6 min read

Animation vs Live-Action Explainer Videos — Which Is Better For B2B?

Animation vs Live-Action Explainer Videos — Which Is Better For B2B?

What are the pros and cons of live-action vs. animation explainer videos? Join us for a breakdown of the pros and cons of each and find out which one is the best for you.

First of all, welcome to the party. Anybody who is anybody these days has an explainer video. But deciding to make one of your own often comes with the alarming realisation that you’ve got some choices to make. A lot of them.  

Whether to make a live-action or animation explainer video is one of the first decisions you’ll have to tackle. To make matters even more nerve-wracking (sorry), it's really important to make the right choice.

There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of money on a live-action explainer video only to realise that animation would have made a hell of a lot more sense.  Don’t let it happen to you.

Join us as we attempt to bring some order to all those live-action vs. animated explainer video arguments that have been fighting it out in your head. 

Animated Explainer Video Examples

It’s highly likely that you too have already experienced the joy of having a product or concept explained to you by a friendly character in some other company’s animated explainer video.  

If not, you’re one of about 10 people left in the world who haven’t and it’s time you left their ranks. Here’s an example from Hootsuite of an animated explainer video at its finest:  

What Is Hootsuite? 

screenshot of an animated explainer video of Hootsuite with blue graphic drawings illustrating social media posts with images and text as seen on a social media management SaaS platform

When considering whether to make a live-action vs. animated explainer video, keep in mind that there are many different styles of animation. Here's an explainer video that does a great job of breaking down some of the most common:  

The 7 Top Animation Styles For Explainer Videos Revealed 

video thumbnail, cut out of smily white man in t-shirt talking with hands with contrasted titles The 7 Top Animation Styles For Explainer Videos Revealed 

As you can see, whether you’re going for a colourful, eye-catching style or a more serious look, there’s a style of animation out there that will fit the bill.  

Benefits of Animated Explainer Videos

When it comes to the live-action vs. animated explainer video debate, there are plenty of great arguments for animation. Some of the top pros of animated explainer videos include: 

  • No Limitations- Want to set your video in space and feature a cast full of flying pigs? Animated explainer videos make it possible. No matter how wild or crazy your idea may sound, as long as it can be animated, it can be done.

  • Possible Budgeting Perks- There are a huge number of cost considerations that go into filming original live footage. From actors and sets to a full camera crew, the whole thing can get expensive very quickly. Animation allows you to simply hire one person to create all your characters and settings instead.   

  • Branding Incorporation- Going the animated explainer video route can also make it a lot easier to incorporate your brand-specific style. Just send your animator the colour codes used in your logo or website and they can easily design your video’s colour scheme around them.  

  • Explain Concept Concepts- Animated explainer videos also make it a lot easier to explain things that tend to be.... well, hard to explain. This video from Tech Insider is a great example:  

This Incredible Animation Shows How Deep The Ocean Really Is 

screenshot for an animated video showing a swimmer in the see with a large whale below him, and contrasted titles saying How deep is the ocean? and Tech Insider

There’s one other possible perk to animated explainer videos, but we mention it with caution. In addition to hiring an animation company or freelancer, it may be possible to make your own. Emphasis on may be possible. 

There are now plenty of sites that will allow you to use templates to make your own animated explainer videos.  While many of these sites are valid, they also tend to make the entire process sound a lot easier than it actually is. 

Before you let your dreams of launching your own animation career convince you to subscribe, we highly suggest you take advantage of any free trials such sites may offer. 

Cons of Animated Explainer Videos 

If animated explainer videos are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them? Some of the potential drawbacks of animation include: 

  •  Lack of the Human Element- It's a lot harder to infuse animated characters with relatable emotions or personalities. While it’s technically possible, creating a video that looks like a Pixar movie is going to require a huge budget.  

  • Finding the Right Style- Unless you are a killer animator or have the patience to become one, you’ll have to hire someone to create your animated explainer video. As mentioned, there are many different styles of animation, so prepare to torture yourself over which one to choose. Once you decide on your dream style, you’ll then move on to the process of torturing yourself over selecting the perfect animator to execute your vision. 

  • Conveying Your Vision- There's a delicate balance between explaining your vision to your animator and accepting that it may not turn out exactly how you pictured it in your head. If you hire a freelancer, you’ll likely have a lot more creative control, but should be prepared to put in the time and energy to oversee the whole process. If you go with an animation company, they’ll handle much more of the process for you, but you’ll have a much less active role.  

  • Time and Money- Making a great animated explainer video takes time, so prepare to do some waiting while your animator makes the magic happen. Additionally, live-action footage is possible to produce for a wider range of prices. If you choose to go the talking head route, for instance, your entry cost may prove lower than what you'd end up paying an animator. 

