What is the best way to tell your story? Is it through live-action or animated videos? There have been several heated debates about whether the former is better than the latter or vice versa.

Each video marketing production has its own merits and demerits. The process that goes into these two mediums also differs depending on the project, goal and audience the client has in mind.

To help you understand the process in depth, we have broken down the article into a few components that will highlight the key difference between animated and live-action videos.

Definition: Animation vs Live-Action

If you’re new to the industry, animation is an art form that uses images, drawings and motion to entertain viewers by simply bringing inanimate objects to life on screen. This includes TV series, cartoons, as well as short and long-form animated films.

Whereas live-action video creates a story through real life human experience featuring a whole cast of crew in its production. Therefore, to capture these human emotions, live-action movies require actors and set in their projects.

Animation vs Live-Action: What goes into the process?

Animation process

Animated video comprises of numerous elements that primarily start with script writing; before moving forward with creating the storyboard, animation, voiceover, music and sound effects.

Since it’s content-based, the animation process also requires a number of amendments and revisions in each consultation stage. The revision stage is crucial in ensuring the final production of the animated films tallies with the script, voiceover and overall delivery of the intended message.

In other words, it’s a predictable process that entails writing the production in as many words as possible. Hence, it’s always better to include a more detailed scene description when drafting the animation script. This provides clarity, at the same time, reduces the chance of misinterpretation.

Live-action process

Unlike animation, the live-action process is malleable right up until the creative director cues action. However, if we were to draw similarities from animation, we would note that the initial creative process is quite similar to the content development in the animation process.

It consists of conceptualizing, scriptwriting, logistics, filming, editing, visual effects, colour grading and sound design.

Thus, prior to filming the footage, ideas and concepts must be drawn on the storyboard to help directors define the shots and camera angles of the actors inside the frame.

Additionally, live-action film emphasizes the narrative rather than the content. This means the flow of the story, the characters and their actions play a significant role in creating high-quality and engaging videos.

How do animation and live-action processes differ?

It’s important to discern the subtle differences when comparing live-action and animation. Because understanding this helps to establish both animation and live-action videos’ creative direction:

1. Storyboard

For starters, let’s take a look at live-action. The storyboard in this production is used to guide the director on when and where to point or shoot the camera.

It’s a tool to help pre-visualise the concept, allowing the crew to have a grasp of the ideas before rolling the cameras.

However, it entirely depends on the complexity of the video project. In some cases, a storyboard is not necessarily important for developing or filming a live-action video.

But it does come in handy when the live-action production needs to set up each shot, angle or scene.

On the other hand, a storyboard in animation is synonymous with breathing air. It’s key to keeping the story alive; meaning the animation production relies heavily on its storyboard to map out the storyboard artist’s vision to the illustrators and animators.

Without it, everyone would be interpreting the concept their own way, and this will hinder the project’s progress.

It is a requisite in animation production to have everything ready and approved before moving on to the next step or the next video project.

Also read: 10 Best Practices on How to Storyboard an Animation

2. Script

If the storyboard lays the foundation for animated movies, then scripts are their pillars. In short, animation is a much more uniquely visual medium than live action.

Most live-action scripts require no special or lengthy description of what’s taking place on the screen. It’s up to the director to interpret its meaning.

But that’s not usually the case for animation, where the visuals are often something we don’t usually conjure up in our heads. So they can’t be described using only a few words.

For instance:

“A woman finishes work and is heading home” compared to “As soon as the clock strikes 5 pm, the woman hurries to pack her bag, zips her coat, wraps her knitted scarf around her neck and before walking towards the corridor and stepping into the office foyer, she looks back at her table to make sure it’s tidy for tomorrow’s shift at work…”

Get the idea? It’s ten times more words, but it gives you or in this sense, the director, a complete visual image of the scene with little room for interpretation.

What this means is that if the script doesn’t include a descriptive image, odds are the scene won’t appear on the screen the way it was imagined to be.

Whereas in live-action films, the director interprets the words in the script and thus expands from them. Making necessary adjustments along the way.

3. Editing

In terms of editing, animation has the flexibility to refine its content between revision stages.

Giving the director, illustrator, animator and client the creative liberty to discuss and realign the direction of the animated videos throughout the production.

As opposed to live-action ones, the editing is final. Once the shooting ends and it’s time for editing, there will be no do-overs.

The production crew have to work with the materials on hand and salvage through them if need be. It’s rigid but there’s a reason and we’ll be explaining it in our next point.

