How to Create an Animated Explainer Video
I’ve broken down my process of designing a successful, effective, and entertaining explainer video into a few fundamental steps. It’s not a quick process, but I assure you if you follow these suggestions, you will be stoked about the end result.
Why Animated Explainer Videos?
Animated explainer videos are powerful, popular tools for marketing almost any business, product, or service. There are a variety of advantages, including the ability to create a piece of video content without any actors, locations, cameras, or other costly elements — which allows you the option of releasing a video about a business, product, or service that doesn’t even exist yet! You can still be in the prototype, manufacturing, or concepting stages of an offering and present an animated explainer video to get your audience excited about it’s debut, targeting potential customers, investors, or even partners in your quest to get the word out.
1Set your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? This needs to be very clear before you start. You can have more than one goal, but keep it to a maximum of three objectives. With Entrepreneur Magazine, our aim was to explain the College Entrepreneur of the Year Contest, get people excited about entering for a chance to win, and clearly communicate who could enter to combat their issue of receiving a large amount of unqualified entries. These goals need to be well defined with everyone involved and revisited often throughout the process to make sure you stay on topic and don’t stray down a different path. Remember, if you have multiple concepts you want to get across, you should always make multiple videos rather than jamming too much information into a single video.
2Determine target and location. Where will the video live and who will be watching it? This is a commonly overlooked aspect of all types of promotional videos. Many things should be adjusted in the strategy and content of a video based on whether it is going to be emailed to a viewer, watched on a homepage, or delivered in an ad. With Entrepreneur Magazine, we knew our video would be living on a microsite with details about the contest, and that the traffic was coming from ads placed throughout entrepreneur.com as well as the printed publication. We were able to skip the explanation of what Entrepreneur is since the video would be placed on their site, and we didn’t need to waste valuable time with a call to action, web address, or in-depth details about the contest.
3Write your script. Now that you have your goals locked down — you know where the video will live and who will be watching — it’s time to write the script. To be effective, you must be efficient; keep it short and concise while using a casual style for the voice-over (VO). Explainer animations tend to follow a conversational tone, so aim for a fun and light feel. Make sure to be clear about the points that matter, fully explaining complex topics, but remember your customers are smart and going into too much detail may come off as condescending (a real turnoff!). The word count can vary, but we have noticed that on average there are about 182 words in a one-minute VO (based on an average of 3 words/second.) Also be sure to account for the time it will take for pauses, music breaks, and intros and outros. With the Entrepreneur animation, our script was 162 words and the total run time was 56 seconds. Ideally, you want to aim for something less than a minute and a half, since people just don’t have the attention span for much more.
4Do a script breakdown. Once the script is approved and locked down, the next step is to take it into a two-table side-by-side breakdown. This is a super simple exercise that gets everyone on the same page. First create a two-column table in any word-processing program (we use Google Docs, allowing for real-time collaboration internally and with clients). On the left column, copy and paste your script into bite-sized chunks. Anytime your VO changes topics to something that needs a different visual, use a different row. Then on the second column, break down what you want to see visually during the animation. Be as descriptive as possible and use examples like images, links, etc. This is a great time to bounce ideas off teammates and colleagues.
5Create a mood board/style guide. For the first four steps, you’ve been working in a text editor program. Now it’s time to get visual! Animated explainer videos are all about the graphics, so make sure to do your research and really put in some time here to make the view as dynamic as possible. Collect references from your favorite artworks, graphics, cartoons, and other animations that fit the style you are going for. Abduzeedo.com is a great place to get inspiration for various styles. Pinterest is another helpful tool that lets you gather assets, share ideas among your team, and get feedback. You aren’t looking to copy another artist’s work here, but rather to be inspired, reference specific elements that you want to incorporate, and identify feelings that different pieces evoke. This is another great checkpoint to make sure everyone is on the same page.
6Create storyboards. Before spending hours creating original elements and graphics, sit with your designers to sketch out the storyboards — these can be super basic. You will use the storyboards to create an asset list and an animation blueprint, and also to confirm that your entire team is working toward a unified goal. Your designer should use the two-table side-by-side breakdown to create a storyboard for each individual row, keeping in mind the style guide as well as a plan for the motion effects to be added later while drawing out these boards.
7Write out animation list and animation blueprint. We were just getting visual, but we have to head back to the word processor one more time — trust me, it will save you time down the line! Go through your storyboard with a fine tooth comb. Create two lists, one detailing every single visual element in the storyboards. This will be used as a checklist in the next step and will assure nothing is missed. The second is the animation blueprint, used to plan out how each element moves from scene to scene and section to section. Many of these may have been described in the two-table side-by-side breakdown, but here we want to get even more specific. At this point, your designer/animator should be able to assess an exact timeline for finishing the project.
8Asset creation. Here is where your vision starts coming to life! With your style guides, moodboards, and storyboards in hand, you have built a solid frame for your video. You are confident of the plan because you’ve done your due diligence in steps 1-4 and now you are ready to start creating. Using your storyboards and moodboards, your designer can begin creating assets for all of the elements in your asset list. You want to create every single asset needed all the way down to the blades of grass so that they can be signed off before heading to animation (time consuming if changes are made any later).
9Asset storyboards. This step is optional, but to really pull the idea together you can choose to build out a few of the storyboards using the assets to see what the finished product will look like. You may find that a pile of winning assets doesn’t always look that great when thrown together in one scene or frame.
10Record the voiceover. If you have a member of your team who is the face of your company or serves as the main touchpoint with your clients, this person is a great candidate to be your VO artist. If you don’t have someone like that in your organization, there are many great services online to audition high quality voice talent without the need for renting a studio or any sound recording equipment. You can simply upload your script and artists will audition for you. You can even give direction via email, phone or Skype if you want them to adjust words, pronunciation, tone, etc. We commonly use Voices.com.
11Animation time! OK, so now you are finally ready to take your assets and give them to your animator. You have a plan — two-column table, script, storyboards, style, and assets. But this is where the tedious, time-hungry animating and editing comes in. Give your animator plenty of time and space to get to work animating a rough cut that the team can review, then add minor adjustments (you really shouldn’t have many after this process), and lastly produce a final picture cut timed perfectly to your VO.
12Music and sound effects. Again, this step is optional, but we have found that music and sound effects can make a HUGE difference in optimizing the quality of the video, keeping viewers attention, and emphasizing specific points you want to get across. We create custom scores for all of our videos in-house, so we have the luxury of timing our music and sound effects to the finalized animation. There are several online sources where you can get affordable royalty-free music, and with some time and dedication, you can find the perfect song to fit the feel of your production. Keep in mind that your sound effects need to be timed and leveled so as to not distract the viewer, to add emphasis to certain key points of your message, and to enhance the overall experience.
That’s it! EASY right!? We know it’s a lot of work but if you’re going to create something you want to do it right. We love what we do and would love to work with any company or individual looking to go down the fun path of creating an animated explainer video!