Want Your Video to Be Memorable? Use Non-Realistic Characters.


“Why are their bodies so round? That’s not very realistic.”

“Their heads are much bigger than their bodies. Please make them look more realistic.”

“Why is this taking place in the jungle? Animals can’t be doctors for other animals. People are going to think our medical group is a vet. Please make all characters human.”

“We choose Option 2, but please make her even more realistic. We need people to look at her and say ‘Hey, that could be me!’ Options 1 and 3 don’t look realistic at all.”

This is a sampling of actual client responses I have received once I’ve sent out character samples for a new video. Many seem to assume it’s some sort of test we’re giving them: “Can you find the one who looks the most like a proportionate human person?” But nope! All the options we give are truly legitimate. The goal of the artist isn’t to “draw the most realistic person possible,” it’s to draw a character that will keep your viewer engaged.

My response? We can make Opt. 2 “more realistic” if you wish, although remember this is a cartoon, so we do have the freedom to use non-realistic characters. That’s part of the fun of cartoons! Personally, I think it’s always much more charming and memorable to go for a more cartoonish-look because it really sets you apart from the pack. It’s not “how realistic” a character looks that makes you feel for them and root for them, it’s how much people emotionally connect to them.

For example:

Watch this video and see how these two characters are barely fleshed out, generally just a few lines, just super basic structure sketches. But the emotional effect they have is profound. Imagine how stylized look like this could make your animated corporate video really sing.


Or this poor guy and his thoughtful dog. Neither are realistically proportioned by any means, but they elicit such a warm fuzzy feeling. How impactful could your marketing video be with characters like these?

Now some of you may be saying “But we don’t want our video to be cutesy! Our subject matter is serious! We’re a medical group, people’s health is a serious matter!”

You know what else is a serious matter?Getting killed by a train. But that didn’t stop Metro Trains Melbourne from commissioning this adorable cartoon animation to remind their patrons to exercise caution (and it went MASSIVELY viral to boot!). What could characters like these do for your explainer video?

“We’re an insurance company, we need people to trust that we’ll take care of them in times of crisis! It’s a serious subject!”

May I introduce you to branded content superstars the GEICO gecko, the AFLAC duck, and secret agent Erin from Esurance?

But even if you do want to maintain a more somber tone, non-realistic characters can be of HUGE benefit to a company selling a more serious product or service. For a taste of how this is used to great effect in advertising, simply consider the extremely successful Zoloft campaign:

Not a single human in it! Or Pristiq’s wind-up doll commercials. Both of those deal with depression medication (heavy subject fare unto itself), but the visuals are whimsical…which makes them memorable. If you just had a sad lady sitting there in either of those commercials…do you think you’d remember her as well?

We’re of course happy to draw your video however you’d like. But if you want the opinion of someone who’s produced thousands of animated videos and knows what will make yours stand out from the crowd, selecting non-traditional characters is a great way to start.

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