film vs animation

7 Quick questions to decide whether to film or animate

Can’t decide if you should film or animate?

The good news is that picking the best option is really simple.

In fact, there are only 7 questions which you need to ask.

First, some quick definitions:

  • Film (or live action as it’s more accurately called) is where you use a video camera to shoot real life video.
  • Animation takes illustrations and uses software (like Adobe After Effects) to make them move.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to it!


Wait, scrap 7 questions.

There are 7 questions in total. But YOU probably only need to answer ONE or TWO of them.

Awesome, right?

Here are the questions.

If you answer “YES” to a question, click on it to find out which video style you should use.

  1. Is your product food?
  2. Can you touch your product?
  3. Is someone giving a testimonial?
  4. Is someone giving an interview or speech?
  5. Are you explaining a process?
  6. Is your product software?
  7. Are you giving instructions or a tutorial?


1. Is your product food?

This might sound like I’m trying to be funny, but I’m actually not!

If you sell food or drinks of any kind, then you should be filming! There will never be a time when showing an animation of a burger is better than showing the real deal.

Here’s one of my favourite food video series from Buzzfeed called worth it. I cannot imagine them doing this with animation. 


2. Can you touch your product?

This is actually just an extension of the earlier question. If your product is tangible, like a bag or a car, then you should be filming. 

People will want to see the real thing, and you should definitely be showing it off.


3. Is someone giving a testimonial?

If you’re creating a video testimonial of a client that loves you, you should definitely film them. This adds credibility to the testimonial and to you.


4. Is someone giving an interview or speech?

If someone important is talking, such as your company CEO, then you should definitely film him or her. This adds gravitas to the video and the speaker.


5. Are you explaining a concept or idea?

Plot twist! What if the speech is explaining a concept or idea? Sometimes, adding animation to a speech can clarify the ideas mentioned in the speech. Here’s a different take on Jim Carrey’s speech above. The video uses whiteboard animation and shifts the focus from Jim to his advice. 


To expand on this – The reason why Jim Carrey’s graduation speech works well with animation is because he’s trying to convey an idea. 

When you’re trying to convey something abstract, animation can make a huge difference.

Here’s Ray Dalio explaining the economy using animation.

Ray Dalio is a multi-billionaire, and his firm, Bridgewater, has some very important clients such as banks, governments and mega corporations.

He certainly has the money to make an elaborate, super-fancy film. Instead, he chose to use clean and simple animations that allow the idea to shine.

One other thing to note – Some companies shy away from animation, fearing that it looks too child-like or unprofessional. Ultimately, this depends on the style of illustration and animation. For example, many banks use motion graphics to show charts and diagrams in a professional manner.


6. Is your product software?

If you’re a SaaS and you’re trying to showcase your software, then you’re pretty much limited to animation. Sure you could do an over-the-shoulder filming of your app being used, but that’s really not advisable. It’s hard for the viewer to see because you’re adding an extra layer (the screen), which makes it hard to get an appreciation of your software beyond understanding that it exists. 

Here’s a video demo of Dropbox Paper:

As you can see, by doing an animation, instead of filming over-the-shoulder, they’re able to zoom in on relevant bits, and keep things simple and clean. This allows the viewer to focus on the key features without getting distracted.


Here’s a video from WIX.

I mentioned earlier that over-the-shoulder filming isn’t appropriate for SaaS products. But I wanted to show you how there’s also a time and a place for it.

If this video was actually trying to showcase their software, it would’ve done a poor job. It’s impossible to get an actual feel for the software from this video. But for WIX, that’s secondary. They’re not trying to show you how to use the software, all they’re trying to do is showcase snippets of their software while leveraging on the fame of athletes like Didi Gregorius. This is what they want viewers to know – if your favourite athlete can use WIX with ease, you can too.

And they definitely can’t do that with an animated avatar of the athlete!


7. Are you giving instructions or a tutorial?

Okay this one is kind of a trick question. It actually depends on what the instructions are for. If you’re trying to give instructions on how to change the settings on a camera, then it’s important that you film the camera.


But if you’re trying to give instructions on using your app, then animation is definitely better. 

Here’s a video from QuickBooks that explains how to create and send estimates to clients. As you can see, because QuickBooks is software, it’s best to show it through animation.

And that’s it! 7 quick questions to help you decide once and for all – should you film or should you animate?


Which questions did you answer “Yes” to?

By only focusing on the questions that you answered “Yes” to, you can quickly figure out if you should film your video, or animate it.

Let me know in the comments which questions did you answer “Yes” to? And whether you found this method of picking helpful.


Finally, if you’d like to work with a video studio who loves digital marketing as much as you do, click here to book a free consultation.



Lesley Sim