After 12 years (what?!) of running Planet Nutshell, I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our videos. What once took me hours of trial and error now involves a few seconds of decision-making. I’ve also learned that the difference between a good animation and a great one is not so vast a difference at all. It really comes down to one crucial last push, or that last 10%, as I like to call it.

Jennifer Sanchez is our incredible art director. She’s someone I count on to do that last 10% 100% of the time, so I figured there was no one better to sit down with and chat about how exactly to turn a project from good to great.

Below are her fantastic insights (with a few of my mumblings as well).

Jen: Make every movement count.

“Don’t think of animation as just a vehicle of carrying a character/object from pose A to pose B. It’s much more than that. Animation can convey so many different emotions/meanings depending on timing, easing, expression, energy, and countless other factors.

When animating characters, think of their motivation for everything they do. If they’re walking from one side of the room to the other, try to keep their motivation in mind. Are they excited? Chances are they’ll skip or leap across the room. Are they sad or bored? They’ll probably drag their feet and take longer than the first scenario.”

Josh: Timing is everything.

“Watch your work obsessively, and while you do, try to put yourself in the mind of your viewer. Are you lingering long enough on a shot? Should other shots be tightened up? Imagine you’re guiding your viewer through a maze in which every turn must be perfectly timed to make the experience feel satisfying.

Perfect the timing. Watch again. Perfect the timing again. Keep going until it feels exactly right.”

Jen: Settling is good… in animation that is.

“Learn what it means to settle in mograph and character animation. Settling in mograph makes movements/animations a lot more dynamic and energetic. It can add a little personality to text popping on the screen, or help shift the eye’s focus from one side of the screen to the other.

If you want characters to appear as natural/convincing as possible, adding a settle at the end of a movement could really bring your characters to life. Unless your character is a robot with laser precision, most characters tend to overshoot their movements, especially if they’re excited or moving quickly.”

Jen: Looking for that special sauce? Try textures and overlays.

“While there are a lot of great animations created in a flat vector style, I’m partial to something with a bit more texture. Adding texture tends to give the animation a more handcrafted feel. It also helps disguise any banding issues that certain gradients or settings might create. Overlays can be fun to play around with and can change the feel of a video depending on what colors/ blending modes you use.”

Jen: Hearing is as important as seeing.

“While visuals are important, finding the right music, sound designer, and voiceover artist can really take it to the next level. Sound, when done right, adds another, almost magical dimension, to a visual experience. Never skimp on sound.”

Josh: Focus relentlessly on story.

“Every decision you make in a piece should be in service to telling a great story. What is story? It’s a lot of things, but here’s a great start at understanding it. When you’ve unlocked the power of story, you’ve found the illusive formula that transforms a ho-hum video into an experience that viewers can’t turn away from. Ask yourself, ‘Is this video demanding my viewers’ attention at every turn?’ If the answer is no, get back to work!”

Want to see these tips in action? Check out this project we did with our friends at Adaptive Biotechnologies.