Unusual Storytelling with Animation

Through a wide variety of digital tools, there are seemingly endless possibilities to present one’s stories, messages and brands in a strong way. On the one hand, this means that today almost every company uses these tools and there is an ever-growing sea of content. Many wonder how they can still stand out.  

On the other hand, it also means that you can create your own trend through creative and innovative use of these tools. While this is a constant challenge for designers, I don’t think it should be equated with constantly having to reinvent yourself. After watching countless tutorials from animation artists, videographers, and creatives, one message stood out to me: find your own style. And that comes with time.

To create a new trend and stand out from the crowd, sometimes you have to break the rules. Push aside the conventional, the classic, and follow your own path. 

That’s why I would like to show a few examples of unusual storytelling. It’s always about an animation that stands out because of the style and the deliberate unusual use of the artist in any case.

Text as a Character

This animation shows perfectly, how text doesn’t only tell a story, but can become a character or the protagonist itself. It plays with the visual and informative parts of text. I really love the minimalism in it. 

Words by Ende Li & Liz Xiong

Surreal Animation

Since Salvador Dali at the latest, surrealism has developed into a dynamic substance. It wants to blow our minds with incompatible combinations in a surprising context – as we can see from this example. 

Controlled Substance by Jay Sprogell

Reversibel Prose

A beautiful example that there are always two sides of a story. 

Lost Generation by Jon Reed




Storytelling – an introduction

Storytelling is important, whether you are a filmmaker, marketing specialist or animation artist. 

The mere enumeration of facts doesn’t grab us humans nearly as much as an exciting story that appeals to the head and heart. 

One of the most important factors in storytelling is emotion. Because every emotion is a strong feeling that, linked to experiences, memories, situations or even good stories, stays in our minds. And that is ultimately the great goal of storytelling. We don’t want to get lost in the endless, ever-growing pile of information and bland stories. We want to be remembered. We want attention. We want to change the world – or at least we should. And you can’t do that with stories that get under your skin.

Stories are as old as people. Over the centuries, therefore, various ways of conveying stories have developed – from cave paintings to sagas, songs and fairy tales.

The term “history” describes in German usage “Vergangenheit” (history), but also “Erzählung” (story). History is a review of the real and historical developments of mankind or of a certain period of time that lies in the past. A story is a narrative form, a narration that depicts different events from the past, present or future and has much more scope, as it can be real or fictional. (Sammer 2017, 20f.)

However, history and narrative are equally about “how people deal with and in particular circumstances.” (Sammer 2017, 21)

Storytelling thus combines both terms and can be seen as the art of how to reproduce actions and experiences from the past on the one hand and how to narrate real or fictional events – which are independent of time – on the other. (Sammer 2017, 21)

But what is the classic recipe for successful storytelling*?

Basically, there are five building blocks: 

1. every good story has a good reason for being told.

If you want to tell your story successfully, you have to clearly state your motives and explain the meaning behind them. 

2. every good story has a hero

A protagonist with whom you can identify is an important aspect of successful storytelling. 

3. every good story starts with a conflict. 

Because if everything is fine from the beginning, it’s hard to create tension. We must not only be able to identify with the protagonists, but also empathize with their emotions.

4. every good story arouses emotions.

Real enthusiasm and motivation can hardly be achieved by pure facts and data. 

5. every good story is viral.

Virality has not just existed since social media – stories like Hansel and Gretel have been told for a very long time. But through the Internet, there is an incredibly powerful platform for this, with which one can tell transmedial. (Sammer 2017, 49)

So, in summary, the classic ingredients for a successful storytelling recipe are:

  • A meaningful brand
  • A hero
  • A conflict
  • Emotions
  • And multimedia (Sammer 2017, 50)

Is it possible to break these rules? How can you do storytelling in an unconventional way? I will address these questions in my next blog post. 

*in this blog post storytelling refers to companies and brands


Sammer, Petra (2017): Storytelling. Strategien und Best Practices für PR und Marketing. Heidelberg: dpunkt.verlag GmbH

The “Rules” in Film

Over the last 70 years people in the industry learned what usually works and what not, doesn’t matter if its in the field of storytelling, cinematography or in the post productions sector. Most mainstream films in cinema, especially those from Hollywood, seem to have a lot in common with each other and we don’t seem to get a lot of new ideas from there. To answer why that is, is very simple – production companies love a guaranteed success! This why most of what we see in the cinema nowadays is always pretty familiar. From story structure, character developments to the way it’s filmed and edited. In this blog post I’d like to focus on the most common practices, or as some people like to call them rules, that are used in film.


It’s not necessary to to reinvent the wheel in order to write the story for a box-office hit. In fact it’s probably even better to stick to the rules of a three act story structure or also called a seven point story structure according to american screenwriter and author Blake Snyder. In “Save the Cat” Snyder gives clear instructions on how to write a entertaining story and even provides a so called beat-sheet. It determines what should vaguely happen at what page of the script and is pretty strict about it. All though he is also criticized for his harsh approach, it’s clear that most films follow these guidelines. He also points out that he didn’t invent those rules, they come from his observation and colleagues that he met over the years. Basically saying that those rules and guidelines for a good story where always there, he just wrote them down.

Blake Snyders Beatsheet:1
Opening Image (p.1), Theme (p.5), Set-Up (p.1-10), Catalyst (p.12), Debate (p.12-25), Act II (p.25-30), B Story (p.30), Fun & Game (p.30-55), Midpoint (p.55), Bad Guys Close In (p.55-75), All is Lost (p.75), Dark Night of the Soul (p.75-85), Act III (p.85), Finale (p.85-110), Final Image (p.110)

How to Write a Novel Using The Three-Act Structure
Three Act Story Structure2

Without context the beat-sheet is probably a bit meaningless to most people but in the right hands a very strong tool for making an exciting and entertaining story. Blake Snyder also states that there are only ten types of movies. Every movie that exists can be assigned to one of those types. A few of his types are for example “Dude with a problem”, “Superhero” or “Buddylove”.


