Explaining how to write an animation script can take up a whole book! But if you are here, it means that you do not have time to go so deep into the topic.
Therefore, in this text, I have compiled 16 practical tips on how to write an effective animation script. All the tips are battle-tested, i.e. while working on hundreds of scripts over many years.
#1 Identify your target group
Writing a screenplay is like planning a route from point A to point B. You must first know you’re starting point and where you’re going.
Point A is your target audience. Define it. This is where you need to start writing your script.
Why is this so important? Because the target group defines what the script needs to look like.
You will write an animation script addressed to people 50+ in a different way, than you would write a script for teenagers. You will use different language, metaphors, and possibly even different graphic styles.
You will tell the story of a medical product differently depending on whether it is addressed to people from the industry, or patients. You will write the scenario differently when you want to convince Smith, who buys goods worth 50$ in Tesco, than if you want to convince the president of a large company, for whom it means signing a contract for 50 thousand $.
When defining the target group, it is important to determine what problems and unmet needs it has because this is what your animation will be addressing.
When we know the starting point of our route, that is point A – we know to whom the animation is addressed and is the needs of the target group – only then can you begin to plan your route to point B.
#2 Before you start writing the script, define the goal of the animation
To plan a route, you also need to know where you are going. This is your point B – the purpose of the animation.
– Do you want the audience to buy a product?
– Do you want them to sign up for a newsletter?
– Do you want them to follow the recommendations outlined in the animation?
Determine what effect you want to achieve. This is your goal.
Only after knowing who the animation is aimed at (point A) and what goal you want to achieve (point B), you can start visualizing the scenario.
It is important to define the target audience and the goal because only if you take these two things into account, will the animation be effective.
Imagine an animation like this:
The voiceover says: “You do not want to spend senseless money, but you want a good phone with a cool camera? This is the Smartfonix 2000. Catch moments, capture and upload to Insta. It comes bundled with…”. The screen shows a party at a club. The main character grabs his phone and takes a selfie with his dancing friends.
Now imagine that your target group is 35-year-olds from large corporations who are looking for a phone to make business calls, and use payment applications.
Or your target audience is retirees who want to buy a cheap and easy to use phone to contact their family.
I doubt the scenario above would be effective for either of these target audiences.
That’s why you first need to describe the target audience. Then define the goal of the animation – in this case, to buy a phone.
#3 Determine where the animation will be desplayed
The target audience and the purpose of the animation are often related to the place of display. That is – where will the animation be displayed? On YouTube, at a conference or maybe on TV?
Our animation for European Rover Challenge was meant to explain to corporations, why it is a good idea to sponsor the project and be a part of the event. So the animation was shorter and not to detailed – it was supported to draw a general picture of ERC.
That is why the animation is longer and more detailed.
#4 Set one Call to Action
Set one Call to Action (CTA) and ensure it resonates with your goal.
An example CTA:
- “Go to the website… and learn more”.
- “Call and get a free quote”
- “See the offer on the website”
It’s important to focus on just one CTA, preferably short and fulfilling the purpose of the animation.
#5 Analyze the information and organize it
At this stage of trip planning, you decide what you need and what you should pack for your trip and what will take up too much space and should be put aside. You will pack something different for a trip to the seaside, something different for a trip to the mountains or for a survival trip…
It is the same with analyzing information for the animation. Once you know the goal of the animation, you can analyze all the information and choose the information most relevant to achieving the goal.
– Let’s formulate the garage sale rule: even if you keep your garage in perfect order, once you put all of its contents on the street, you will look at everything in a whole new light.
Exactly the same phenomenon occurs with data: information buried in the right catalogs and folders won’t allow you to see the full picture, but gathering all the documents in one place allows you to see patterns and relationships that were previously invisible, writes Dan Roam.
That is why in our animation studio, we start writing the script at a workshop with the client. Such a workshop lasts 1-1,5 h. Beforehand we get acquainted with the Brief and the materials sent.
We conduct workshops with clients live or (nowadays mostly) online using Mural.
What are the benefits of a workshop?
It allows us to obtain information from the client about their product, market, previous experiences, client objections, etc. We also provide an outside perspective on the offer. After all, the client is an expert in their field and knows everything about their product. Therefore, some information seems obvious to the client and they may even use some mental shortcuts.
During the workshop, we have the opportunity to ask more about what is unclear to us, and, thus to potential customers of the animation.
As Dan Roam writes, we gather all the data in order to extract from it information that will help us achieve the client’s goal.
#6 Remember that in the script, the beginning is very important
With commercials, most people stop watching the animation after a few seconds. That’s why the first few seconds of an animation is so important. You need to make the viewer curious, surprised, and involved in the story.
Of course, there are exceptions to this:
- When we release an animation as a training manual for employees or at a conference, we don’t have to fight so hard to keep the viewer, because we know that they will watch the animation to the end. The action can develop gradually.
