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7 Animation Lessons From the Best YouTube Animators

ben marvazi 2020

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The internet is often regarded as the great equalizer for its democratization of content creation and distribution tools. In particular, YouTube has made it possible for many freelance animators to not only post their animated videos but gain widespread fame and recognition for them. 

These independent YouTube animators are essentially self-made, and their success stories give hope and inspiration to many budding animators.

Lessons and Animation Tips from YouTube

If you’re planning on uploading your animated videos to YouTube to gain a following and animation clients, keep reading these seven animation lessons from the best animators on YouTube.

1) Look for Inspiration

a notebook and a pen

Image by Frederick Medina via Unsplash

One thing that many successful YouTube animators have in common is that their work was influenced by certain media that they loved to consume - often from a very early age.

For instance, Daniel Baxter and Tina Alexander’s “How It Should Have Ended” (or “HISHE” for short) animated videos are based on popular media. The channel pokes fun at popular movies, TV shows, and comics, focusing on the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

HISHE videos often point out plot holes and other inconsistencies in a silly way. It may be easy to interpret these jabs as merely disparaging the source material, but Alexander states that it all comes from a place of love, that they make animated parodies of certain films because they love them.

Another animator of Explosm Entertainment, Rob DenBleyker, said that his interest in visual storytelling began not with animation but with the comics he read in newspapers as a child.

You might recognize Explosm from their NSFW stick-figure animations. They are best known for their dark comedy animated short series “Cyanide & Happiness”.

James Rallison, the animator behind the channel TheOdd1sOut, says that his inspiration for some of the stories in his videos comes from his own real-life experiences.

TheOdd1sOut features a marshmallow-like figure that Rallison uses to tell stories from his personal life and share his opinions on the world. Like DenBleyker, Rallison’s roots are in comics. TheOdd1sOut was a webcomic before Rallison made it an animated web series.

Animators’ sources for inspiration aren’t limited to comics and genre films. SAD-ist, a YouTube animator known for her video game-inspired animations, has drawn inspiration from Minecraft, Hollow Knight, and Undertale and has also made animatics for Hamilton: An American Musical.

If you find yourself at a loss for inspiration, ask yourself these questions:

  • What piece of media inspires you? It may be something you consumed during your childhood or a difficult period in your life.
  • How can you reimagine these media for your animated videos? What about them can you focus on or draw attention to?
  • How do you want your viewers to feel? What message do you want to communicate through your animated videos?

2) Know Your Animation Niche

a woman talking about earning money by finding your niche

Ron Burgundy Branding GIF via GIPHY

YouTube is a competitive landscape where content creators and advertisers alike are competing for viewers’ attention. On top of that, today’s viewers are so accustomed to being bombarded with a myriad of data on a daily basis that they’ve learned to filter out messages and content that don’t appeal to them.

This means that if you want to grab viewers’ attention as an animator, you need to do it within the first few seconds of the video.

One of the things that will help you create content and gain an audience is deciding on your animation niche. Trying to serve everyone will water down your content. Instead, choose a niche you know you can serve content to. When deciding on your animation niche, ask yourself these questions:

  • What kinds of videos are you good at creating? What kind of content can you give your audience that no other YouTube animator is giving them?
  • How can you create animated videos that will appeal to your audience? A big part of knowing your audience is knowing how they like to see stories played out. As an animator, you need to know how to stir up your audience’s emotions using techniques in animation and storytelling.

James Rallison, who often depicts events from his childhood in his animated videos, said that some of these events could be mundane or even traumatic. What matters is that an animator uses their creativity to tell these stories in a way that their audience will find entertaining or even comedic.

Will creating animated videos for this niche continue to reap rewards? If you find that you’re still not getting more viewers and subscribe after trying your best to attract more viewers, you might have to look for a different niche.

Finding your niche can also be a process of trial and error. Not every animator can be lucky enough to find their perfect niche on the first try. In this case, start from the beginning and conduct research on different niches of viewers.

3) Make Evergreen Animated Content

a man animating on a drawing tablet

Image by ConvertKit via Unsplash

Rob DenBleyker of ExplosmEntertainment said that the animation company makes it a point not to tackle current political events to keep their content from becoming dated.

At most, the company will comment on a news story in a tangential way, not specifically addressing the issue at hand nor the political figures and parties involved. This way, the content is more general and better stands the test of time.

More importantly, your younger viewers who may be new to your content won’t feel isolated because you didn’t make your animated video’s subject matter too specific. Addressing these events in a tangential way will generalize them and keep them relevant for future generations of viewers.

Some topics never wear out, and relatable content is one of them. One example of this are slice of life stories about characters who face universally relatable dilemmas and/or have qualities that your viewers can identify with.

In TheOdd1sOut, James Rallison uses his marshmallow-like character to tell the viewers stories from his personal life and his opinions on the world.

In an animated video called “Buying Clothes”, he talks about buying certain clothes to fit in when he was in school, which many people can relate to.

Towards the end of the video, Rallison addresses younger viewers who are still in school, telling them that they shouldn’t dress according to what they think is cool if they aren’t comfortable. He encourages them to dress according to their preference and financial means.

4) Come Up With Good Video Titles

a man who just got an idea for a good video title

Hack My Life Kevin GIF by TruTV via GIPHY

Your video title is the first thing your viewers will see along with the thumbnail, so make sure it contains keywords that will have them clicking on your video.

Match the title of your animated video to its content. No one likes a click-bait title that doesn’t fulfill its promise. But come up with titles that intrigue viewers.

