"Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn." - Norman McLaren
Advertisers often turn to animation, recognizing certain advantages of the medium: it can be fun, lighthearted, exciting and expressive. It can help to handle heavy subjects in a delicate way, or to communicate dry information in an entertaining way. Its use of metaphor and symbolic imagery can help to make the message more profound and universal, relatable to all.
But often companies or ad agencies make one big mistake when developing a concept for an animated commercial: they forget that animation is the art of movement, neglecting to take advantage of its full potential.
It's definitely important to make sure that all the information is presented, that the designs are appropriate and consistent with the advertiser's values and branding. But one can't expect that just the mere fact of them moving will bring that extra spark to make it into a memorable and touching viewing experience.
No matter how good the animation execution is, the result can be a rather static, moderately engaging ad that fails to capture imagination and to move audiences in any significant way.
Why is that? Because the commercial wasn't conceptualized around movement.
Animation needs movement as much as a ballet or figure skating relies on movement. Not just provide a stage for a few actions, but the entire piece has to be harmoniously flowing movement, have rhythm and excitement and a satisfying resolution. Ideally, it's the movement itself that should produce the desired feeling, not a few poses or expressions on the characters' faces.
Beautiful example of elegant use of movement:
Do you want to express the FREEDOM that your service awards your clients? Express it through movement! Does your message communicate a positive TRANSFORMATION? Make it feel through movement! Are you about CONNECTING and BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER? Why not to incorporate certain type of movement illustrating that? There can be endless creative ways to make movement a key factor in your commercial to reinforce your message.
Here is an example where the feeling of initial stress and confusion are transformed into something relaxed and easy-going, as expressed through movement:
This needs to be envisioned at the stage of the script/concept development. Once the script is completed - it's probably too late to convert it into a dynamic piece - with a very limited screen time and a shopping list of items to illustrate, the animator's options are very limited.
The way the approval process is traditionally structured is partly responsible for this. A storyboard (or animatic - it's video version) invites PowerPoint presentation mentality: lets examine each slide and see if its contents are appealing and communicate what we need. There is no consideration for the flow of the piece, and little awareness of the overall screen time for each image. Since the animator is now committed to the approved storyboard, there is very little space to play around with the poses, timing, etc. He/she becomes like a very self-conscious dancer that has to follow the markings on the floor and can't rely on music or inspiration to drive the movement.
So how could we approach this better?
- Keep in mind early in the concept development process that dynamic movement is important and should play a major role in your animated spot. If you only have some sitting, standing, walking and gesturing you are not taking the full advantage of the medium. It may end up looking stiff and disjointed.
- Try to involve the animation director early in the concept development process. Drawing on their experience, they may suggest more effective/creative ways of incorporating movement and enriching the viewing experience.
- In some cases it could be beneficial to get rid of storyboard/animatic stage in the approval process. It often interferes with development of organic expressive flow of movement. Instead, reviewing a few designs and a very rough animation can be a better way to keep track of how the project is shaping up without causing stiffness.
- If possible, allow the animators a bit of extra time for experimentation. Fresh, innovative, surprising moments can make animation much more charming and memorable, and this is rarely possible when the schedule doesn't allow any space for playful experimentation. If the animator knows there is only enough time for one attempt on each scene - they will use the most straightforward predictable approach, not taking any risks with the deadline. Of course, deadlines are important and advertising is not an entirely artistic endeavor, but a tiny bit of extra time can allow some noticeable sparkle of brilliance that will make your spot a little more special.
Of course, there is such thing as too much movement, where things are speeding senselessly, with a hard to follow and unsettling result. I don't mean to suggest that any hyper dynamic approach is a good solution. The movement needs to have a certain order, meaning and feel to support the message.
This charming spot is cleverly structured around movement/metamorphosis of the character while he stays in place.
For Inland Revenue, directed by the brilliant David Fine & Alison Snowden:
As animation artists, we really want to help our clients to make the most of the animation content we produce. Whether it's a TV commercial, an advocacy video, educational or promotional content, we want it to draw people in, create a warm connection, make the video speak to them. There is nothing more satisfying than to hear that people have responded well to our animation, that it touched them in some way and that the client's goals were met as a result.