Welcome to the world of interactive animation, where videos cease to be mere passive spectacles and transform into immersive journeys you can explore, shape, and influence.
Imagine getting to decide what happens next with just a click, or discovering what’s beyond the screen with a 360 view or virtual reality headset. That’s the magic of interactive animation—a fusion of technology and creativity that immerses viewers in the plot.
In this edit, we explore the intricacies of combining storytelling and interactivity, elaborating on the techniques and technology you can use to bring interaction to your video and script. You’ll also have a comprehensive list of things you must consider before making an interactive video.
Interactive Storytelling: A Journey Through Time
As we mentioned in our comprehensive blog post about interactive media solutions, interactive storytelling goes back to pre-historic times and campfire tales.
And in fact, many amazing storytelling techniques and tools that can invigorate and breathe life into any type of narrative were not even created by storytellers, but through games. Both ancient and modern.
But going back to films, the first real record of interactive video is “Mr. Sardonicus.” This was a film about the unfortunate tale of a man whose facial expression becomes permanently frozen in a frightful smile when stealing from his old man’s tomb.
The American director, William Castle, created a ‘Punishment Poll’ when screening this movie. This was an opportunity for audiences to make a decision about the main character’s fate using a glow-in-the-dark thumps-up or thumbs-down.
As you might expect, almost everyone voted for Sardonicus to be punished, and no one knows if the good ending was even filmed or not (Castle claims it was, but we doubt it).
The most famous example of an interactive movie is Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” episode, a Netflix show you’re probably familiar with, where viewers could make decisions for the main character at certain moments.
Naturally, different choices led to different consequences.
Types of Interactive Non-Linear Storylines for Your Animation
ِDifferent interactive narrative structures have different features, allowing users to shape the content and choose the future direction of the narrative, either directly or indirectly.
There could be:
- Multiple endings
- Branching paths
- Different interactivity levels
We won’t get into the details of each structure in this edit, but Picotion’s blog post about Interactive Media Solutions fully explains the different solutions and interactivity levels, so check it out.
Here’s a simple example of a nonlinear gamified story and its different outcomes and endings.
6 Interactive Storytelling Techniques in Animations & Films
Here are 6 interactive storytelling elements and techniques to inspire you for a supercharged and interactive video script.
- Ask for personal information. Collecting private information from your audience ahead of time will give you material to use and play around with in the future. The simplest example would be using their names, hobbies, or preferences in dialogues.
- Offer 360 points of view (POVs) and let viewers choose where exactly they want to watch.
- Gamify your interactive story by adding a pinch of excitement using challenges or actions. You could create a sense of competition (like a quiz) or tension by adding limited-time brainy or physical tasks in the middle of the story. Even letting the participants do simple actions like moving an item around the room creates an interactive experience.
- Give participants interactive roles or jobs. This could be something as straightforward as reading a note they found or more sophisticated tasks like investigating for clues.
- Use site-specific storytelling elements. For instance, use scannable QR codes in different places to reveal a bonus narrative. Consider holographic displays or apps and platforms that only give users access to the next part of the narrative when they’re at a designated location.
- Let the audience have exclusive access to the characters’ thoughts or internal monologues. This is a rather easy yet effective technique that makes viewers feel closer to the narrative and characters.
Tools Available For Creating Interactive Stories
Writing an interactive script can be quite a puzzle, not to mention that it takes copious amounts of time and effort—especially when juggling various variables, conditions, and branching paths.
But as with most other things, there’s a modern solution to this modern problem: scripting tools. Yes, there are tools that simplify interactive script management and help you create better ones.
Interactive Videos Are Worth It & Here’s Why
By now, your head is probably full of fun ideas to incorporate interactive animations into your plans. These videos can become the catalyst for heightened engagement, fostering dynamic two-way conversations, and ultimately boosting conversions.
Marketing-wise, you can harvest the rewards of data collection, enabling you to glean valuable insights from your audience’s interactions. The ripple effect extends to your conversion rates as well, since interactive videos kindle a spark of excitement that’s both memorable and share-worthy.
Speaking of conversions, interactive videos only truly show their benefits in the post-discovery phase: they offer valuable information, spark engagement and interest, answer questions, and may even propel users into decision-making.
Arguably, the crown jewel of choose-your-adventure animation lies in its replay value. By nature, these animations beckon your audience to try different choices and get different outcomes.
The possibilities, right?
So if you’re looking to monetize your animated series without making it an in-person event, interactive animations are your best bet. They let your audience paint their own canvas (or at least, give the illusion), establishing an enduring connection that transcends time and location.
Consider These 7 Factors When Creating Interactive Storylines
As excited as you might be to embark on your first interactive animation and storytelling journey, there are important factors that need your attention and planning. Here’s a point-by-point summary of everything you should consider.
#1 Plot & Script’s Target Audience
First things first, you’ve got to know who you’re writing the script for, from the very beginning. Creating interactive storylines is very different for adults and kids. Even children of different ages (for example, from 6 to 11) have unique types of preferred “play” and tastes in entertainment.
The same could be said about people with different hobbies, education levels, and more.
#1.1 Creating Interactive Stories for Children
Creating interactive storylines for children comes with tens of hundreds of things to consider. The number is an exaggeration, of course, but there is a good handful of psychological, age and gender-appropriate, and moral factors to take into account.
For kids, the devil really is in the details. For example, children like to feel they are more grown up than they really are and as a rule prefer to have their characters be a bit older than they are, too.
Producer Diana Pray says that young boys may even have a hostile reaction if they feel the storyline is too young, which may happen, for example, if the title has animals as the main characters.
#2 Balancing Storyline and Interactivity
Never forget that beneath the array of choices and alternative paths your team has designed, just one core story remains. This single story follows the path and plots you, the author, would rather see happen.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your branching nonlinear narrative is a scam or that the alternative paths should be unworthy or low-quality. Rather, it means that the ideal story makes for the core of all other branching stories.
