In data visualizations, animations can be used to portray data in a persuasive, memorable, and effective way. We can show processes, tell stories, and evoke emotions — all of which are difficult or impossible with static graphics and text alone. Using free online tools, even a nonprofessional can easily create professional-looking animations to tell a data story. Here, we discuss the use of animation to support a broader narrative and how data are best visualized for this use.
Although similar to presentations, animations and the data visualization considerations for them are sufficiently different to stand as a distinct category. Find out more about presentation tools in the Presentations section of this toolkit.
PowToon is a leader in the animation space. It is an online, cloud-based platform for creating relatively low-cost or free animated content. The software contains a variety of premade templates and graphical animations, with the broadest selections and features available to premium (i.e., paid) users. Content production capabilities include animated videos, video presentations, music videos, animated infographics, and more.
Accessing the Tool
Create animated videos and presentations using PowToon.
Specific tutorials on how to use PowToon are available on the home page.
- Production with PowToon is more time intensive than with traditional (e.g., PowerPoint) software.
- The tool requires some basic familiarity with video editing principles and more technical savvy than a traditional (e.g., PowerPoint) presentation, but a beginner can still use it with the assistance of the tutorials.
- Although PowToon has one of the largest template pools for a free account of the animation apps that were reviewed, access to the higher quality design elements requires premium accounts.
Moovly is an online, cloud-based platform used to create relatively low-cost or free animated content. The software contains a variety of premade templates and graphical animations, with the broadest selections and features available to premium (i.e., paid) users. Content production capabilities include animated videos, video presentations, music videos, graphs, animated infographics, and more.
Accessing the Tool
Create animated videos and presentations using Moovly.
The “What is Moovly” video, made by and with Moovly, provides an overview of the tool’s capabilities and explains how to use it. See the video.
Relative to PowToon, Moovly free accounts have considerably fewer robust features, prefabricated graphics/templates, and quality design elements. However, Moovly has more design elements and more video editing options than PowToon for the premium user.
Animaker is a relatively simple to use cloud-based do-it-yourself animated video- making tool intended for personal, business, and marketing use. It offers six popular video styles: (1) Animaker for 2D, (2) Animaker for 2.5 D, (3) Animaker for handcraft, (4) Animaker for infographics, (5) Animaker for topography, and (6) Animaker for whiteboard. The software includes a variety of premade animation templates to choose from when creating an animation. Animaker for whiteboard includes five styles: 1) blackboard, 2) notepad, 3) whiteboard, 4 ) stitchboard, and 5) glassboard. All of the animated videos used making Animaker may be exported to YouTube and Facebook or downloaded directly, making them easy to include in a presentation.
Accessing the Tool
Create animated videos and presentations using Animaker.
Animaker includes sets of tutorials on how to make an animated video and how to make an infographic video. The tutorials include tips and tricks to help a user get started. View the tutorials.
While Animaker does offer a no-cost version, it has significant limitations including restrictions on the video length and number of exports, and fewer available characters and props. Animaker does offer several more robust options at a relatively low cost. See pricing options.
Professional Video Studios
If budget allows and you are interested in working with a professional to develop your video, you would need to reach out to a video production studio. In working with the studio, consult the Design Principles and Accessibility Tips in this tile to ensure the studio is using best practices.
Tips for Creating Effective Animations
- Know how much time and money are available for your animation project so you can effectively communicate with the professionals.
- Some businesses offer a certain amount of pro bono service to local nonprofit organizations, so it’s worth inquiring about this type of support.
- Local colleges or production departments of other partners are worth exploring if you have sufficient time for preparation and are willing to take some risk in working with nonprofessionals or those who may need to put your project on hold if a more urgent deadline arises.
Of the available options, using a professional studio is probably the most costly in money (highly variable) and time (an 8-minute animation took Harvard and its production studio 6 months) but may produce the highest quality product. See the Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change as an example of an animation created with a professional studio. In addition to cost and time is often a fear of using the entire budget and not receiving a usable product. Still, animation tools can seem complicated and require preparation for the do-it-yourself approach. An animation production company might be right for you if you carefully plan your project.
Suggest Additional Tools or Resources
Are there animation tools or resources that you use to present data effectively? Suggest tools for inclusion in the toolkit.