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When is the Right Time to Crop Your Animation?

Cropping your animation to many formats is now an essential part of every animation project. So, what is the most efficient and cost-effective way to approach this? In the not-so-distant past, producing any type of video advertising would require the same output format: a 4:3 video. Later on, with the advent of digital HD formats and widescreens, production companies and animations studios started to expand this ratio to 16:9. This change didn’t make the previous format go extinct, but instead necessitated the creation of safe margins which allowed for the new horizontal format to capture everything important within this almost square area in the middle of it.

Nowadays, the world is very different, and these previous formats have expanded beyond the landscape layout. To take advantage of the many platforms of animation distribution in today’s world, we cannot plan our videos just horizontally. You should expect at least three formats or aspect ratios: horizontal (16:9), square (1:1), and vertical (9:16). If you go deeper, you can expand it to many other ratios like 4:5, 9:21, and many others – depending on the channel, insertion (stories, post, reels, feed, etc.), and end-user preferred device.

Because video needs to live in many formats, it’s important to ensure your animation campaigns live in those aspect ratios to optimize reach and brand awareness. That’s why cropping your animation to many formats is now an essential part of every animation project. 

But there’s a twist here. There’s not a single method of adapting your animated content to those many formats; some are more effective in quality, time, and, especially, budget. 

Why “cropping” is not the right term for adjusting animation video format

Even though it’s usually related to “cropping,” it’s not the best word to describe this expansion of a video from a single format to multiple ones. This idea of cropping comes from live-action videos, as videos are usually recorded in the standard format (horizontal). To make it fit multiple platforms, you need to crop it to mask what doesn’t fit within the square or vertical dimensions. 

Cropping means starting with a  horizontal video with the intention to later cut it down to additional formats. Even though it can work, especially for live-action, it doesn’t mean those new formats will generate the same level of impact and engagement as the original horizontal one.

In animation, we don’t need to “capture” the world horizontally since everything is created from the ground up. An animated video can, and should, start already in the desired format. You don’t need to wait for a final horizontal piece to start thinking about adjusting  it for other formats.

Two ways of cropping animation in different formats

Even though cropping is not the best term, we’ll continue using it throughout this insight article to make it easier to relate and understand.

There are two ways of adapting animation to multiple formats: 

  1. Cropping Later, which means developing the entire animation like a live-action video — in the horizontal format — and, later on, cropping it to the desired formats when you get to the final video.
  2. Planned Variations: developing, early in the process, individual storyboards and frames for each desirable aspect ratio and creating specific animations for each format.

While both can work at different levels, the first one, unfortunately, tends to be the most common scenario with marketing teams that don’t have an animation strategy in place or lack preparation.

The problem with cropping later

The first scenario is usually seen when the strategy wasn’t so well defined in the beginning or when it somehow shifts in the middle of the project. We can’t deny that things can change, and sometimes the excitement of seeing an animation starting to take shape can be the trigger to think about  many other marketing possibilities. However, when you start thinking about repurposing your animation to other formats too late in the game, you will encounter a series of problems: 

Focus area

In the past, when Motion Graphics started to become the new norm for commercial animation, it was more important than ever to have a central element that would guide viewers’ eyes. Nowadays, viewers and spectators are much more familiar with this medium, which allows animation companies to use more space on the screen to add information or incorporate key brand elements simultaneously. It means that not only will you not have  a single point of interest, your multiple points of interest won’t necessarily beclose to each other. And this makes the cropping area much more challenging. 

The focus area of animation tends to be much smaller. Due to the nature of live-action, the focus tends to be on bigger elements (like a car, a person, etc). In animation, it can be a single, point on the screen full of movement (like a ball, a mouse point, an icon, etc.).

Text

It’s not rare to have text in animation. Due to the horizontal aspect ratio, making sure the text is big enough to be visible is part of the design of the visual experience. When we simply crop the video, there’s a big chance that textwon’t fit, especially when going from horizontal to vertical.

Resolution

Another point is that the base horizontal resolution is generally 1920x1080px When moving to a vertical resolution of 1080x1920px on most platforms, 840 pixels are missing in height and that requires the original video to be scaled up to fit. This can indicate a loss in sharpness and quality as you’ll have to stretch the video.

Weaker compositions

When you design a video torun only horizontally, every frame on the storyboard and throughout the animation is developed taking into account how to get the most out of that space in terms of composition, visual balance, and white spaces. When cropping later, you lose the strength of the designed compositions and start to see either an increase in the amount of empty spaces, or even no space at all, making everything feel clustered. 

However, this doesn’t mean there’s no way to solve these problems. Most of them are extremely manageable but will definitely require much more time and money to “fix” them than the alternative way of planning ahead. Going back to the earlier stages of animation production always results in an additional cost. Not every animated element can work in the new format, meaning some animations will have to be redone. Repurposing animated texts requires more work on the animation side and with art direction to allow the composition not to lose its power. All that will be extra time added to a project requiringthe team’s availability, and naturally resulting inhigher rates for those adjustments. 

The benefits of planned variations

One of the advantages of a good animation strategy is the ability to seethe future and build it instead of just reacting. Getting to define the distribution of animation and the necessary format to make a good presence is part of that task. With planned variations, you start building your video for all formats at almost the same time. Instead of coming from an approach of horizontal-first, you should employ a variation-first model.

Get the most out of each frame/resolution/ratio of your animation

From the storyboard phase, the animation team should consider all the variations at the same time. It enables the team to think about the best way to fit elements in all formats, but also to imagine the key elements that need to be present in all ratios and make sure the composition focuses the viewer’s attention 

A better visual experience

When you begin by planning the vertical version of your animation with the same care as the horizontal one , you guarantee that viewers get the best experience with your brand, no matter the platform.

Enhanced brand touchpoints

Producing all format variations from the get-go allows you to make small changes and shifts in the visual message to better perform in each platform. It means that those different formats can be slightly varied but still infused with the same key message allowing a customer to experience multiple touchpoints with a brand without the feeling of having seen the same thing before. 

Streamlined Production and Predictable Time and Budget

Planned variations make the animation production process more streamlined, allowing the animation team to move through each phase of production with different formats accounted for simultaneously. It also means a predictable timeline and budget. Since you’re planning this ahead of time, you’ll already know the value of doing so, preventing any unpleasant surprises for the duration of the project.

The best time to crop your animations

At this point, you can conclude that planning your animation outputs beforehand is always the best. It all comes down to good animation strategy which allows you to plan ahead and get the added value of creating videos that will perform on all platforms at the best price.

Author avatar
Felippe Silveira
Co-founder & Creative Director at MOWE Studio