Live action or animation — which makes the best explainer video?

If you’ve decided to make an explainer video, you’ll have a range of options of how to craft it. From the late 2000s when whiteboard explainers were all the rage, today they may include motion graphics, live-action — or both.

The differences between motion graphics and live-action might seem aesthetic, but the choice of media has a much greater impact on the message you convey to your customers. While live-action certainly has its place, when you have a product with complex sales challenges or technical attributes, motion graphics can bring it to life, resulting in a more engaging video. A more engaged viewer retains more information, which accelerates the customer education process.

Below, we’ll discuss why you’d want to use motion graphics — and when you might want to integrate them with live-action shots.

Motion Graphics Make the Invisible Visible

Motion graphics are the clear choice when you need to represent something that is hard — if not impossible — to see, such as a product that functions at a microscopic or macroscopic level. They are as capable of demonstrating the inner workings of the cells of the body as they are to illustrate the transfer of data nodes.

When you need potential customers to understand intricate processes that take place out of sight, an animated video can transport them underground and inside walls, to learn how termites colonize and invade their home. Motion graphics also come to the rescue when you want to represent processes that take place over too long or short a timeframe to be showcased in a brief clip: if you want to represent the lifecycle of a crop or show how a laser treatment offers instantaneous relief, animation can speed things up or slow them down, to take your customer on the path you want them to travel.

When you have a product that functions out of sight, motion graphics make them visible in a format that is both precise and accessible to the customer. It might be possible to use live action in some cases — you could cut into an actual wall to reveal the pest-control solution, swallow a camera to take your customer into a stomach, or fly a drone over a neighborhood — but motion graphics will yield a more cost-effective and accurate result. In other cases, you might want to represent things that simply cannot be captured in live-action video, like the projected impacts of climate change on a habitat, or an abstract concept that needs to be rendered symbolically.

Motion Graphics Are Evergreen

 A further advantage of animated videos is that they tend to have a longer shelf-life than live-action, where choices such as casting, settings and costumes can quickly date your video. Rather than casting live actors, motion graphics can use abstract or non-representational people in order to underscore the universal applicability of your product.

If you ever need to update the video, motion graphics can be more forgiving. If your company changes a logo, develops a new product or retires an old one, an animated video can accommodate minor changes without reshooting a whole new piece. If you get a new boss and they don’t like blue, your investment won’t end up in the trash: with a few clicks, they can have the color palette of their dreams.

Advantages of Integrating Live-Action and Motion Graphics

 For all the benefits of motion graphics, there are times when integrating live-action video will yield the most effective explainer video. While customers need to be educated about your specific product, they also need to know how it solves their problem. By providing real-world context, you show you understand them: before you plunge into the intricacies of your cleaning product, it helps to show a real person in a kitchen about to spray their sticky counters.

Many explainer videos make use of studio-shot images of the actual product in order to make it more concrete for the customer and confirm that there’s an actual product behind the conceptual explanations. A video explaining farm management software might begin with the scene of a farmer in a field that then zooms in to explain how data is being captured, processed and transformed into actionable information.

Similarly, you might want to use live-action to allow potential customers to hear testimonials from actual users or learn more about the product from the engineers themselves. These real-life appearances from satisfied customers or professionals can add a further layer of authority to your explainer video.

In addition to establishing a real-world context for your product, live-action video also excels when you need to convey human qualities, such as movement and emotion. If you need to demonstrate how an arthritis drug operates within a body, it becomes more meaningful when you show a person limps before but confidently strides after.

When you let the customer picture themselves in the scenario your product solves, you give them the hook that reels them in. When they think to themselves, “I’ve been there,” it convinces them to spend time learning the science behind the product.

While motion graphics excel at demonstrating hard- and impossible-to-see processes, be they microscopic, macroscopic, out of sight or abstract, live-action best represents the real world context, as well as human emotion and movement. Bringing the two together offers unique advantages when you need to show customers the inner workings of a complex product — and how that product can solve their problems.

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