Live action video vs Animated video

It’s the ultimate clash of the marketing titans. Every video marketer has, at some point, been caught between the two. On the one hand, live action video creates an immediate sense of recognition and relatability amongst your audience, while giving you the opportunity to showcase your product in-situ.

Written by Jack Last

On the other, animated videos are bright, colourful and characterful, making them stand out amongst a crowded marketplace. Animations boast high retention rates, with bold on-brand content, and a clear, engaging story.

So, what’s the best fit for your business? What are the differences between these two advertising giants, and what strengths can each one bring to the table?

Our marketing experts have shared their specialist guidance, and answered this most common of advertising questions. All will be revealed below.

What is an animated video?

Animation is a film-making technique that continues to drive innovation and give the industry momentum - as it has done ever since Disney first released its revolutionary animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Animated video is very much a hybrid of illustrated art and video making, with the disciplines of storytelling and captivating narrative-writing thrown in for good measure.

The primary focus of animation (and its biggest USP) is its storytelling. Through these stylised and crafted illustrations, animators are able to take the viewer by the hand, and lead them through a story. As a marketer, this creates a far softer sell, and a much stronger connection with your consumers.  

There are a huge variety of animation types for brands to choose from. In addition to traditional 2D animations, the industry has advanced to include 3D animations, cut out animation, typography animation, motion graphics, claymation and mechanical animation, to name a few.

What is a live action video?

Live action video is a generic term for cinematography or videography techniques that do not make use of animations.

Live action videos depend on human actors, whose movement and speech is filmed. They are filmed in staged settings, either using sets or a green screen (so that a chosen background can be superimposed onto the footage later on).

Live action videos commonly feature across both cinema and advertising.

Conventionally, the ease of achieving realism has made live action videos very popular within adverts. However, the rise of animation technology has meant that animated videos have become a very strong rival. More on that later.

Live action video vs Animated video: When is the best time to use them?

Live action videos are commonly used for insider social media videos. They give customers a personable perspective of the company. It’s a great way to show customers the faces behind the business, and a look behind-the-scenes, thereby building consumer trust.

Live action videos are also best used for adverts that require the actual product to be featured. If, for example, you’ve just released a new piece of technology, and none of your customers have ever seen it before, then a live action advert might be the best fit. It allows you to show the product in a real-life scenario, being used and enjoyed by real people.

In comparison, animation videos are best used for explainer videos. Currently, 59% of marketers use animated explainer videos. This is because of the clarity and coherence with which they explain complex topics. Mechanical videos in particular - check out this YouTube video from Animagraffs, explaining How a Formula 1 Race Car Works for a great example - make the topic infinitely easier to understand.

Animation is also widely used across marketing campaigns, including social media posts and advertising, including creating TV adverts. This is because the vibrant colours and intriguing elements of animation are highly engaging. As a result, these videos are a great way for brands to stand out amongst a crowded marketplace, while boosting key metrics like brand awareness and brand recognition.

Live action video vs Animated video: Which takes longer to produce

Although animated videos sound like a more complicated discipline, in reality, they actually take a lot less time to create than live action videos.

Animated videos are generally quicker to create, because the entire creation process can be done internally, by one animation studio.

The team in an animation studio has all the equipment, skills and experience required to complete an animation video. And this can all be done in their office, by one skilled team.

When we compare this to live action videos - which require multiple filming days, re-take days, and directors, branding experts, actors, videographers, lighting experts and sound experts to all work alongside each other - it’s easy to see why animated videos are so much faster to create.

What’s more, the process of creating an animated video has a lot less steps than that of live action videos.

Both videos follow a creation process that consists of three key phases: pre-production, production and post-production.

They both follow a similar pre-production process, which includes conceptualisation, scriptwriting, and storyboarding.

And for production, while live action videographers film, animators illustrate, animate and record the voice overs. These both take, roughly, the same amount of time.

It’s during post-production that the real differences emerge. When creating an animated video, the team simply needs to finish compositing the animation, then finalise the sound design. Then, unless any further edits are required by the client, it’s ready.

Whereas, for live action video, the process requires a multi-faceted process of voice-over recording, sound design, creating visual effects, colour grading, and creating the final edit / master version. All this takes considerable time, and requires a number of different specialists. Unlike the post-production stage of animation videos.

Although the time required for an animated video can vary for more complex animations (more on this below), for the vast majority, animation videos are significantly quicker to create than live action videos.

Live action video vs Animated video: The Pros and Cons

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty - what are the pros and cons of live action video and animated video?

Each medium has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, which make them the best-fit solutions for different contexts.

