Idea Blog

How Should I Judge an Animation Studio’s Portfolio?

Denise McArthur 12.04.2014

If you’re looking for an animation studio for an explainer or training video, it’s a smart move to shop around. In fact, at IdeaRocket, we actively encourage prospects to check out the competition to see how we stack up.

Of course, most prospects probably aren’t rsa animation experts (after all, that’s why they’re coming to us). Like an amateur oenophile (relax, that means wine-lover), you can probably tell good product from bad, but don’t yet have the nuanced palette to appreciate the fine differences between good and great vintages.

That’s why we equip them with a handy Animation Quality Assessment rubric, detailing six separate metrics by which to judge a studio—and  how to weigh each one appropriately with useful percentages. Now we’re expanding on it and sharing it with the worldwide blogosphere, so you can be an educated consumer, too.

Prepare for a crash course in animation studio bone fides—while you may not be a snooty animation connoisseur by the end of this article, you will be equipped to make an informed decision about which animation studio is up to snuff.

A Well-Woven Narrative: Script (35%) 

The single most important element in a great animation is the script. At the end of the day, you want to tell a compelling story—a story that just happens to express your key message—but a cohesive narrative nonetheless.

Telling a story is easy enough. Explaining a concept isn’t too difficult. Vividly doing both at the same time is incredibly difficult. A great script needs to help the viewers understand in an easy, effortless manner—it can’t feel like a lecture. For most videos, viewers have the ability to click away the instant they aren’t entirely enthralled; weaving engaging entertainment with impactful information is no easy task.

When reviewing a studio’s animation portfolio, ask yourself if the script delivers complete comprehension of the product or service while keeping the audience’s eyeballs glued to the screen. Does the narrative flow like the most natural thing in the world, or does it awkwardly lumber and grunt, clumsily jumping from one idea to another?

Pay attention to the script in this video for Venmo:

Animation Studio Building

It reads like a friend telling you about her weekend—it’s an interesting anecdote, not a blatant sales pitch. At the same time, it clearly explains Venmo’s key value proposition, benefits, and features, without breaking away from the story or trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

Think of the script as the central hub of an animated video—if the story’s not there, none of the other elements will be at their best.

Entrancing Art: Animation Design (25%)

Aesthetics matterattractive things work better. Design is another element that’s absolutely critical when evaluating a studio’s work. Examine the characters, the scenes, the objects: do they exude personality, do they imprint themselves in your brain, are they one-of-a-kind?

Don’t confuse complexity with good design. Sometimes keeping it simple is far harder to pull off, but much more effective. Top-tier studios can create a circle character with more charisma than a Hollywood star in the way it moves and emotes.

An animation’s art should be beautiful, bewitching, and relatable. It should draw you in and keep your attention rapt. Check out this video for gTeam. Vibrant colors, imaginative design, and just a tinge of psychedelia capture the viewers’ interest and guide them through the story.

Planet Animation

While most people don’t know how great design is achieved, almost everyone can separate attractive art from shoddy design. If an animation’s art is too blasé, predictable, or hackneyed, that reflects poorly on your organization. A professional, memorable, and original design elevates your business’s brand and ensures your message is heard.

Poetry in Motion: RSA Animation (15%)

Ironically, the mechanics of animation itself are often overlooked when evaluating an animation studio’s portfolio. What are we talking about when we talk about animation? Movement.

Ask yourself: is the motion in this animation fluid, true to life, and appropriately embellished for dramatic effect? Or is it jerky, stilted, and full of fits and starts? This is often a key indicator of time and expertise on the animator’s part—a rushed project may feature fewer frames per second or less animation layers, resulting in jerkier motion that feels inauthentic and cheap.

Watch this explainer video for Skyhook.

Animation Graphic

See how that smartphone swivels and curves fluidly into the frame in the opening seconds? That animation infuses an inanimate object with verve and personality. Notice the smooth transitions from the scene to scene, and the subtle point-of-view pan in the café? That gives the entire video a stylistic veneer of professionalism, polish, and authority.

Pitch Perfect: Voice Talent (10%) 

Voice talent is an integral part of any animation, and evaluating a studio’s choice on that front should play a role in your decision. Some videos call for a soothing, sonorous tone—others call for high-pitched, nearly breathless excitement.

Wedding the right voice to your animation can make all the difference in delivering subtle cues and establishing the underlying feeling. Take a listen to this explainer video for Scandis:

Animated Office Space

Her voice is amiable, nimble, and a tad bit playful, just like Scandis’s brand. Listen in particular to the line, “furniture that has been marked up, just so it can be marked down,” about 20 seconds in. Her tone is knowing, slightly irreverent, and makes you feel like you’re in on the joke—it respects your intelligence while reflecting Scandis’s own savvy style. No other voice would hit these lines just so, and the result is such sweet harmony.

Music to Your Ears: Sound Mix (10%) 

Another hallmark of an animation studio’s skill, the sound mix can make or break an enjoyable experience.

When listening to a portfolio piece, ask yourself if the audio elements clash or if they play off each other? Are they well-timed or haphazardly syncopated? Are the sound effects overdone, or does every element work towards communicating your message? If there’s music, does it enhance the visuals, or distract from them?

Listen in to this spot for Breton Gluten-Free Crackers.

Drawing Of Girl

The jaunty ukulele tune sets the tone, while brilliant sound effects are peppered in to amplify the animation: the whoosh of loosed wheat-arrows, the drip of the tear of happiness and hope, and, of course, the satisfying crunch of the cracker itself.

 Tried and True: Studio Experience (5%)

A studio’s experience is the least important element to consider, but it still matters: experience is a sign of sustained success and time-tested professionals.

Yet even though nearly all of IdeaRocket’s animators have 15 to 20 years of experience, we don’t like to rest on our laurels—if younger, fresh-faced animators have the right talent, that’s all that really matters.

All Together Now

We encourage you to evaluate a few animation studios, including our own, rating each element one through ten. Once you’ve added it all up and given the proper weight to each criterion, you’ll see where each studio stands.

While innumerable ingredients go into a great video, these six key points can help you quantify a studio’s ability and facilitate an informed decision. Explore IdeaRocket’s own portfolio here.

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