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Guidelines for Video and Animation

Designers tend to make several common mistakes when they produce animation or video. Here are a few problems you can easily avoid when you make your own productions:

  • Talking heads. Your video is an interview of one or two people, and the footage simply shows one face and then another. You can fix this by adding more interesting visuals while the speakers are talking. But do you even need visuals? If the audio story is arresting, think about simply producing an audio podcast of the interview and leaving out the video footage altogether.
  • Panning and zooming too quickly. Use a tripod and don’t let the camera person drink too much coffee. Tailor the speed of the panning to the audience, but keep in mind that members of the audience don’t want to feel like they’re on a rollercoaster ride.
  • Little or no sound. Even the silent films, before talkies, had a pianist or organ player to accompany the movie. Without any sound at all, your images can feel empty. If the video shows someone making something, either have the person talk the viewer through the process or add voice-over. A podcast without visuals works fine, but most video or animation needs sound.
  • Timing is too slow or too fast. For photo slide shows, three seconds per slide works well unless there is a lengthy pan or zoom. Seconds add up. If the scenes fly by too quickly, the audience feels cheated.
  • Not providing a way to print out detailed information. If you’re showing complicated mixes or technical instructions, you’ll want to also give the reader an opportunity to print out the information. For example, if you’ve produced a video on how to make samosas, also provide the recipe, in text, for the reader.
  • No transitions. Transitions help connect scenes, keep the audience on the same train of thought, and offer resting spots during the production. A simple, common transition is simply to cut to the next scene.
  • Too many scenes. Modern audiences are quick to move from one scene to the next and don’t need all the intermediary scenes that an audience in the 1970s needed. Compare any TV sitcom from the 1960s with a recent show, and you’ll see the difference.
  • Impersonal instructions. When a real person is demonstrating an action, such as folding a paper airplane, and only the hands are shown, viewers can feel as if they are watching a robot. Also, showing only mouse movements and screen captures when explaining how to use a software program can distance your viewers. Fix this by showing a person or a face at the beginning of the story and when you introduce the topic, and by making sure any audio narration sounds enthusiastic.

Here are a few suggestions to consider while producing the visual work:

  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to include more than one idea.
  • Keep your audience in mind.
  • Keep the lighting suitable for any camera work.
  • Keep it fun.

For a good example of an engaging, interactive video online, watch The Test Tube with David Suzuki at The first thing you’ll see is a question for you to respond to: “If you could find an extra minute right now, what would you do?” After you type in your answer, the show begins. Your response connects with real-time Twitter updates from around the world on the same topic.

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