Animation is a great way to tell your story without having to worry about the limitations of the real world.
Laura: When you have an idea for a video but for one reason or another can't get the right footage to accompany your message, that doesn't mean you can't do that video. There's another option out there: Animation! Animation is a great way to tell your story without having to worry about the limitations of the real world. Welcome to Close Up: Decoding Video Production for Your Business. This episode is all about animation or, more specifically, using animation as an option for your videos. Aaron Johnson is joining us for this episode. He's an animator and art director at Plum Media.
Aaron: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Laura: Aaron, the process of animation can be a bit mysterious for clients who haven't been directly involved in a project before. So let's start by explaining the process. What's your workflow like?
Aaron: Yeah, I always try to gather a lot of information ahead of time before we start doing things, you know, because it's best to find references. And oftentimes I'll ask the client what are some Youtube videos or some commercials or some things that you've seen recently that you were inspired by, or things that you like? And oftentimes I like to look at those things and then analyze what did they like about it? Was that the pacing? Was it the style? Was it the music? Was it the feel? What was it about it that they liked and then take that information and try to put it into their project.
Laura: Let's say I come to you with a script or just a rough idea for a script. What happens next?
Aaron: What we try to do is keep the costs down by planning, planning, planning and preparing ahead of time so we're not doing unnecessary work. And it's my job to take the script and start planning out how is this going to look visually? So the first thing I would do is do thumbnails or a storyboard where I quickly would sketch out and plan out the scenes: where the cuts are going to be, how long scenes are, and then the next process is taking those storyboard frames and putting it into an animatic. And an animatic is a moving storyboard. So we take the storyboard frames and we time it out to a scratch track or a music bed and that gives us an idea of what this video is going to feel like when it's done without going through all the work. And then along the way while I'm doing the storyboards and the animatic, the client has the chance to say “let's try this or tweak that” and then we're doing those changes quickly because we're not in the final stages yet. Then once the animatic and all of that is approved, then we can go on to a full production at that point the client and myself, we would know what this is going to look like and what this is going to feel like. What we're trying to do is take the guesswork out of everything.
Laura: When you talk about the process it mimics some of the other podcasts we've done with video production.
Aaron: Absolutely. So many problems can be solved early on. And again it's about cost savings because we're not wasting valuable time fixing things that could have been prevented early on.
Laura: How does a company's brand image get incorporated into an animation?
Aaron: What I love about this job is that oftentimes inspiration comes from the corporate branding that's given to us, oftentimes the company's colors and the logos and those kinds of things could be inspiration for us to draw from while we’re doing animation. So we're always very cognizant and respectful of what's already been established before projects come to us. So the first thing I go to is I may go to the company's Web site or ask for their branding guide or look at their logo and pick up little nuances that I see there and then we can try to incorporate that into the animation style. So then the whole thing has a feel of being something that was always there or always part of the brand and not trying to create something that's way out of left field for a particular client or company.
Laura: There is a bit of a misconception that animation can get expensive. So what is it that affects the cost?
Aaron: Yeah absolutely. First of all, animation by nature is a tedious process and that's oftentimes what the cost can come from, but oftentimes animation can be a more cost effective alternative to things that are done in live action. So, for example, right now I'm working on a project that involves stormy seas and boats and pirates and those kinds of things. Well, to do that with live action would probably exceed most people's budgets. But with animation, it actually can be done because we're creating these elements and we can be creative and how we tell the story. So there are those advantages with animation.
Laura: How can the usage of a video affect how you decide to animate the project?
Aaron: It comes down to what kind of story you're telling. Is this an explainer video? Is this a commercial? Is this a training video? So that's the most important thing is what is the goal for that project? And then we design the animations that best tell that story. So sometimes, a training video you may want to have more on screen graphics with text and bullet points as opposed to an explainer video where you might want to see your product or a cross section of your product and see the inner workings of something. So again it depends on your final message and story you're trying to tell.
Laura: And how important is the pacing of a project?
Aaron: It's crucial and I personally am a real, a real stickler for pacing and timing. Partly because I also have a music background as a musician. So length of shots, I'm very particular about and when things come in and timing of things, we want our projects and we want our client's videos to be engaging for their audiences. And so there's a lot of nuances and tricks and things to keep videos engaging. For example the idea that there's always something going on and that we're not just sitting on a static image too long. Personally I have a theory and thoughts about perception like how long it takes our brains to process images. So when we see a frame on a TV screen, how long does it take our brain to understand what we just saw in that frame and then at some point our brain has seen everything we needed to see. Let's move on to the next shot. Show me something new. Show me something new. Or sometimes we're trying to explain a complicated process and we need to stay on that shot longer to give it more time so everybody can process what's going on. So I am very particular about pacing and timing and in animation we’re working to the frames. Oftentimes our project will be 24 frames a second. And to me every one of those frames matter and that trimming something a frame or two can have a big effect on a project.
Laura: What would be your advice to someone who's looking to create a fad video?
Aaron: Those aren't bad things or bad ideas. What I often point out to a person is just remember that you do run the risk of having your video getting lost in the cloud of all these similar looking videos. So yes, from time to time there are these trends or looks that come up and are very popular and that's great. And I will make the argument that there may be a reason why those things are popular. Maybe they were effective in how they told the story. So there's something to be said about that, but then I point out that be aware that your video could possibly get lost in the noise if it's really trendy.
Laura: Do you have any tips for people on giving constructive feedback?
Aaron: A lot of our clients will say they're not visual people or they're not artists and oftentimes they don't give themselves enough credit. But I understand that and I think that's the case for some people as you're not a visual person they can't imagine it. They need to see it. So it's my job to help convey those ideas visually. So I get a sense from them what they like or don't like. And so oftentimes my process is to work quickly and just start throwing things at the wall and seeing the things that they gravitate to. And then we kind of develop a relationship where I can kind of understand where their mind is at or where their direction is needing to go. So oftentimes I'm an artist but more often than that I'm an interpreter. If a client says “that's not the right blue,” it's my job to figure out well what is the right blue and what is it that you don't like about it. I don't think prospective clients should be afraid of telling us how it is. You know, just be upfront: what don't you like about it, what's bothering you? And we can figure out the nuances of technically what's going on and how to fix this. But they shouldn't be afraid of lack of experience or not being a creative person or not having an eye or being an artist because you know a lot of people aren't. And that's what we're here to do is help those people.
Laura: As we wrap this up is there anything else that you would like to tell someone who's considering animation for their next project?
Aaron: Don't be afraid of it. I think oftentimes people are scared away like you talked about before because of potential cost or it's an art form that they're not familiar with but animation is a universal way to tell a lot of stories which is why it's effective and why we see it so much. It can be a great way to explain an overview of your company. It can be a great way to explain a product or a process that you provide and with animation, again, we can create worlds that would be cost prohibitive or impossible to shoot in live action and with animation we can create icons and symbols of things instead of relying on people and real things. So say you want to reach a really broad audience. Well to get a cast of thousands of people to represent everybody in the world is impossible but with an icon or a symbolic representation of their audience, that can be a very effective way to communicate their message.
Laura: Aaron, thanks for talking about what it is that you do.
Aaron: Thanks for having me.
Laura: To see some animation examples, check out the link in the show notes or go to plummedia.com/podcast. Close Up: Decoding Video Production for Your Business is produced by Plum Media. And if you have any questions you'd like us to answer or feedback, feel free to send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. For Aaron Johnson, I’m Laura McElree. Thanks for listening!