The Big Decision: Live Action or Animation?

— December 21, 2016

Aisle or window? Boxers or Briefs? Vodka or Gin? These are all eternal questions. In video production, we have an eternal question of our own: Live Action or Animation? Since we are an Animation Studio, perhaps you might expect us to say Always Go Animated! but that’s simply not the case. There are good reasons to pick live action. Here are some of them:

Location. If you are promoting a venue such as a bar, restaurant, event hall, hotel, or other place, there simply is no substitute for showing. For architectural or real estate services, where people aren’t a big part of the picture, there is a place for computer-generated imagery, or CGI. (Roughly 75% of the Ikea catalog is CGI; it is often indistinguishable from a photo shoot and looks cleaner.) However, CGI is never going to capture ambiance, that interaction between people and the room that is a selling point for these kinds of businesses.

Product. There are some products that you really need to see. Would you buy a hamburger, without seeing the juices glisten? Would you buy a high-end design item without seeing the design? The answer is usually no. Again, CGI can sometimes pinch-hit very effectively. In this video, we were selling an electronic product whose main selling point was design, and we did it by combining 2D animation with CGI.

However, for a wide range of products, from clothes to make-up to handcrafts, live action is the preferable option most of the time.

Lifestyle. Some products promise more than themselves; they promise a lifestyle. If your product or service is like that, you’ve probably already figured that out. You’ll probably be best off showing pretty people living the lifestyle your audience aspires to.

Personage. Sometimes ‘who’ matters a lot. If you want to get your CEO out there, or if you have a testimonial from a customer or celebrity, you are going to capture their essence more fully with live action than you would with animation. Now in animation, we do have some ways to transmit the essence of a person. Most notably, we can use their actual voice in the soundtrack, and this is something we have recommended to our clients more than once. The other possibility is using a hybrid of live action and animation, perhaps using a green screen.

Memorialization. All things pass, but it is our human nature to want to hold on to them. Whether it be for educational, legal, or sentimental reasons, if you need to capture an event for posterity, filming it in video is the way to go.

Budget. Both live action and animated budgets can go as high as you want them to… Pixar-quality animation comes in at around a million dollars per minute, as do many high-end live-action commercials and features. However, with the video tools on your laptop or smartphone, you can create video content for literally nothing. If you want to impart a simple message, you have a knack for talking to the camera, and the informality of non-professional video works for you, you can get very good results for very little. Gary Vaynerchuk is a master of this sort of video.

When do you not go live action? When you don’t use the medium fully. Video gets a bad rap from some people when it becomes a low-information medium. That is, when you might as well be reading the material, instead of taking 2-3 times longer to see someone pronounce it ponderously. Unless you are filming a vital persona, talking heads are usually a bad idea.

Whatever technique you choose, put your energy and resources into telling your story in the most compelling way; whether it’s live action or animation, it’s the story and the word that rule.

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