Live-Action Explainer Video Examples

Live-action explainer videos use (you guessed it) live footage to convey their message. As with animation videos, there are multiple approaches to choose from.   

Some companies use memorable spokespeople to create a relationship with the audience. This can work brilliantly when you find the right actor to infuse your video with the personality and style you want to convey.  

This live-action explainer video from Dollar Shave Club is among the most famous examples of this tactic at its finest:  

DollarShaveClub.com - Our Blades Are F***ing Great 

video screenshot - laid-back business man in a warehouse, watching the camera, talking with a elbow resting on a  pallet truck

Other companies use multiple actors and settings to explain who they are and what they do. Here’s a good example from Ecosia, a search engine that uses its ad revenue to plant trees:   

Weird Search Requests | Spec Ad | Ecosia (2020) 

corporate video screenshot, young man standing in a bus watching smartphone wearing white earphones

Look expensive? It probably was. The good news is that it’s also possible to cut costs by using stock footage. A company called Dissolve cashed in on this strategy when they made fun of the wide use of stock footage in this genius parody video: 

This Is a Generic Brand Video, by Dissolve 

video screenshot dark space with planet earth and stars with contrasted title saying This is a generic brand video

What Are the Benefits of Live-Action Explainer Videos? 

If you’ve got the resources to do it well, using live-action in your explainer videos can have its perks. Some of them include: 

  • Relatability- Live-action explainer videos can feel a lot more personal than their animated counterparts. This is especially true for those that use recurring spokespeople or themes. Infusing your video with a distinctive personality is also going to be much easier when you use live actors over animated characters who don't even have facial features.  

  • Product Incorporation- If your explainer video is based around a specific product, it's always better to show off the real thing.  

  • Wide Budget Range- Live-action explainer videos can be made for a variety of different budgets, depending on how simple or complex you want them to be.  

  • DIY Potential- If you or anyone you know has a good enough camera, it may be possible to make a bare-bones explainer video on your own. Alternately, it’s possible to cut costs by using stock footage.  

Cons of Live-Action Explainer Videos 

As effective as live actors can be, there are plenty of top companies that use animation instead. Here are some of the cons of live-action explainer videos: 

  • Abstract Concepts More Difficult to Convey- Live-action videos can sometimes make it more difficult to explain abstract or complex ideas. If you want to show how many elephants could fit onto a football field, it’s going to be a lot easier to use animation than to put out a casting call for elephants. 

  • Cost Concerns- Capturing original live-action footage can get very expensive, very quickly. You’ll need to hire actors, directors, a camera crew, storyboard artists, sound engineers, editors, and more. Unless you’re willing to oversee the process yourself, it's best to hire a production company or producer.  

  • Shelf Life- It's incredibly difficult to make a live-action explainer video that’s completely immune to ageing. No matter how trendy it looks now, there will come a day when things as simple as your cast’s wardrobes begin to look dated. Animated explainer videos also tend to be much easier to re-edit to account for changes down the line. Rather than being forced to make a whole new live-action video if you change your brand's logo, you can often make a few simple edits to an old animation video. 

  • The Drawbacks of Spokespeople- While the right spokesperson can prove invaluable, just make sure the one you select is in it for the long haul. By establishing a certain spokesperson as the face of your brand, you become somewhat dependent on them to keep up appearances. 

Live-Action vs. Animated Explainer Video Cheat Sheet 

Now that we’ve weighed the pros and cons of animated and live-action explainer videos, it’s time to make your choice.  

Still can’t decide? Here are a few hints.  

Animation explainer videos may be best for you if: 

  • You want to incorporate abstract or complex ideas.  

  • You want to use creatures or settings that don’t currently exist outside of fantasy novels.  

  • Your message is more important than the emotional context in which it's conveyed. 

Live-Action explainer videos may be best for you if:  

  • You want your video to invoke emotion, such as humour or inspiration. 

  • You want to show off your product and how it can be used by real people.  

  • You want to put a recognizable face to your brand.  

If you just can’t bring yourself to decide between the two, keep in mind that it’s also possible to use a mixture of both live-action and animation. This old PayPal explainer video is a solid example of how this strategy can work:  

Amazing Explainer Video Created For Paypal Great Style 

video screenshot white man playing guitar surrounded by cardboard rainy clouds with crying face

In the end, whether you should make a live-action or animated explainer video will come down to which option is better suited for getting your message across to your audience.   

No matter which you choose, we hope we’ve been able to help make your choice a little easier.






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