Animation could be the answer to your production problems during lockdown - and creative production studio Eyebolls are offering their insider tips to perfecting the craft
With the capability to be produced entirely in remote, animation is fast becoming the answer to many current production hurdles. As live-action production shoots continue to remain on hold, not only are businesses unable to start new campaigns, but many are sitting on a bank of unfinished work - both of which problems could be resolved through a simple adaptation in script.
Eyebolls creative producer and co-owner, Victoria Watson says: “Animation is universal. It connects people globally and translates all over the world quite well. It’s easily understood by both adults and children and can be inclusive for everyone.”
“For years there has been a misconception that all animation takes a long time to produce and costs a lot to create. But with the technology available today, some forms of animation can be produced very quickly and cost effectively,” she adds. “Especially right now, it is a safe way to create content which can be completely original, fit to brief and high quality.”
In this guide, Victoria Watson joins Eyebolls co-owner and executive producer Rhona Drummond to answer some of the most common questions brands have when it comes to animation.
When should you use animation?
In the current climate, animation is more relevant than ever while live-action shoots are on hold. Every part of the animation process can be completed in remote working conditions.
Animation is also well-suited to a whole variety of markets from food and drink, to sports, cars, apps, travel and explainer videos. “It’s a great tool for storytelling and can help viewers relate to your work, feel something and stay engaged,” Victoria says.
“As children, we view a lot of animated content so it can also have an element of nostalgia to it,” Rhona adds. “When Irn-Bru took the classic Snowman character and famous song ‘Walking in the Air’, they drew upon a childhood memory and updated it with a comical twist with The Snowman trying to steal the young boy’s can of Irn-Bru!”
“They pull it out every year and change it slightly and we all look forward to it. People remember brave animated stories like that so it can really help your work stand out.”
Victoria says: “One of my favourite recent animated commercials comes from Iceland’s 2018 Christmas ad with the orangutan that went viral - it was a brave move for the brand and quite political. The message wouldn’t have come across the same in live-action.”
Rhona comments: “Nearly every supermarket has drawn upon animation at one point or other when it comes to their Christmas ads as it has that magical narrative.”
What options are there when it comes to style and budget?
“You can do anything in animation, your imagination is your only limitation - but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do something huge,” Victoria explains. “It doesn’t always have to be something elaborate. Something quite simple can be really effective.”
2D motion graphics like those used in Nespresso On Ice are simple to create but still creative, effective and engaging whilst getting the message across. “Nespresso’s animation incorporates a simple but beautiful design and minimal animated movement. This type of work would be one of the least costly options.”
“Another fairly simple and affordable style of animation is stop-motion,” Rhona adds. “If you have the camera setup and objects available to you, then this too can be achieved at home.”
She continues: “While live shoots are off the table, if you have a bank of unused footage, you could be looking into mixed media. Animation can be worked into live footage or even pasted onto stills. It all depends on the length of the animation, but these can be altered to suit your budget.”
“We’ve got briefs like this coming to us at the moment. There could be more clients out there that already have an ad that exists but that they could animate on top of to make the content more relevant and sensitive to the current climate.”
Then there’s photorealistic CG which Victoria describes “is about pushing boundaries just like when painters produce photorealistic paintings. It’s about exploring the craft and delivering something quite innovative.”
“Due to its more complex nature, this style of animation is on the higher end when it comes to budgets but I cannot stress enough how important the length of the animation is when it comes to costs,” Victoria points out. “A short piece of photorealistic animation without too many added elements can still be a low-cost option.”
How long will it take to produce?
“These days, the timeline for animation can be like the timeline for live-action if you look at production in its entirety,” Rhona reveals. “Animation and live-action projects both need to get pitched out, go into pre-production, shoot, edited, approved, and go into post production. People have this outdated notion that all animation is really slow but sometimes it’s not really any longer than a live action production. With stop-motion for example, it works in a similar way to live-action in that the more props and characters you include, the more time it takes to complete.”
“In fact, with animation you get the added benefit of being able to approve the final storyboard, characters and voiceovers early on in the process whereas with live-action things can change on the day; they can be weather-dependent and actors or crew could have travel problems,” Rhona highlights. “Animation on the other hand is a controlled environment in which you can have more confidence that what you receive at the end of the pipeline is exactly what you briefed at the start.”
Victoria advises that “depending on the brief, length and style of animation, set aside between 2-6 months for an animated campaign. A short simple piece under a minute will most likely take only a couple of months. But something quite simple in 2D can be done in less than a week if it is easily designed with minimal movement in it. The longer and more complex the animation, the longer it will take to produce.”
She adds: “Software like Photoshop used to be for illustration only but now that you can animate straight into it the process is a lot faster. It’s the same with Animated Effects, you can also design straight into it rather than doing designs and animation separately.”
Other things you need to factor in include client approval times and whether your animation includes any lip sync. “Naturally, lip syncing takes time to ensure everything is perfectly aligned,” Rhona says. “But again, we can find ways to work around this if you’re on a tight schedule. For the Scottish Government’s recent Safer Scotland campaign, we created only one object in CG, which was the child’s phone. The rest of the shot was a still image which was slowly zoomed in on. We turned this around in under six weeks - and without the lip sync, this type of animation could be completed in even less time.”
“Another option is to commission more animators to split up the work needed for a lengthier animation,” Victoria adds. “We did this for the Scottish Government’s Food Waste campaign. It was a 4-5 month project which we turned around in less than three months by working with a whole team of animators. We started with the characters first and got to the backgrounds later, so that we could have all the digital assets in place ahead of time.”
“Finally, with photorealistic CG you need to factor in a lot of render time,” says Victoria. “Once you’ve got your model, you then need to get things like the texture and lighting right. But again, there are ways of making CGI less time consuming and expensive - like what we did with the Safer Scotland campaign above.”
How do you write a script for animation?
“It’s the same for animation as it is for live-action. It’s all about the idea,” says Rhona. “Take the time to get the script right and the rest follows.”
She continues: “With live-action what you see is on camera, but with animation you need to be more descriptive. It comes down to storytelling. Think about what’s in vision. You can also help the narrative by thinking of where the camera is set up and how it moves in the same way you would for live-action. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox is shot very much like a live-action film. Even in 2D, you need to think about how one scene transitions into the next.”
Victoria agrees that “the story is really important but you also need to be careful with the length of your animation. Try not to make it too long as you need your audience to stay engaged. Consider your characters too. Sipsmith’s swan is such a brilliant character with a great voiceover. They create really well crafted ads that tie in nicely to how they craft their gin.”
“Nostalgia is also a great tool,” Rhona adds. “Something people can remember from childhood whether that’s through music or characters, like MoneySupermarket’s Action Man.”
What else should be considered?
“In animation, sound is a really important factor,” Victoria stresses. “With live-action you pick up a lot of real sounds when you’re filming but you don’t get that with animation. Sound compliments an animation really well and it should be used to give clues on characters, place and time. Sound design builds excitement and invokes feelings. It helps to inform what the visuals can’t.”
“And finally, consider the look and colours - are you going to introduce specific brand colours? Is there going to be any text involved? When it comes to the look, if you want your campaign to have longevity, you need to use a style that won’t go out of date too quickly.”
“There are lots of different ways to animate, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a highly creative and collaborative process and we’re always happy to brainstorm our client’s ideas to help them achieve their goals. Anything is possible when you open your mind to the process.”