Also, keep in mind that too many choices can quickly become overwhelming.
For example, studies among viewers of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch show that the weight of decision-making and the desire for closure can stress audiences out. Here’s an illustration of people’s emotional reaction to this episode’s ending from Brandwatch’s crowdsourced review.
#3 Offering Choices while Maintaining Engagement
This might sound easier said than done, but: avoid decision fatigue.
It’s an animated video (or movie or series) after all, not a game.
It’s clear what the viewers want: to be a part of a good story, make a choice, realize what happens next, and be the one shaping the ending.
In short, your audience wants great storytelling, one that’s worth following and replaying. If they wanted an open-world experience where they could do whatever their heart desired, they’d be playing GTA V.
#4 Designing for Multiple Playthroughs
How many people do you think are willing to rewatch a complex episode like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch? The answer is, very few.
Even if they’re curious to see other outcomes and endings, the experience can get pretty boring after the first or second try. This is because viewers have to be engaged, curious, and willing to spend that much time AGAIN just to see what happens next.
Now, imagine what happens if viewers take their chances and rewatch the video only to get a bad ending. And by bad, we don’t mean low in quality or production, but something that viewers don’t like.
The results will be bad word of mouth, low scores, and bad reviews. So consult experts and put as much time and effort it takes into creating variations and branches your audience will appreciate.
#5 Technical Constraints
Before writing the script, it’s wise to gauge your ideas against technical confines and the time required to bring your envisioned interactive elements to life. This way, you’ll save yourself a lot of resources and won’t waste time on lengthy developments.
Just imagine how disappointed you and your team could be once you realize that the required resources are beyond your budget, space, or skills.
#6 Consider Viewer’s POV
Just like most other content, there are three distinct ways of experiencing the interactive material:
- First-person (you ARE the character)
- Second-person (a blend of intimacy and objectivity. Imagine hovering just above your character, capturing the intimacy of their thoughts and emotions while maintaining an external viewpoint.)
- Third-person POV (watching the character from a distance.)
Depending on how interactive your animation is, different POVs might work best. For instance, the first-person perspective would be perfect to instill a sense of intimacy and presence. But it doesn’t allow viewers to see the characters’ expressions or reactions, which can create a gap in the storyline.
#7 Interactive Animation Stories Are Not Games
We’ve said it before and will say it once again: interactive videos and animations are not games. Yes, they do share similarities, but if you want your interactive video to be a hit, then it’s essential to look at it through the eyes of a viewer.
And this shift in perspective isn’t just about the users’ experience but the production costs and resources too. You’ll have an easier time creating an interactive video if you’re not trying to make it an open playground for viewers to do whatever they like.
Brian Seth Hurst, the chief storyteller at StoryTech Immersive, also believes that “There will be places where (games and stories) could meet halfway, but in the end, it’s all about the story. … I don’t think that changes with any medium.”
Interactive Animation Technology Needed
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality (VR) is an enchanting realm of interactivity and immersion that seamlessly transports users into lifelike 3D landscapes. To this day, VR offers unparalleled freedom of movement and interaction, which makes it just perfect for interactive animations.
Yes, users need to wear VR headsets and handheld devices, but the equipment is really no longer as heavy or costly as it used to be.
With VR, the possibilities become even more flexible and open to endless transformation!
Editing the Video
With your blueprint and resources primed, it’s finally time to start editing.
As you might expect, you’re going to need special editing software that lets you construct multiple timelines, overlay layers, and apply effects, all while enabling separate exports for precision.
Look to renowned software like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or DaVinci Resolve.
Interactive Video Platform
In addition to your creative toolkit, you’re going to need an interactive video platform to upload your animation. You may also want to layer it with the interactive elements we mentioned above.
Some famous examples include YouTube, Netflix, Thinglink, Instagram, Cinema8, and H5P.
Test Before Release
Before showing your creation to the world, you must perform meticulous testing.
Ensure functionality and collect insights from viewers to further refine your masterpiece. You could also use tools like Wistia, Hotjar, or Vimeo to analyze and optimize your video’s performance.
The Future of Interactive Animations & Films
Gone are the days when creating interactive videos was only reserved for the tech-savvy elite who had loads of time and a hefty budget. Today, the tech and resources available have made it easy to create fun, engaging interactive animations that won’t break the bank.
And guess what? These modern-day technologies and resources aren’t just fascinating – they’re a golden opportunity for businesses to ride the wave of success.
With interactive video rapidly gaining momentum, it’s your chance to stand out in a sea of content. And with 68% of marketers already placing their bets on interactivity, you won’t want to miss out on the action.
Picotion Studio can help you through the process. We’ll help you create top-tier, engaging animated content that leaves a lasting impact. Whether it’s 2D or 3D animation, character development, or the magic of motion capture, we’ve got the tools and talent to transform your vision into an interactive masterpiece.
Get in touch and we’ll discuss everything in detail.
As interactive storytelling evolves, it becomes clear that captivating your audience isn’t just up to you – it’s a collaboration between you and your viewers.
When you invite viewers to interact with your video, something exciting happens. Their interest in what you’re showing gets a boost. The simple act of making decisions gives them a sense of power and control.
In a nutshell, by adding interaction, you make your storytelling experience richer and more immersive. Not to mention that you get to offer valuable information, spark engagement, boost conversion rates, and increase average viewer time all in one place.
Ready to turn your interactive animation aspirations into an awe-inspiring reality? Let’s collaborate and create something extraordinary together. Reach out to Picotion Studio today, and let’s embark on a journey that will captivate, inspire, and leave your audience craving for more.
Your interactive animation journey starts here!