3 “must-do’s” in video ad animation

by Jessica Dolan on Dec 16, 2016

Watching videos for mobile games and apps is part of my job as a graphic designer at AppLovin, and I always enjoy seeing the variations in style and take note of what works particularly well. After all, highly appealing artwork, including well-designed characters, objects, and backgrounds, can go a long way.

But every day, I see good artwork that is compromised by not-so-good animation, and that can be a real turn-off to the user, which in turn affects engagement.

Here are a few best practices for animation, plus some simple steps for making sure your bases are covered.

Make sure your animations ease in and out properly.

Just about every animation student starts off learning how to make a simple ball bounce. With this initial project, you’re supposed to learn about timing and observe that a ball doesn’t move at a consistent rate up and down. Same thing with how it rolls on a surface: it will start slow and gain speed, and if it’s stopped, it will go backwards and settle into place. How exactly this unfolds depends on the hypothetical weight and material of the ball, right? You have to apply a similar thought process to a car — it takes a bit to gain speed rather than going from 0 to full speed instantly.

In animation terms, these mechanics are covered by what’s called easing in and out. It’s very apparent when the natural quality of movement is missing, and with many animations, even ones that aren’t spherical like a ball (like a phone or a device moving on screen, or a CTA popping up to press on), adding easing can make a huge difference. And with After Effects, it’s super easy to change easing using the Graph Editor or the built-in keyframe easing tool.


Default animation, with no ease.



Animating position change, with ease in.

Make sure you animate to the beat.

The video ads we make at AppLovin typically range from 15-30 seconds and include music and sound effects. I’ve been making them for over a year now, and one thing I always take into account is the beat of the music — the animations have to happen on beat for them to look right. So one of the first things I take into account when starting a new video ad is the beat of the music. I actually pick the soundtrack first because that’s one of the hardest things change later on.

Making animation on beat adds emphasis, makes the video flow better, and makes the video ad more cohesive overall. Done right, it also enhances the overall theme or style of the game or app it’s advertising.

There are several tools you can use to help you animate on beat. It is important to know the bpm (beats per minute) of your audio file. I use a paid plug-in called beat assistant which automatically puts markers on all of the main beats. This saves a lot of time and helps a lot with the initial planning of your video. Keep in mind some soundtracks have other noticeable sound effects that don’t fall on a main beat.

Make sure the characters are animated.

Many times I see video ads in which the characters are not animated, and that always baffles me because even adding a small animation to a character can make a huge difference. It’s true that as an animator often you’re given a lot of assets that are flat images, and animating them requires a lot of cutting up and cleaning that sometimes just isn’t possible depending on the art style. But even making a character blink, which takes as little as 10 minutes, can make a significant difference.

That said, your 2D animation will not look as good if it is obvious that the character is cut up into pieces, like a paper doll (unless, of course, that is the style of the game). Because of our quick turnaround time here at AppLovin, it typically isn’t efficient to paint in missing pieces by hand, especially if the animation is only going to be on screen for a couple of seconds. One way I avoid this is by using the puppet tool in After Effects. The puppet tool is great for adding subtle and natural movement to a static image, without distorting it. You simply place ‘pins’ on the image, and by animating those pins you can move and warp the image. Adding even the smallest movement can really bring your character to life.

These days animation is just one of the many skills graphic designers need to have, and it does take time to learn how to do it well. But no matter where you are in your learning curve, you should always make sure your animations in video ads include these three things at the very least: realistic easing in and out, animation to the beat of the music, and basic animations of the characters. Good luck!


Jessica Dolan is a graphic designer at AppLovin.