There are many ways to composite an image, yet some compositions just work and are a great basis to begin with. There’s no official rule book on this topic but the following “rules” or suggestions are probably the most common and used ones in film and television.

  1. Rule of Thirds
    Divides the picture into a 3×3 raster that serve as a guideline on how to frame objects, people or points of interests in your frame.
  2. The 180 Degree Rule
    Depicts the radius in which you should place the camera when shooting dialogue between people.
  3. Shot Types
    There are 3 type of shots with several variations of it, the wide, medium and the close-up. They define how much of the person or object is visible in the frame.
  4. Size Equals Power
    This rule gives important information about the perception of size in the frame. If it’s important or mighty, it should be filmed in a close-up.
  5. Leading Lines
    Any objects, structures or textures can shape lines in the frame. This rule says to frame for having those lines run into our point of interest, e.g. into the actor. 3
Rule of thirds in filmmaking explained - Media Maker Academy
Rule of Thirds in Harry Potter4


Walter Murch, who is famous for his editing work with names like Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas describes in his book “In the Blink of an Eye” a good edit as one that respects “The Rule of Six”. But what exactly does he mean when he talks about “The Rule of Six”?

The “Six” he is referring to are Emotion, Story, Rythm, Eye-trace, Two-dimensional plane of screen and Three-dimensional space of action. Those are the six elements that, if respected, make an ideal cut to him. He explains that in traditional cinema, especially back in the beginnings of sound film, the common practice was to always stay true to the position of the actors in between cuts. Back then jump cuts were seen as a mistake which, as we can see in films and shows nowadays is no longer the case. For Murch the most important thing in an edit is the emotion, as the only thing the audience will remember in the end is not the editing, camerawork or the performances but what they felt when watching it. He continues with providing a percentage of importance for his six criteria that make a good edit.

  • Emotion = 51%
  • Story = 23%
  • Rythm = 10%
  • Eye-trace = 7%
  • Two-dimensional plane of screen = 5%
  • Three-dimensional space of action = 4% 5

Murch’s “Rule of Six” should help editors on what to look out for when putting a scene together and also gives a sense for prioritization. But apart from the “Rule of Six” there are also some other common techniques that go more into the detail, for example:

  • The “J-Cut / L-Cut”
    Other than the “Hard-Cut”, which cuts the audio and visuals at the same time from one clip to the next, the L or J-Cut interpolates the audio in between two clips. Often used for dialogue scenes or to make a cut more seamless.
L-Cut and J-Cut shown in a Timeline6
  • The “Third Person at the Table Technique”
    This technique is a powerful tool to get a sense for when to cut between people having a dialogue. I learned this trick in school while working on a documentary but haven’t found a name for it on the internet so I came up with this one. The “Third Person at the Table” is referring to the audience that is in the position of the camera – when would the audience look where in the scene? Naturally people don’t always look at the person speaking, sometimes they get a reaction or other times they stay on someone a bit longer before switching to the one speaking. Nothing happens immediately! To follow this technique the editor has to imagine to actually be in the room and cut between shots like if he was looking around. I recently also found this video from CineD going into futher detail on this technique.
  • The “One Frame Trick”
    Another useful technique I learned in my bachelor years is the “One Frame Trick”. It states, that when cutting to a beat, music or SFX, the visuals should always come (at least) one frame earlier than the audio. It seems to most people that it just matches better than cutting on beat.7
  • Cutting Patterns
    Some patterns of switching between shot types (wide, medium, close-up) established to work better than others. The website “cuvideoedit” gives a breakdown on the most common cutting patterns:

    wide > medium > close-up (working closer towards the action)

    close up > medium or wide (slowly revealing more information)

    Matching Action
    cutting on movement for dynamic and seamless edits.8


I strongly believe that everything in this blog post is very fundamental and important knowledge for everyone working in the field of film creation. Although it’s a discussion worthy topic whether you you want to call them rules or not- I’d rather call them differently but calling them “techniques that have already proven to work reliable” is quite a long way to phrase it. The more interesting question is, if you rather want to stick to those conventions or not and even the professionals in the field don’t have an agreement on this.

For example, let’s go back to the Snyder and Murch. Blake Snyder is convinced about his strict approach in order to get a working story. He is sticking to what has already been done before him and deviations from his instructions are conceived as mistakes to him (which he clearly points out in his book). Walter Murch on the other side is a lot more vague when giving instructions. He is strongly referring to the emotional aspect of editing a film which is very hard to define and break down. He is also very much deviating from the traditional way of editing a film, which (if you remember) was very strict about the position of the characters in space and traditional cutting patterns. Before the french new wave happened, most of the rules in this blog-post were established and back then they were without a doubt rules, no quotation marks needed.


1) Snyder, Blake: Rette die Katze! Das ultimative Buch übers Drehbuchschreiben, 2. Auflage, Autorenhaus Verlag, Berlin 2015

2) https://blog.reedsy.com/three-act-structure

3) https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/rules-of-shot-composition-in-film/

4) https://mediamakeracademy.com/rule-of-thirds-in-film/

5) Murch, Walter: In the Blink of an Eye – A perspective on film editing, 2nd Edition, Page 17 – 18

6) https://www.techsmith.com/blog/how-to-edit-videos-l-cuts-and-j-cuts/

7) https://youtu.be/7E_mi_xNYOk

8) http://www.cuvideoedit.com/rules-of-editing.php