4 digital marketing lessons learned from making an animated short film

Adam Tock
5 minutes

In my 5+ years at our agency, I've seen firsthand how animation for business marketing can make a brand's message resonate even more deeply with its audiences. I’ve also been amazed at the talent of our motion graphics artists, and have been itching for an opportunity to collaborate with them on a dream of mine: to make an animated short film.

From the moment the wacky antics of Roger Rabbit, the Looney Tunes, or the Animaniacs graced my TV screen, I've wanted to create animated films of my own. Over the past year, I got to do that! Along with Motion Graphic Designer & Video Editor Kevin O’Rourke and Associate Creative Director Joe Gustav, we made “Lunchbox Armageddon,” an animated short about a punk singer finding her voice at the middle-school talent show.

I couldn’t be prouder of our work. We learned a ton throughout the process, including some lessons for our agency as we tackle future animation for business marketing.

Lesson 1: Simpler is better (and harder to get right)

From the outset, our goal was to make a 5-8-minute short with no voiceover, just music and sound effects. We also wanted the theme to be “possibilities,” after our agency’s Word of the Year. As such, viewers would have to grasp our story instantly—not just what was happening onscreen, but the character motivations and relationships that were driving them. And that meant we had to tell a simple story with emotional depth.

We went through numerous iterations, trying to find the simplest but most compelling narrative. Some things that were constant: loud music; a school setting; a talent show finale; a band called “Lunchbox Armageddon.” Some things that were left on the cutting room floor: a heavy metal grandpa; adults trying to capture past glory; really adults of any kind. (Check out some of the scrapheap in this post!)

Early character and story explorations

The initial cast of characters

When our agency is creating animated explainer videos, we recommend drilling down to one big idea. That's the best way to keep your story focused, and engage the audiences of B2B videos. Here, our one big idea was to enter the world of a middle-school punk band faced with an unexpected challenge right before their school talent show. With the lead singer sidelined, the band must decide if Tabitha, the new girl, can carry their punk spirit. At the heart of the short is the idea of seeing the possibilities in others and in ourselves—here, brought to life through vibrant 2D character animation and motion graphics.

The final cast of Lunchbox Armageddon (Gabby, Tabitha, Darryl, Earl, and Hank)

Lesson 2: Let the story inform the animation style

We built the animated world of "Lunchbox Armageddon" in a very childlike style. This fit for a few reasons: the age of the characters; the music they liked to play; the humor throughout it all. The bright colors, casual style, and occasional Ren & Stimpy-esque “gross ups” all worked because of the tone we’d set with the story.

"Gross-ups" used throughout the animated short

I don’t think this visual style would fit as well for a very serious rumination on the impermanence of life, or a hardcore action flick—in fact, it may have undermined both. It’s also interesting to think about other styles we may have chosen for this story. We do a lot of 3D animation marketing, would that style have worked here?  

In the end, our chosen style felt most organic to the story we wanted to tell. That’s why understanding your message and your audience should guide the creation of your brand’s visual style, and not the other way around.

Lesson 3: Sound is just as important as the visuals

George Lucas said that "sound is 50% of the picture," and that was especially true with "Lunchbox Armageddon." Music truly drives this animated short: it’s what motivates our main characters, and inspires the whole feel of the characters we animated and the environments they live in. Since music was so central to our project, we knew stock music wasn’t going to cut it.

Thankfully, we had a connection to Siphonophore, a local high school band that created the perfect punk soundtrack to our animated short. They contributed their original song “Society,” as well as voice work throughout. Siphonophore rocks—and “Society” took our short to a whole ‘nother stratosphere.

Original music enhances the emotional impact for any audience, even when it comes to B2B marketing videos. See why Hugh thinks you should try it for your company’s next video!

Various backgrounds built in 3D

Lesson 4: Creatives need room to play!

I am grateful that c|change helped me have the time and resources to pursue a lifelong dream, and I know that the experience has helped level up my client work.

Passion projects are vital for pushing the boundaries in corporate motion design. "Lunchbox Armageddon" served as an experimental playground, enabling our team to explore new animation techniques and storytelling methods, while putting on different hats than we would normally wear.

That has directly impacted and enhanced our client work. Challenging ourselves creatively brings fresh perspectives on how to craft an effective B2B marketing video.

And if any client needs a punk rock-themed animated short for their brand (assuming it fits with their brand identity, of course), we are more than ready to help.

A still from the end credit of the film