- The same when the animation is displayed during sales meetings with clients and in general when it comes to live interaction with another person.
However, when you play it online, the beginning should be more engaging because the chance that someone will turn it off is high.
Therefore, have in the back of your mind that the beginning of the script is very important and worth paying more attention to.
The goal of the first three seconds of the script is to make the viewer stay with us for ten seconds. The goal of the next ten seconds is to make them stay half a minute. The goal of the next 30 seconds is to have them stay with us until the end.
#7 Use storytelling
“Eric was born in Tai’an, China.
In the late 1980s, he was a freshman in college. Like many Chinese students, he was visiting his partner who lived in another city.
However, because China is big and transportation was not so modern at that time, it took 10 hours to travel by train. That’s when the idea of creating a video communication program so they could see each other more often – Zoom – popped into his head…”
Isn’t it engaging enough to want to read the rest of the story?
“Stories are flight simulations for our brains,” wrote Chip Heath, author of Made to stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – whose methods we use to write scripts in our studio.
Storytelling, in a nutshell, is engaging our readers/viewers using stories.
A well-written script leads the viewer from point A to point B without usually revealing the ending right away. All the while, the viewer doesn’t know what lurks around the corner or what adventures await them on the trip.
Why is storytelling important? It captures attention and engages. It makes viewers watch the animation to the end and not turn it off after a few seconds.
For example, we used storytelling in an animation for TechnoNICOL:
#8 A good script creates emotions
We like plot twists. Even when we know the ending of a movie from the very beginning, as in the case of children’s movies (or rather, we guess it), we watch a movie for the emotional swing.
What might this look like in a screenplay?
“Kate was sitting at her desk, slowly sipping her morning coffee. She had recently taken out a loan for an apartment where she lived with her husband and daughter. Suddenly Ann entered the room, knocking Kate out of her thoughts about the loan and the beautiful apartment. She said:
– Unfortunately, it is worse than we expected. The company is making losses, and we have to finish this new project as soon as possible to avoid layoffs.
Kate was horrified. “What do you mean layoffs? And the credit, and the apartment…? I just got here.”
But she knew that she could lead this project well. And that if she pulled herself together, she and the rest of the team would be able to get the materials they needed, even ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately, there is one problem…”
See how it looks in the chart:
When you write a script for a B2B animation about the latest cloud solution, you don’t have to, and usually you shouldn’t, go for the high notes. It’s about balancing the story and the message. That’s why you need to know your target audience and purpose of the animation.
#9 Arouse your audience’s curiosity
Storytelling and building suspense are meant to make viewers curious and keep them there.
However, there are more ways to do it.
You can arouse viewers’ curiosity with surprising statistics or facts. Do your research or ask the company for data, for example, when you make an animation about antivirus software, you can tell how much companies lose annually on hacker attacks or viruses downloaded on company computers. Look for interesting facts about the product and industry.
A quote from a famous person can also be a “hook” for viewers.
You can also ask a question that will be answered later. Such a procedure (especially at the beginning, see tips above) we used in one of the animations for Opoka.
#10 When writing a script, use metaphors
When an animation script talks about abstract concepts or explains an intricate process, it is useful to use a metaphor.
Metaphors allow you to refer to something familiar, making it easier and faster for viewers to absorb the content.
In short: a metaphor helps to tame a subject.
On top of that, it becomes embedded in your viewers’ memory and it makes it easier to recall the issue it refers to.
Examples of metaphors:
Above the water line is what you see with the naked eye. Below the water line is what you can’t see.
An attempt to get from point A to point B. Along the way, we encounter various obstacles, but in the end we arrive safely at our destination, preferably by the shortest route.
- Fast vs. slow car
…e.g. a Ferrari vs. a small car. When we want to compare two things.
The metaphors you can use are endless and you are limited only by your imagination.
#11 Use a variety of visual forms
To show certain relationships or proportions, or even changes over time, use a variety of visual forms.
You can choose from charts, graphs, tables… hundreds if not thousands of visual forms.
The idea is to get comfortable with different elements and adapt them to the content you wish to present. For example, a bar chart or a line graph may work well for showing the growth of profits in a company, while a thermometer could be used to illustrate the mood of customers.
#12 Use short sentences
Sentences in a scenario should be short. Your animation is not a dissertation.
Let me demonstrate with an example.
A poorly written script:
Shortly after Alice saw the invoice from the company in the mail, she grabbed her head because the email was sent a month ago, and she knew the payment deadline was a maximum of 7 days, so it was past the deadline, and that could mean interest she would rather not have to pay.
A well-written scenario:
Alicia saw an invoice from the company in the mail. She immediately grabbed her head! The email was sent a month ago, and she knew the payment deadline was a maximum of 7 days. So it was already past the deadline. This could mean interest that she would rather not have to pay.