How It Should Have Ended is a good example of this. It tells viewers what they’re in for but is also vague enough to keep them guessing and helps get the videos to six-figure viewings.

If your audience gets used to receiving clickbait content from you, they may learn not to trust your titles and stop watching them altogether.

Be mindful of the title length. A good guideline is to keep your titles under 70 characters. If your title has numbers, use the number characters instead of spelling them out.

The title should also clearly lay out your video’s value. Give your viewers reasons to watch your video. Why should people watch your video? What benefit can it offer them - information, entertainment, or both?

5) Engage With Your Subscribers

a man talking to an audience

What Is Up Season 9 GIF by The Big Bang Theory via GIPHY

Tina Alexander of HISHE revealed that she called on fans to submit ideas for HISHE’S Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men Apocalypse episodes.

After learning that YouTube deletes comments that overwhelm the system, Alexander made it a point to jot down comments on their videos on who made them. If they draw inspiration from a comment, they make sure to credit the commenter.

You don’t have to let your fans contribute significantly to your content, but make sure to engage with your audience.

Another way you can do this is to ask your viewers what kind of content they’d like to see and for feedback about your current and past content. It will also help if you address these viewers directly in your animated videos when using their ideas.

Apart from engaging with your viewers on YouTube, be sure to let them know of other ways they can reach you. This will help you secure more animation clients.

Add links to your other social media profiles and your email address whenever and wherever possible - description boxes, profile pages, and even in the videos themselves. YouTube allows you to annotate your videos with direct links to other pages.

On other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, be sure to list your email address and a link to your YouTube channel on your profile.

Prospective clients are most likely to reach out to you via email, so call attention to it whenever possible. Make sure to precede your email address with a statement saying that you are open for business or commissions on animation projects so that interested parties won’t hesitate to contact you.

6) Upload Animated Videos On a Schedule

a planner and a laptop

Image by Jessica Lewis via Unsplash

Posting your animated videos on a consistent schedule makes it easier for your subscribers to keep up with your new content. This will also help your channel to gain more traffic, watch time, and new subscribers.

Creating animated videos can be very demanding, so make sure to set a frequency you can maintain. This means that posting new videos every day or every other day may be out of the question. At the very least, you should post once a week, and always on the same day.

Setting a fixed day of the week to post your animated videos will make it easier for your viewers to remember, and they’ll be more likely to watch your videos. On your end, it’s also going to help you stay organized, create animated content regularly.

Surprise drops don’t apply to YouTubers and other content creators who are solely responsible for distributing their own content. Surprise drops are only favored by big-time musicians with millions of fans and record labels who distribute and market their music.

Strict deadlines are something that the Explosm team takes seriously, and the team is immensely proud that they’ve never missed an upload.

It can be tedious to set an alarm every time you have to upload an animated video. The good news is that YouTube allows you to upload your videos in advance and schedule them.

When you upload your video, you can change its visibility settings and set a schedule for it. Set a date, time, and time zone that your video will be published.

You can also use a social media content calendar, especially if you want to sync your video uploads with posts on your other social media platforms. SproutSocial allows you to plot a calendar for your social media posts across different social networking sites.

Setting the schedules also means that SproutSocial will automatically post the content for you, so you can be offline while your posts are going live.

7) Collaborate With Other Animators

a group of woman working together

Image by CoWomen via Unsplash

If at a certain point your animation YouTube channel grows such that you can no longer shoulder all of the tasks by yourself, Ross Bollinger of Pencilmation says you shouldn’t hesitate to bring in other animators for help.

Pencilmation’s videos feature a main character, a stick figure named Pencilmate. The series follows him through various comedic misadventures.

As your channel grows, so will your to-do list, but as the channel’s creator, you might find yourself gravitating towards focusing on specific parts of the agenda.

Bollinger, for instance, started managing the conceptualization and business aspects of Pencilmation when the channel’s following started to grow. At that point, he realized he needed the help of other animators to accomplish all the other tasks. 

Collaboration allows you to learn more about how other animators work by giving you a front-row seat to witness their work ethic and creative process. It’s also a great networking opportunity.

You can also think of collaboration as practice for the real world. The experience can teach you how to work with others, cooperate, and compromise. These are skills you’ll need in your animation career when working with both clients and colleagues.

The Best Animation Lessons from YouTube

YouTube has become a platform for many animators to share their content and even gain dedicated followers and animation clients. You can also become a YouTube animator, but there are some important tips from successful YouTube animators you need to remember.

The first is that it helps to have a source of inspiration for your animated videos. These can be media that you love to consume, be it comics, movies, video games, etc. You can also draw experiences from your personal life.

But the idea is only a small part of it. You also need to execute the idea in a way that will appeal to your target audience. This brings us to the next tip - know your niche.

How can you create animated videos that will appeal to your niche? What kind of content can you give this audience that they aren’t getting from anyone else? Understanding your audience will also inform how you title your videos, what thumbnails you’ll use, and how you communicate with your viewers.

Once you’ve decided on your animation niche, ensure that the subject matter of your animated videos is evergreen. Depicting specific political issues or figures in your videos may cause them to become dated years from now.

Lastly, collaborate with other animators when the workload becomes too heavy to handle by yourself. Apart from allowing you to focus on specific tasks for your channel, collaboration allows you to network and learn from other animators.

For more tips on how to grow as an animator, enroll in our free masterclass and download our free marketing handbook.

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