3 min
July 6, 2023

An Ode to Our Copywriters

Written by
Graham Daseler
3 min
Now Reading
An Ode to Our Copywriters

In the beginning was the Word.  So says the King James Bible, and so it goes in my line of work.  You might think that, because I’m an animator, this makes me jealous, but it doesn’t.  A script isn’t just a collection of prattle in search of images; it’s a blueprint, a visual stimulant, a springboard into the creative process.  The first thing I do after I’m assigned a project is pore over the script, highlighter in hand – well, not literally “in hand” but on the cursor of my Mac.  What am I looking for?  Three things: first, I’m scanning for any technical terms that elude my understanding.  I mark these down so that I can discuss them later with the client.  Second, I’m noting any logos, screenshots, or branded iconography that I think I might need for the animation.  And last – but certainly not least – I’m looking for any visual cues that prompt my imagination.  

Take, for instance, this line from a recent script for Palmetto: 

Social determinants can dictate up to 80 percent of an individual patient’s health outcomes and 40 percent of their costs.

Immediately, I notice the percentages.  These could be shown on any number of graphs or charts that would catch the eye.  “Social determinants,” meanwhile, evokes images of houses, schools, bank balance sheets – the type of things that affect a person’s economic status.  After the word “determinants,” however, Greg, our lead copywriter, has helpfully inserted a parenthetical note in blue: “List on screen: Rural areas, High poverty rates, Lack of education, Jobs with limited paid vacation.”  This not only lets me know that the client wants to see those items spelled out onscreen; it also offers me more opportunities for visual improvisation.  (I’m describing this process in the present tense, but, in fact, this project completed weeks ago, and so I can tell you how it came out.)  Having worked with Palmetto before, I knew that they weren’t averse to a little bit of playfulness, and so, rather than simply recording the items Greg gave me in a bullet list, I put them in orange boxes and then dropped them into view from above, like mail slots swinging shut.  What, under other circumstances, could have been a dry recitation of statistic was, thus, given color, shape, and life.

Or consider this line from a video we created for Archbright last year.  (In this case, the script was written by Jessie.

Our public courses – virtual or in-person – make learning accessible and convenient.

You might not know it, but that aside (“virtual or in-person”) is extremely helpful.  Imagine the statement without it: “Our public courses make learning accessible and convenient.”  The sentence still scans all right, but it’s a bit vague.  What kind of courses?  The listener has less to grab onto, and so do I, the animator.  By letting us know how the courses are conducted, Jessie makes the scene concrete.  You can probably already see it in your mind’s eye, even before I describe the visuals I created: one person studying at a computer, the other studying in a classroom.  After that, the rest of the video is a breeze to animate, with characters coming in and off screen and charts popping up all over the place.  But it was Jessie who gave me my starting point.

And that’s what good copywriters do.  Greg and Jessie are both very visual writers.  They’re always specific, never vague.  They’re always succinct, never longwinded.  They know that that the words they choose aren’t just there to convey information; they also have to tell a story, to paint a picture in the listener’s mind.  And that makes my job as an animator that much easier.

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