When your story is hard to tell

Sometimes the most powerful stories can be the hardest ones to tell. They might be stories of hardship or violence or loss. Using live-action can make it difficult to strike the right tone. It can turn out cheesy, distracting, or unfaithful to the message. Here’s a compelling example of how one organization found the right balance using simple illustration:

This difficult story of domestic abuse might have been too uncomfortable and violent had it been told with actors. After all, it is ultimately a story of hope, not pain. The sepia-tone drawings capture the action and emotion with grace. The focus remains on our narrator and her words.

What about stories that leap through time and place? Stories that need to capture complex concepts while they inform and inspire? The 2014 production of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” features stylized animations that provide the visuals for its historical reenactments. The original series aired in the 1980s and its live-action reenactments now seem dated to modern audiences.

The decision to move to computer animation had as much to do with tone as it did with budget. When you’re hopping from the beginning of time all the way to ancient Rome to the Renaissance to modern America, how else are you going to transport the viewer but through animation? “Cosmos” seeks to spark the imagination of its audience with stories of scientific discovery. The animation elevates those stories from dry, historical recitations to strong allegories about the pursuit of knowledge and the human spirit. That might be a little heavy-handed, but the show takes its role in inspiring its viewers to appreciate the magic of science seriously.

Two very different video productions, two very different budgets, one simple answer. If you’re getting bogged down by the mechanics of live-action, just try a little bit of artistry.

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