#13 Accurately describe scenes in your script
When you’re describing what a scene should look like in a script, be accurate and to the point.
Imagine that you are dictating to the other person what to draw. You need to say where the object is on the screen, what size it is, and how it moves.
If you write: “different icons symbolizing different industries appear on the screen”, and you give that to three people to draw, it’s possible you’ll get three completely different scenes.
How many icons?
What industries? How should they look?
How do they appear on the screen? Are they one after the other or all at once? Or do they bump into the screen? If so, from which side?
Also, keep in mind the technical capabilities.
Pixar, which employs hundreds of animators and editors and has several years for production, can afford to visualize everything the screenwriter thinks of.
In the case of less expensive productions, with rigid and short deadlines, the production team can’t spend a few days on animating for example sea waves which appear on the screen for two seconds.
Depending on whether the animation is done in whiteboard (hand drawn) or vector style, describe the drawings and what is happening on the screen.
It would look like for a whiteboard animation: “The hand draws a smiling woman in an elegant outfit on the left side of the page. The woman is standing. The hand places the drawn report in her hands. The hand draws an arrow from the report to the right. At the end of the arrow, she draws an enlarged report showing…”.
And so, for vector animation: “A smiling woman in an elegant outfit appears in the center. The woman stands. A report falls into her hands from above. Zoom in on the report. The report is now the only element on the screen, it is centered. On it you can see…”
- Describe exactly what is happening on the screen.
- Consider the technical possibilities.
- Match the description to the animation style.
#14 Remember to check the timeline
While we are on the subject of limitations…. in addition to technical capabilities, we are also limited by time. Animations for companies are usually short, between 1-4 minutes. In our studio, most companies opt for 2-minute animations.
When writing your script, check the animation time with a stopwatch. It is best to read the text aloud – this is important because we usually read faster in our minds.
Usually, animations are 1-2 minutes long, so when writing a screenplay, keep track of the time.
#15 Read the script aloud
Finally, read the script aloud one last time.
See if the story is continuous, and that the sentences are not too long. You may find that they are missing connectors (Then… Then… So…), and sometimes you just need to add connectors to make the script more engaging.
Reading the finished script aloud, preferably a few hours or the next day after writing, helps you to look at it with an audience’s eye and make the last necessary adjustments.
#16 Ask for an outside opinion
This tip is important, especially if the script is about a topic, you are familiar with as it’s easy to fall victim to the curse of knowledge. We have a separate article on this topic, so I’ll just quote an excerpt here:
“When knowledge about a topic is readily available to us, we may be under the mistaken impression that it is also available to others. […]
Through the curse of knowledge, we unconsciously assume that our recipient knows as much about a given topic as we do. This leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. In organizations, the curse of knowledge often manifests itself in communication between departments and between managers and employees. After all, if something is “known”, why explain it?”.
We use mental shortcuts, forget about important issues, and focus on details instead of the whole.
Remember when you read an article on a new topic you may have had to look up the meaning of some words or concepts.
Certain concepts or processes weren’t explained… and you finally returned discouraged to the search engine to look for articles written for people just getting into the topic, not for experts.
It’s the same with screenwriting. When written by a person who is an expert in the topic being animated, they may inadvertently mis-explain some points or explain them in too much detail, while for the viewer, it will be too much information… or not enough. For example, the viewer doesn’t care how the cloud migration team of XYZ company works step by step, but they want to know that they do it safely and quickly.
A good scriptwriter knows how to look at the animation content with the viewer’s eye, i.e. a person who encounters the given issue/product for the first time.
Although anyone can write a screenplay, to be effective, it is worth following the advice contained in this article.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of effective screenwriting (smugly mentioning the metaphor above), but it’s a good start!
1) Identify your target audience
2) Before you start writing the script, define the purpose of the animation
3) Determine where to display the animation
4) Determine one Call to Action
5) Analyze the information and put it in order
6) Remember that the beginning is very important in the script
7) Use storytelling
8) A good script evokes emotions
9) Arouse the curiosity of the audience
10) When writing a script, use metaphors
11) Use a variety of visual forms
12) Use short sentences
13) Describe the scenes in the script accurately
14) Remember to check the timing
15) Read the script aloud
16) Ask for an outsider’s opinion.
And if you want us to do it for you, feel free to contact us. In our studio, the script is included in the animation price – along with the workshop and 2-3 rounds of script revisions.
She studied Japanese and linguistics at the University of Warsaw, but it was her work for an NGO, first as a volunteer, and then professionally, that shaped her interests. As a coordinator of one of the campaigns she organized conferences, meetings at the Parliament, fashion shows, made interviews with politicians and celebrities. She also took care of social media and marketing. Now she is responsible for marketing and running social media at ExplainVisually.
Do you want to watch 16 interesting animations from 16 countries?
Subscribe to our newsletter and gain access to the article.