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When to Use Animation vs. Live Action or Stock

If you’re looking to make a video for your company, you need to decide between animation vs. live action. Which one will resonate best with your audience? Should you blend them? There are some situations where one option could be more appropriate. It all depends on the purpose of the campaign as well as your target market. By selecting the correct type of video, you maximize the likelihood of connecting powerfully with your audience and making the sale.

A live-action video is when you can see a real human being on-screen. Animation is completely illustrated digitally, without any visible actors. Animation doesn’t have to be cartoon-y or comic book-style. It just means that computer-generated images will be used instead of real people.

Generally speaking, B2B videos tend to use animation to get conceptual ideas across that are difficult to illustrate with stock video and filmed interviews. On the other hand, beauty companies tend to use live-action videos to showcase their products up close. Keep in mind that you will see a difference in price point and complexity of the production process between animation and live action.

This guide will help you figure out which one—animation or live-action/ stock footage—is right for your business’s next video.

When You Should Use Animation

Animation provides a lot of flexibility that stock footage does not. One major advantage is that animation can be more customized and consistent than anything you’ll find in a stock video database. For instance, with an animation, it’s much easier to change details after the fact. The creator simply has to open up the animating program and adjust the colors or movements. On the other hand, a live action scene would have to be completely re-shot. This makes animation more timeless and usually more cost-effective. 

Another great benefit of animation is that it can showcase your product at a very granular level. Because of this, many live action videos or stock videos incorporate some elements of animation to help tie everything together well. Animation is an excellent way to showcase products, services, or technology that has not yet been created and thus cannot be filmed.

If you are selling something that’s hard to represent visually, like a SaaS tech product, then animation could be the perfect way to explain it. Here’s a good example of this

Next Glass Animation from DreamItReel on Vimeo.

Animation excels at explaining conceptual ideas simply. It can also help more people visualize themselves as users since it doesn’t necessarily represent real people. Consider this video, for instance, where users are represented as colorful icons. This can be a more inclusive way to represent your users. 

Animation also provides flexibility when it comes to casting and aesthetics. For instance, your choices range from friendly, character-based animations to a more professional, stylized approach. You can choose the type of character and visual style that is appropriate to your audience. Then, your animator can create your desired characters and environments completely digitally. This can all be done remotely, too, which makes animation a great option for companies who need videos produced during COVID-19.

There are a few cons to consider. Animation doesn’t resonate with every product type, especially eCommerce products. Animating can be a lengthy process. It can also get costly if you want to create something super unique, such as using 3D animations, to help you stand out from the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff. If you’re willing to keep it to a simpler style, then animation will actually be less costly than other types of videos.

The easiest way to figure out if you should use animation? Consider your audience and the type of message you want to get across. For instance, if you have a hip, trendy new startup, and your audience is modern and friendly, then animation might be a great solution. Animation is typically used by technology companies to connect with younger generations who are already familiar with the animated style of video. But it’s also about the type of idea you’re trying to explain, which has nothing to do with the demographics of your audience. Animated solutions for more professional topics can use stylized graphics, rather than cartoon-style animation.

When you’re creating an animation, just make sure that you represent more than white and able-bodied people. Your users will be diverse, so make sure all your viewers can see themselves represented in the advertisement, too.

When to Use Live Action or Stock Video

There are some situations where animation wouldn’t be the best choice, and it’s mostly for times when your target audience is a bit more old guard. These audiences may find animation too cutesy, for instance. Overall, if you are selling to B2B clientele that is slightly older, then you should probably choose live-action or stock footage for your video. However, if you’d like to go with animation, then this audience typically appreciates whiteboard-style videos.

Let’s talk about some of the advantages of live-action and stock footage videos. Live-action videos are more specific and less symbolic than animation. These videos can help humanize your company and connect with customers on a deeper level. For example, you could feature interviews with your team, personifying your company and not just your consumer. Show the genius behind the product and explain the human effort that goes into creating your products and services. 

A live-action video could reveal where your product is being made, the care put into its manufacturing, how your office looks, or how your product exists in the real world. For instance, if you make shoes, you could use a live-action video to show how each stitch is made with love and how much craftsmanship it takes to make one pair. 

Live footage can provide more credibility, too, as viewers will get a real-life sense of what you are describing. For instance, in industries that sell wearable items (like clothing and makeup), most of your customers will prefer to see the actual items before they make a purchase or click to explore the brand further. If you sell clothing, makeup, lotion, or anything that people put on their physical bodies, then you should consider using live-action footage rather than animation.

Another reason you might want to use live action or stock footage instead of animation is if you are selling yourself as a professional service, where you are the product (i.e. freelancer, editor, hairdresser), then you need to humanize the video. People need to see your face in order to trust you. 

There are some drawbacks to live action productions. Firstly, you’ll need to put in a ton of strategy and planning. It is more costly and more time-consuming to create a live action production. The last thing you want to do is show up and “figure it out.” This results in wasted money on actors’ fees, cinematographer fees, and footage that doesn’t actually solve your company’s problem. There are more things that can go wrong with a live action shoot, too. In animation, you don’t have to worry about rain or bad hair days. But on a live set, the weather can delay productions, actors can be late, etc. Finally, live action videos cannot be produced remotely.

Stock Video Has Unique Affordances

Stock videos are pulled from a database of pre-existing footage, whereas live action videos are filmed specifically for your production. If it’s not possible to create a live action video from scratch, and animation isn’t right for your company, then you could use stock footage with motion graphics to tie it all together, like this example demonstrates.

While there is a ton of variety within stock video databases, if you want to showcase a specific product, stock video can’t really help you achieve this. You also need to consider that stock video is available to anyone so exclusivity can be an issue. There is a chance that you’ll see the same clip from your video in someone else’s video. You can avoid this by working with someone who knows how to find the latest and freshest content. 

Another drawback is that stock video really looks like “stock,” so you sometimes need to dig deep to find stuff that looks like it was shot specifically for you. It’s likely that you will need some level of animation or motion graphics when using stock footage since you will want to weave in your company’s branding and product specifics.

But you shouldn’t overlook the value of stock footage! Using stock video has a lot of benefits. It can speed up your production timeline since you aren’t creating animations or live action sequences from scratch. Not only that, but you can have ease of mind very early in the process when using stock videos. You can watch the complete clips and decide in advance whether you like them. With live action productions or animated videos, you have to wait for things like animated storyboards or even the first cut of your video.

If you work with someone who knows their way around stock video databases, it can be really easy to find exactly the clips you need. Plus, it’s easy to swap clips in and out if you don’t like something. There is a ton of variety out there and you can find a clip for everything. Your company can save money by working with a team that knows what to look for and where to get it. Plus, the same advantages carry over from animated videos. With stock videos, you don’t have to worry about logistical issues or bad hair days. The content is ready for you to use, and the entire production process can take place remotely.

Consider Your Unique Business

There are plenty of videos that can be done both ways, like this one. It all depends on your branding and how you want to be seen. We can help you find the right video production mode for your specific industry and business needs. 

We help our clients invest in videos that deliver the highest ROI. Whether it’s animation, stock footage, or original live-action videos, we do it all.

Check out our sample work, and then contact the Dream It Reel team to start your content creation process.

Get ready to see what happens when content and strategy align.

Click here to see our animated explainer services.