Attack of the Cute: Animation for story-based language learning

Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to work with publishers such as Oxford University Press, Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, National Geographic Learning and Cambridge University Press.

Our job? To create animated stories for learning English as a second language. 

Working in eLearning means you get to create all sorts of things: from adult courses on highly specialized subject matter, to content for primary and secondary education. The infinite variety of tasks our job presents us with is one of the reasons why we love it. But we confess that creating animation for teaching English is the kind of project that really puts us ‘in the zone’, and makes for dozens of happy faces leaving the office at the end of the day.

How could it not, when the end result of our work looks like this? 

If you’re an ELT publisher or an educational organization embarking on a new animation project, here are a few tips: 

Pick a vendor with a proven track record. 

There are solutions out there that make it possible for almost anyone to try their hand at creating some kind of animation. But as with mainstream eLearning content, where content design is crucial for your eLearning to work, so with animation for language learning: the design of what we see on the screen is vital.

In other words, make sure your vendor can script, storyboard, and direct things on screen. Ask to see samples from previous projects and don’t take no for an answer. And ask them whether a qualified director is part of the production team. 

Ask your vendor for a specific workflow. 

We usually work with clients using a workflow that includes the delivery of animatics, followed by two versions of the animation.  

The term animatics refers to a very early version of the animation, where characters do not move their mouths and lips in sync with the audio, and movement is limited. However, the client can get a very good idea about camera angles, locations, timing and pace. This strategy gives us most feedback at this stage, so that when we get to fully animating the story, the client knows exactly what to expect. After they review the first full version, any additional (usually very minor) feedback is implemented in version 2. In the majority of cases, this is the final deliverable. 

But make sure your vendor delivers in batches. If, for example, you’re creating a 20-minute story with 8 different scenes, it makes sense to follow the above process for each scene. If you’re creating several 2-minute stories, again, apply the above workflow to each one separately. 

Animation needs audio editing! 

English Language Teaching publishers usually have their own studios and professional voice actors for providing audio. If not, make sure your vendor has access to top-notch voice talent. No matter how good the graphics are, if the audio is substandard the result will suffer greatly. 

Audio editing is of equal importance. Your animation vendor will need to do all sorts of edits to match the action – add pauses, control pace, and even add sound effects where necessary. A qualified audio editor is essential in any production team. 

Get all required formats. 

You will want a high resolution version for showcasing your animation on large screens (useful for exhibitions and publishing fairs), as well as web-optimized versions to put on your website, LMS, or on your Youtube channel.

Also, don’t forget to request super-high quality versions for your archives. In all cases, your vendor must be able to advise on the compression method – and make sure everything looks and sounds perfect in all releases. 

Tools are important. 

Make sure your vendor uses the latest and most powerful production tools available. For example, at CCS we work with ToonBoom Harmony, arguably the best animation creation software out there (used also by producers such as BentoBox, Ubisoft, Fox, NBC, Nelvana and LucasFilm). 

And since we’re talking about tools, here’s a timelapse video showing the creation of a 4-second sequence on ToonBoom Harmony. 

Combining artistic flair with tech know-how is the key to creating visuals that teachers and learners really love! 

Want to talk with us about an upcoming animation project? Get in touch! 🙂

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