4. Logistics

When it comes to logistics, live-action shoots cover more groundwork than directing an animation. Considering aspects such as call sheet, talent casting, actors, crew, lighting, and weather. Not to mention the laborious task of location scouting.

The overall experience is time-consuming. And the preparation for the video production requires days, weeks even months before it can start shooting.

Hence, throughout these events, there’s no space or room for mistakes. You either plan, schedule, develop and excel or you fail in the process.

Meanwhile, animated films require no additional cast to tell their story. It’s wholly dependent on the initial script and storyboard above all else.

Still, it’s important for storyboard artists, illustrators and animators to work together to ensure the video project runs smoothly and seamlessly.

Animation vs live action: pros and cons

Now, which of the two mediums suits your business and marketing goal? Well, let us examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of both animation and live-action.

Pros of animated videos

1. Unleashes creativity

Animated videos pave way for the imagination to take flight. Meaning you can create any world, story, character or graphic that your heart desires. The rule of reality doesn’t exist, at least, where animation is concerned.

This is also extremely helpful if you’re looking to cover intangible topics. Since animation simplifies complex topics and complex ideas in a manner that is accessible to the audience.

It uses visual metaphors to breathe life into your concept. This is apparent in most explainer videos, which are short online marketing videos used to explain the business’s product or service.

2. Unique

It is unique. Animation doesn’t comply with the traditional sense of marketing. This allows the medium to stand out from the crowd with its combination of visuals, audio and movement that stimulates our different senses.

Animated videos also help to deepen visual understanding by presenting the visuals in bite-sized pieces. In other words, it’s effective in communicating information without having to say more than needed.

3. Budget-friendly

An animation video requires much less equipment, and no actors or set. It is often more cost-effective in comparison to live-action video. So if you’re working with a smaller budget, you’ll get much more value and bang for your buck with animation than live action.

On another note, it’s also easier to stay updated with the progress as animation only needs, an animator or two and the right computer set-up including software. Simply put, it can be created just about anywhere even from the comfort of your screen.

Also read: How Much Does Animation Cost? Check This Out!

Cons of animated videos

The main drawback of creating animations is that it may take longer to complete. You have to start from scratch, from the ground up and map out all points in between.

You need to plan, develop, produce and execute every aspect and this takes more time. Considering a lot of the hand-drawn illustrations and custom graphics need days or even weeks to refine.

So keep in mind creating an animated explainer film of the highest quality may need at least four to six weeks, depending on the complexity of the project and its timeline.


Pros of live-action videos

Human connection

Live-action film mirrors reality. It resembles what we humans experience in our day-to-day lives.

From an audience standpoint, we get to connect with these authentic human emotions that are being displayed on screens, because they stir the same feelings within us.

Since most people are hardwired to pick up on non-verbal cues, employing actors to reenact facial expressions help the audience to familiarise and identify themselves with these characters.

Cons of live-action videos

1. Bigger budget

This leads to one of the main drawbacks of live-action, which is you’ll need a bigger budget. Generally, there are more people, equipment and sets involved in the making of the live-action film.

So if you were to examine each of the aspects and sum up their cost, they tend to push the cost quite rapidly. It is worth noting that the more complex, reputable and advanced a high-quality video is, the more expensive it can get.

Otherwise, you may rule out the possibility of spending a bigger budget by filming a video with a shoestring budget instead.

However, the final product may not turn out as you expected to see when compared to a larger-scale live-action video.

2. The setting of the set

Another limitation of live-action video is that the set has to be perfect for the shoot. There could not be any hiccups during the filming duration.

This includes making sure the air-conditioning is on and running, people stay out of the camera frame, diminishing excess daylight, controlling the noise on set and pretty much everything that affects the setting.

A stable environment is crucial in capturing the perfect moment for the live-action film. So, if you don’t have a whole lot of flexibility and the ideal spot to film in, venturing into live-action may not be the best choice.

Making Your Dream, A Reality!

By now, you should be able to tell the difference between a live-action and an animated one, and you may even consider deciding the best way to go about it for your business.

Ideally, what you want to do is understand which medium works best for your specific message. A live-action video would be more apt if you’re looking to build a genuine connection with your audience through your brand.

But if you’re leaning towards creating impact through abstract ideas and complex topics, then animation is perhaps the best option.

All you need is a professional animation studio to help you kick-start your dream. Surrounded by the best creatives, the Superpixel team will gladly assist you in finding and creating the best option for you to achieve your long-term business goal!

From 2D and 3D animated videos to motion graphics, we create everything you’ve seen and will see on digital displays and beyond. Contact us right now for more information.