So, to ensure you identify the right video type for your company, take a look at these pros and cons:

The pros of choosing animated video

● Actors are not required - this saves a lot of time spent having casting calls and auditions, and means you don’t have to spend money paying actors for shoots that can last multiple days

● No expensive set locations - the sets used for live action videos can be very expensive to design, create and rent. This cost is multiplied even further if you choose to film at a specific location, or abroad. With animated video, you can set your video in any setting, country, planet (you get the idea) that you like, without incurring any extra cost.

● Simplicity in explaining complex processes - within an animation video, you can deploy infographics, diagrams, mechanical animations, and a wide variety of other tools, to ensure that a complex process is explained clearly. This is why animation is widely used for explainer videos.

● Can be a lot more digestible to consume - thanks to their bold colours, dynamic design and general unpredictability, animations are highly engaging types of content. This is then coupled with the fact that they make long passages of information more digestible. Research from Invisia revealed that viewers retain 95% of a message conveyed via video. This is more than 9 times higher than the retention rate for reading alone (which is just 10%).

● Use visual creativity to deliver simplicity - a good animation video will use sophisticated, elegant imagery and storytelling to make a topic both understandable and interesting. A great example of this is our recent Grow with Focus video. In it, we use storytelling and charming visuals to clearly explain the benefits of the new Ford Focus, and the ethos underpinning the design change.

The cons of choosing animated video

● Potential to feel impersonable - the biggest benefit of live action video is the fact that, because it contains humans, it creates a sense of immediate relatability with your audience (that is, unless the actors feel false). So, you need to be careful that your animated video achieves this human touch. This can be achieved through a focus on its characters, voice over and emotive storytelling.

● Could take longer to complete depending on complexity - However, take note that the time required for an animated video can vary considerably, based on the complexity of the animation. For example, the intricacy of claymation animation - did you know that the animators behind Aardman’s film The Pirates! worked at a pace of four seconds of footage each week? - is far more time-consuming than computer-generated 3D animation. So, if you’re thinking about investing in animation, ask the animators for their advice regarding the timescales for different types of animation.

The pros of choosing live action video

● Delivers a sense of authenticity - through the use of human actors and relatable scenarios, live action videos feel very authentic and believable. With that said, it’s important that you choose your actors with care. Otherwise, bad acting might prevent your video from achieving this connection with your audience.

● Can be quicker to create - in some scenarios, live action videos can be quicker than animated videos. This almost entirely depends on the video’s concept, and the content that will be required to achieve it. So, if you want to keep your live action video delivery time down to the minimum, ask your videographer for their advice.

● Accessible - low-budget videos can be created on an ordinary mobile phone. This is great for quick social media updates. But, this way of filming creates significantly lower quality videos, so it probably isn’t the right fit for an advert.

The cons of choosing live action video

● Costs can be extremely large - the costs of creating a live action video are often high, and can reach astronomical levels. Plus, adding sets, effects, and getting the advice of experts all increase the cost further. Unless you’ve got a sky-high budget, you might find yourself having to make some compromises on your initial vision.

● Making edits will be limited - once the footage has been filmed, there’s only so much that you can do to change it, without paying for a complete re-shoot. So, unless you and your director are completely in sync, this could be a problem.

Why work with an animation agency like OK Social?

OK Social is a professional animation agency, which has worked with some of the biggest names in the biz. With extensive experience and a talented team of specialists under our belt, you can be certain that your new branded animation video will deliver all these big benefits.

We will work with you on a one-to-one basis, to create a bespoke animated video of a superb quality. We can integrate the very latest design trends into your video, while keeping it firmly on-brand.

What’s more, with an extensive knowledge of customer metrics and advertising advancements, we know just how to unlock the specific metrics that you want your animation to achieve.

In short, working with a specialist animation agency is the best way to ensure your video hits all the high notes.

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I’m Jack, the Motion Director here at OK Social. I’ve been working in the world of motion design and animation for nearly 10 years. I had the pleasure of working with leading agencies and brands around the world, such as Samsung, Ford, Shell, Deliveroo, and Starbucks, to name a few.

From a young age, I’ve always been interested in animation, from making stop-motion films in my room as a kid to learning animation on my first computer. It started as a passion and still is to this day. Part of what I do now is more than just animation. I help craft the narratives of the stories we tell to ensure they make an impact to the audience and remain worthy of their attention.

So how do I do that? It starts with asking the right questions, leading to solving the right problems. First, diagnose what the problem is. Then, we can start to see if we can help. I believe that communication plays a key role in delivering a smooth and successful project. Looking into the future, I’m excited to expand my knowledge into creating more engaging stories that make a difference.