to hold a viewers attention is to make the content humorous. If you can make your script funny and not take yourself too seriously then the viewer is likely to feel more connected to your brand.

    If you can implement all of these factors when writing a script you are on your way to developing an engaging explainer video.

    You can expect to rework your script several times to perfect it. Once you have finalised the script, make sure your client signs it off. There is nothing worse than reaching the animation stage and having a client suddenly change the script. This will likely change the direction of the film and could cause you to lose all of your artwork and several weeks worth of work.

    Stage Two – Voice Over

    Finding the right voice artist is important for any video. Before choosing your artist you need to consider the tone and mood of your video. For example, if your video aims to raise money to help support and cure the Ebola virus then it might be inappropriate/a bad idea to hire an artist who is loud and jolly.

    Also consider the gender of your artist; males and females have different traits which could help to add more impact to your video. For example if your video is aimed towards new born babies then a female voice could be considered more effective, as stereotypically mother and child have a stronger, more intimate bond. Alternatively, you could actively ignore the stereotypes and intentionally choose a male artist to question society, which could help to create a more impacting video.

    Whatever you decide, make sure your decision is an informed one.

    Here is a list of some places were you can find voice artists:

    Stage Three – Storyboarding

    Storyboarding typically consists of rough sketches to share with your client to sell the general direction and concept of the video. I usually prepare a PDF that shows small sketches alongside the corresponding line of the script and a short description of what will happen in the scene.

    Storyboarding is very important to manage client expectations, it allows both parties to agree on the overall direction of the film before beginning any detailed work. Always share a storyboard with a client, if you fail to do so you may end up perfectly illustrating every scene for your client to then turn around and say they don’t like the direction of the film. Save yourself time and share sketches with your client, even if they are rough and ready.

    Stage Four – Art Direction

    Once the storyboard and direction for the film has been agreed upon you can then begin the art direction process. This is where you propose a graphic style to your client. I usually pick five key scenes from the storyboard and illustrate them in a consistent style to pitch to my client.

    The reason for only drawing five scenes is again to save time, why illustrate the whole storyboard for your client to discard your efforts because they don’t like the style? This stage is about finding a graphic style that suits your clients needs, don’t expect to hit the nail on the head first time and be prepared to make amendments and changes.

    Stage Five – Illustration and preparation

    After agreeing on the art direction for the film you will now need to illustrate the entire storyboard. Bare in mind this is one of the longest parts of the process so allow sufficient time to illustrate everything consistently.

    Once you have everything illustrated you then need to prepare the entire artwork ready to be imported into After Effects or your programme of choice. All of your scenes should be saved as separate files and every moving part in each scene needs to be layered and named correctly to save time and confusion when animating.

    Make sure your client is aware of the length of this process and doesn’t expect results overnight, you’re only human after all so do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

    Stage Six – Animation and Compositing

    This is by far my favourite stage, this is where you get to bring your illustrations to life using the 12 basic principles of animation to tell an engaging story. The animation and compositing stage is typically the longest part of the process.

    You will be working with hundreds of assets whilst concentrating on creating perfect motion that will work in sync with the voice over. Depending on your skill level and length of the project this process can take weeks, even months. Again, make sure your client is aware of the length of time you will need to spend on this.

    Stage Seven – Sound Design

    Finally the last stage, sound design. Unfortunately people tend to underestimate the power of sound effects and backing tracks and often there is little budget remaining for sound design.

    Personally, I am not a sound designer. I have enough knowledge to add effects and backing tracks to improve the film but my work never comes close to the standard of a professional. In my opinion every project should be packaged and sent to a professional sound designer, but this is often not always possible. In these circumstances you need to be able to offer a feasible solution for your client by having some understanding of sound design. The ability to cut and edit sound will go a long way.

    Explainer videos are proven to be effective tools for communicating information, by following these seven steps you will be able to create effective solutions for your clients needs. If you are interested in learning more about animation, head to my Youtube channel for free tutorials and advice.