Animated video vs live action: strengths, limitations and examples

Naomi Linford Apr 15, 2021 5:14:47 PM

If you want to have a video created for you but you're not sure whether to go down the live action route filming real people and scenes, or to use creative animation to tell your story then this is the blog for you!

We'll be breaking down the benefits and limitations of each style of video to help you make the right choice. But first things first, let's clarify exactly what we mean by 'animation' and 'live action' with some examples. 

What is animation?

Animation is the term covering a whole range of different moving graphic video styles. From 2D animation to mixed media animation and everything in between, animation is characterized by successive images and graphics appearing in sequence to create a moving film. 

You've probably seen lots of animations without even realizing, from kids cartoons to instructional videos and advertising, animations are everywhere. For good reason too - they're fun, engaging, eye-catching and memorable! Check out an example of 2D animation created by our talented Sparkol Studio team 👇


What is live action?

In contrast, live action video is the practice of filming real people, scenes and props with video equipment to create realistic and personal videos. 

To achieve the best audio and visual quality, in most cases a dedicated film team is required with specialist equipment like lights, microphones and cameras. You can see an example of this below 👇


Animation strengths and limitations

So which option should you go for? To help make your decision, let's look at some of the pros and drawbacks of each...


There's no limit on creativity - unlike with live action video, you can create any world, character, scene or graphic that your heart desires. Meaning you can not only create much more imaginative and unique videos that stand out, but you also have a lot more flexibility. This is especially helpful for videos covering intangible topics as you can use visual metaphors to bring your concepts to life. A great example of this is the meditation and mental health app, Headspace 👇


They're unique and memorable - because you can create completely new scenes, color palettes and characters, animated videos tend to stand out from the crowd more than live action videos. Plus, research shows animation can boost knowledge retention by up to 15% compared to talking heads videos. It's the combination of visuals, audio and movement that keeps us hooked and stimulates different senses. 

They can be created anywhere - now let's talk logistics. All you really need to create an animation is an animator or two and the right computer set up. Whereas for live action video, you're going to need actors, a location, lights, cameras, microphones, tripods and more. So simply put, the set up needed to create animations is much less and therefore they can be created just about anywhere - including remotely!

They're more budget friendly - because animation requires much less equipment and no set or actors, it's often much more cost effective to have a bespoke animation created over a live action video. So if you do have a smaller budget, you'll get much more value from your money with an animation than live action. 


Animations can take longer to create - it was all sounding too perfect right!? 😂 The only real limitation of animation is that in some cases they can be more time-consuming to build. That's just because there can be a lot of hand-drawn illustration and custom graphics that take longer to create and refine. But if you're working with existing imagery and graphics, this time can be reduced significantly. So just bear this in mind when planning your animation project. 

Live action strengths and limitations


The human connection - the true strength of live action video is that it can more easily stimulate emotions. Seeing other people experience joy, distress or contentment can stir the same feelings in us which is really powerful. Which is why lots of TV advertising that's intended to make us feel a certain way features real actors in live action scenes. 


You'll need a bigger budget - because there's generally a lot more people and equipment involved in filming live action video, it does push the cost up quite quickly. So if you have a budget on the smaller side, it might be worth looking at animation over live video unless you can cut some costs by using your own space to record and streamlining the number of scenes you'll need to film.

The filming environment has to be perfect - air conditioning units you can't turn off, other people moving around, road traffic noises and diminishing daylight all threaten to derail live action filming. This is one of the big limitations of this style of video - you need a perfect stable environment in which to capture your film. Equipment and planning can only go so far, there will always be unexpected hiccups. So if you don't have a whole lot of flexibility and a good spot to film in, live action might not be the best choice. 

It can't be edited so easily - unlike animation, as you're working with footage that's already been shot, if you spot something in the background that shouldn't be there or decide you want to change the wording of part of your script it's pretty difficult to change without re-filming. Whereas with animation it's much easier to add new sections in, completely rework bits or rerecord your audio. 

3 questions to help you decide which is right for you

So now you know the strengths and limitations of each, you might already have an idea of which option is right for your creation. But to help you make the final decision, we recommend asking yourself the following three questions 👇

1. What story do you want to tell?

The most important factor in deciding whether your video should be live action or animation is the message you want to convey. For example, if you really want to focus on the human elements of your business or product then a live action video would be the best choice. As you'll probably want to include talking heads footage of your colleagues or customers interacting with your products or services. 

On the other hand, if you're looking to explain a process, highlight the USPs of your idea or build a memorable new world filled with quirky characters then animation is the perfect choice. With animation, the only limit is your imagination so you can quite literally create whole new worlds and adapt the graphics and styling to suit you. 

Plus, we know that animation is a great tool to make complex subjects more approachable as they simplify ideas and are accessible for everyone from children to adults. Our Bitcoin explainer video is great example of this - after all, who actually understands it...? 😂


2. What's your budget?

As we've mentioned, there is quite a big difference between the cost of live action video versus animation. So if you do have a budget on the smaller side, you'll get more value from your money by focusing on animation rather than live action.

But if you do have the budget to invest in a full live action production then this could be a great choice. It all depends on the priority of the project and what budget you can allocate. 

3. Do you have a suitable filming location and access to actors? 

This last more practical question will pretty quickly determine whether the live action route is right for you. Some businesses and organizations have beautiful office spaces or locations that can make the perfect set up for live action filming, but if that's not you then renting appropriate filming space and sourcing actors could add extra costs and complexities. So if you're not already set up for filming, our advice would be to stick with animation. 

That's a wrap on our breakdown of the pros and cons of live action and animated video. We hope it's helped you make the decision about which style is right for you!

If you do choose animation, we'd love to help you bring your ideas to life - get in touch with Sparkol Studio today to discuss your ideas 👇

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