At Simple Story, we often get asked about the choice between live action and animated video. We’ll be posting a head to head comparison between the two soon, but I wanted to take some time first to dig deeper into each option and what they do best, starting first with live action video. The simplest way to think of live action video is any video not produced by animation. It’s the filming of ‘real things’. And because of this ‘realness’, it’s a great tool for creating moving content that appeals to our emotions.

Apple does an amazing job using live action video to appeal to the emotions of its customers and this recent iPhone 5 commercial is a great example. While the video does convey some basic information about the iPhone 5’s FaceTime, the real goal isn’t to educate viewers about a new feature, but to build an emotional association between the audience and the phone. With every touching moment of daily life caught on camera, the message resonates that the iPhone is the perfect device for staying close to those we hold most dear.

When used properly as Apple does, live action video can be highly effective. But what is it that makes us reach for the tissue box while watching people we don’t know talk to each other over the phone?

1 – Live action video uses ‘real’ people and ‘real’ things.

I’ve said this above and it seems obvious, but it’s the most important aspect. Live action video doesn’t force the audience to use their imagination or bend reality in any way – they can simply see and accept what’s presented to them because of point #2.

2 – Live action video is tangible and credible. 

I keep using the term real in quotations, and that’s because the ‘real’ things presented in live action video are often fake: actors, movie sets, scripted events, etc. But audiences will accept these fake things as real as long as they are presented in a tangible way that makes them credible. If I can see myself there – “that looks like that place I went to in New York” or “those kids look just like mine” – then I will accept it as real.

3 – Real scenarios mean real stakes.

If you see a sports car speeding down a curved highway, if you can hear the roar of its engine – and you believe it – then you believe in the power of the car, the danger of the journey, the thrill of the race. Live action video that brings a scenario or product to life makes it matter.

4 – Real has a visceral impact.

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be a high-speed race to matter. Think back to the FaceTime commercial, where Apple effectively brings the most common daily conversations to life and puts the iPhone 5 in the middle. We believe in the conversations, we believe in the relationships, and we believe that the iPhone 5 is the conduit to bring them together. Because we believe in the touching moment presented to us, we share in it. Cue tissue box.

Now there are plenty live action commercials that clearly do not produce any sort of emotion reaction. It’s likely that they’re failing on some level to check off one of these four boxes (trying to sprinkle CG in with the live action video and failing to pass the credibility test is a common example). Regardless, anyone looking to create emotionally impactful video content can take a few lessons from Apple.

Alex Dorward