Creating animated videos

Screen Shot 2015 08 20 at 9.44.47 AMFollowing on from Cybera’s corporate mandate to explore new technologies that create better efficiencies for the public sector, our communications team has been experimenting with new ways to get your message across (particularly if you have a smaller marketing team). A few months ago, we began making animated videos to simply explain how Cybera is benefitting different sectors in Alberta. So far, we’ve done videos describing the services we offer to post-secondaries, k-12 sector and entrepreneurs.

We’ve been very pleased with the reception to these videos, but it’s created an interesting conundrum for us: In the last three months, we’ve had several requests from not-for-profit organizations and individuals in our stakeholder community asking us to help them make their own animated videos. In order to save time for everyone, I have created this blog post to explain: a) How to start planning your video, and b) The animation tools Cybera has used for our videos.

Before I begin, I would just like to stress that I am not a professional animator. These findings are simply based on my experiences of making animated videos for Cybera.

Getting Started

Sometimes it's easier to learn by watching than by reading. When getting started, the first step to take is to decide the topic of your video. What are you hoping to achieve? Is it an “about us” video? Do you want to explain your services? Maybe it’s a video outlining a project of yours? It’s best to focus on one topic at a time rather than combining many, as that can often lead to confusion. Plus, it’s important to note that a person’s attention span is incredibly short. So ideally your video should be no more than two minutes. Less is more in video.

Once you’ve decided your topic, it’s time to write the script. This often takes more time than expected and is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of making a video. I could go on about why audio is more important than visuals, but to simplify, just think about this: If you watch a video on mute and listen to a video with eyes closed, which method is more engaging? Often times we find ourselves multi-tasking while watching videos. During the times we look away from the screen, we depend on the audio. The fact that audio is more important is the reason why you have to start with the script.

So here’s some tips to writing your script:

  • Focus on one major theme for each video

  • Keep the sentences short and to the point

  • Be sure to read everything out loud to make sure it flows naturally

  • It’s a good idea to test the script out on someone from outside your community to see if it makes sense


Here’s a good example of a simple Cybera video script that went through many iterations:

A simple video script template

When it comes to voice-overs, you want to sound natural and not as if you are reading off a script. The tone depends on the subject. Overall, people don’t want to hear a boring and unanimated voice. It shouldn’t be overly excited either. The person should sound natural. Talk as if you are explaining the topic to someone who’s new to that subject. Recording your own voice-over can take a while, so don’t rush it. As well, there are many options for outsourcing narrators online.

As for background music, it is always best to get it composed specifically for your video. However, I have often used Newgrounds, an open-source entertainment company, to get free music. Be sure to read the creative commons license, as sometimes you have to credit the creator. It can take a while to find the right track that matches your video. One affordable options that my peers have used for voiceover and background music is

VideoScribe: Whiteboard animation

The tools Cybera has used are fairly user friendly and don’t require extensive animation software knowledge. To create the whiteboard animation videos, we used VideoScribe. This is a cloud-based software that builds a step-by-step animation from a pool of images. The resulting video shows a hand drawing a series of images on a whiteboard while a narrator explains the topic. This style of animation is quite popular among companies who are trying to explain a complex concept in a simple, fast and fun way.

The current price for the software is $29/month or $665 for a life-time payment. I suggest first trying out the 7-day free trial of the software to see if it fits your needs. There are several tutorials available online to help you get started. While it’s easier to create your whiteboard style animation using VideoScribe’s set of images, you can also add your own images, text, voice and music (although it is limited in the style of images you can incorporate).

Vector images work best for the software rather than bitmaps. This is mainly for aesthetic reasons as a bitmap wouldn’t normally be drawn on a whiteboard. As well, If you import an image, the hand won’t draw it properly, therefore it’s better to have the hand place the image rather than draw. The playback tool is most helpful when making a video. It’s important to match up your video to your audio.

GoAnimate: Designed animation

GoAnimate is another animation tool that we have just recently started to use. Like VideoScribe, this is also a drag-and-drop, cloud-based program. I personally like the variety of this tool much more. You can choose from thousands of animations and various styles (whiteboard, business models/visuals, stick people animations, etc.). However, it is a bit more pricey, and takes a little longer to create and load videos. Prices range from $39/month to $250/month, or $299/year to $2000/year, depending on your needs for the software. There are also several tutorials available online to help you get started, as well as a 14-day free trial.

I think the important thing to keep in mind when working with GoAnimate, especially as a  newbie, is not to get too excited. The tool is pretty awesome and offers a lot of options. It can be very easy to start creating all sorts of awesome scenes, but also time consuming. I think the site’s boiler templates for scenes are pretty helpful, and you can easily customize them.

Overall, I think both tools are easy to use and serve their own unique purpose. The chart below outlines the positive and negatives of each.  

Screen Shot 2015 08 20 at 9.42.58 AM

While it can take some time to create an interesting and informative video, this is an effective and (if done in-house) cheap way to market who your company is, and the value you are bringing to the community.

If you have any additional suggestions or comments on making your non-profit video, or you’ve made a video that you want to share, please leave a comment below!

Also, check our latest animated video below: