As one of the most engaging digital mediums used to tell stories, animations are king of content.

When stories are complex and delicate, the nature of a more traditional, true to life video, can introduce factors that can distract from the story’s core message.

As an example, when a video relies on the performance of actors, it may not effectively communicate the authentic emotions and feelings of the story. Or sometimes, people watching a video may not be able to engage with the characters, which may turn them off listening to the message.

Through using animated characters or symbols to relay a message or story, the storyteller has complete control, and the content can be more easily digested by the viewer, who feels less confronted by the real-life nature of the subject. The finest details of an animated message can also be fine-tuned to ensure the message is clear and carries the point across in the most effective way.

At Arete, we often recommend the use of animated films to our clients who need to tell more complex narratives.

Complete control

Immersive storytelling

Compared to other mediums, animation gives the creator complete control over what is depicted; a skilled animator can hone in on the key aspects of each element of the story, blocking out anything that may be irrelevant or distracting. This allows for a truly immersive experience for the viewer, which in turn means that the key messages are being delivered in the most powerful way.

Communicate emotion effectively

Humans all display emotion in different and nuanced ways; through using animation, one can remove any ambiguity around what the protagonist of the story is feeling. The emotions of animated characters can be carefully controlled and, where necessary, exaggerated, ensuring that the narrative of the story unfurls in a structured and strategic way. This close control over the communication of emotion can be utilised very effectively to engage and influence an audience.

Create a connection

Research has proven that some people also find it easier to relate to, and therefore, empathise with animated characters.

As James Isgrove, Arete’s lead animator, explains, “Animated characters can be made as simplified or complex as you like. In some cases, the simpler they are, the better. This provides the viewer with enough of a blank canvas to project themselves on to the character, and therefore, imagine what the character might be feeling. This can catalyse a deep and meaningful connection with both the character and the story.”

Unbound creativity

Animation is limited only by the extent of creativity; it allows for a story to be told in almost any way. Animation offers greater flexibility to communicate through symbolism, which means complex subjects and delicate stories can be expressed in a more palatable way, creating a more engaging experience.

The most effective storytelling can utilise symbolism to communicate the emotion of the characters on-screen without using any words. UNICEF South Sudan commissioned Arete to create five short animations that would reflect the dreams of child soldiers. In this video, in which the young girl narrates her story, she doesn’t need to say that she felt scared, small, and insignificant.

How to use animation to tell difficult stories

By shrinking the character representing the girl and making the character that represents the soldier monstrously large, each of these emotions is symbolically communicated effectively and efficiently without need for further explanation.

Approach topics tactfully

The creative use of symbolism can also ensure difficult topics are expressed tactfully but with enough weight to indicate significance. Through the use of abstract visuals, complex and upsetting situations can be simplified so that they are easier for the viewer to watch and interpret.

In another of these videos, a young boy narrates a story that is recurring in his nightmares.

In this story, the young boy depicts how he was forced to watch soldiers slit his father’s throat. It was difficult to work out how best to portray that,” lead animator James Isgrove describes. “With upsetting and delicate scenes, such as this one, sometimes it is better to leave some of the details to the viewer’s imagination. The idea is to lead the story down a path and let the viewer’s mind fill in the blanks”.

Utilising sound

The power of the imagination can also be realised through the use of descriptive sound. One’s imagination is the most compelling storytelling tool, and with the right stimulus, it can be utilised to communicate a story more powerfully than any visual depiction.

For example, in this animation, this ex-child soldier describes how she was beaten with heavy chains. By employing the sound of chains rattling and thumping, we were able to descriptively, yet delicately, depict this horrific chapter in her story without the need to animate a distressing scene.

Educational videos made easy — Aga Khan University — How the news becomes the news

Animation can also be effectively employed to explain complex situations and processes in a simplified and easy-to-understand manner, granting storytellers the ability to create simple on-screen scenarios, which can effectively communicate a process — such as how the news becomes the news.

In this animation, commissioned by the Aga Khan School of Media and Communication in Kenya, the goal was to educate the audience on how a news story’s facts and content are gathered and checked before it is published.

To conclude, animation is a versatile medium that offers comprehensive creative control and the ability to engage with all audiences. When utilised correctly, animations can be used to tell both delicate and informative stories effectively.

Do you have a complex story that could be told using animation? Here is how to reach out to our animation team.

 

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations

Our award-winning journalists and content specialists are eager to help you make a difference. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.