There are certain advantages and disadvantages in using animation as a medium for storytelling. Video games, novels, and comic books can get away with giving information to the audience simply through text (novels and comic books) or exposition delivered by characters in standard cut scene format (video games). Since animation relies more on visuals to deliver messages, it can’t get away with delivering exposition in a similar manner. Thankfully, there are many ways to go about delivering messages in a visually pleasing way.

Show Don’t Tell

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Gravity Falls; Disney Animation Studios (2012)

When a character is upset, don’t have other characters or the characters themselves state it. Show it through their expression, voice, and actions. When information is being laid out, don’t just have characters sit there and talk about it. Show images relevant to the information as the characters mention them. For example, if a large storm is creeping up and the characters discuss it, show other characters prepare for the storm as the discussion goes on. In this case, visual cues are much more effective as opposed to simply relying on dialogue.

Choose Interesting Angles

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica ; Studio SHAFT (2011)

Just watching two or more people talk can be boring, but sometimes you can’t just cut to other scenes as the conversation drags on. In these cases, its best to play around with angles and perspectives to make the conversation appear more intersting and engaging for the viewer. As a result, while the scene remains reliant on dialogue, it at least remains visually interesting.

Lighting

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Steven Universe; Cartoon Network Studios (2013)

Sometimes the way a scene is lit can reveal more about the character’s emotions and the current mood than simple dialogue. Dark colors equate fear or sadness, bright colors equate happiness and excitement, red colors equate danger, etc. If the scene is dialogue heavy, then the lighting can further reinforce the current emotions that the characters may be feeling at the moment.

Showing the Passage of Time

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Kyousogiga; Toei Animation (2011)

An easy way to show a character’s growth is through a convenient time skip. However, cartoons and anime (well, those that want to be taken seriously at least) can’t just pull up a card and tell the viewer that five years have passed without any proper transitioning. One of the best ways to show the passage of time is through scenery, be it the changing colors of leaves, a window displaying the change in seasons, or a brief montage of the characters going about their activities as their physical appearances change along with the seasons. It’s a simple yet effective way to visually express how much time has passed since the start of the series.

The easiest thing to remember with animation is that it’s a visual format. So the first thing an animator always has to think about when animating a text-heavy scene is how to make it seem visually appealing in a way that will engage viewers rather than bore them.

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