Who doesn’t love music? And who doesn’t like cartoons?
It was inevitable that someone would combine the two. Let’s explore animation within the world of the music video format. It’s a fascinating place where these two worlds collide.
This is a pretty detailed post, so feel free to skip to the bits you’re interested in:
One of the most common questions we get asked is “how much does it cost?” And the truth is, the overall costs of cartoon music videos vary based on a number of factors-- mainly, the running length and complexity.
It would, however, cost you between $4500-8100 for 60 seconds should you come to us for your animated music video. For additional 30 seconds, it would cost you $1200-2400. Thus, a 3-4 minutes-long song's animated music video by our team of experts would cost you just $18,000!
Animated music videos have changed a lot over the ages. We can’t appreciate where we are today without knowing where we came from. So, first, a little history. Let’s go back to where it all started.
In 1981, MTV introduced the world at large to the music video. While initial reactions were mixed at best, it didn’t take long for this bizarre and dazzling format to prove itself as an all but essential component in the music industry.
Music videos are an unusually creative format, with few restrictions or rules. The director is free to try just about anything they see fit, so long as it complements and enhances the song that the video accompanies.
There is another creative format that is, similarly, limited only by the creator’s imagination: animation. A filmmaker’s vision is challenged by budgets, special effects and set-building and so on; that of an animation studio is not.
The first animated music video was out right in the infancy of the music video format, debuting as early as 1979 - two years before MTV first took to the airwaves.
The first fully-cartoon music video was “Accidents Will Happen” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions in 1979. However, initial reactions were mixed at best. Released two years even before MTV began broadcasting, it was arguably too far ahead of its time-- but also a taste of things to come.
The first major, successful animated music videos hit the screens internationally in 1985 with “Take on Me” by A-Ha:
This was a mix of live action, sketchy static comic book art, and fluid animation. The video depicts a young girl (the band’s lead singer’s girlfriend, for you trivia buffs) in a cafe reading a comic book, when the characters come to life from the pages and draw her in. The lead singer is depicted using rotoscoped animation, a technique where live film is physically traced or drawn over. It’s tedious work but yields an unusually fluid, lifelike, realistic feel.
Just the next year (1986), Peter Gabriel released “Sledgehammer”:
One of the best cartoon music videos of the time, it employed a technique called “stop motion” animation. Simply put, imagine taking a series of still photographs of the same subject with minor changes in each step, and then “playing” them like a very fast slideshow.
Around this time period, Dire Straits blew everyone away with the world’s first 3-D, computer-generated (CGI) animated music video:
“Money For Nothing” pushed the very limits of technology at the time. In an era where Microsoft Windows 1.0 was brand new, even the concept of wire-frame 3D computer animation was practically science fiction. Right from its release, this video was of the best animated music videos of the 80s.
The video was almost not made at all, as Mark Knopfler was unimpressed with the idea of music videos in general, and was a bit of a purist who hated gimmicky stunts. He only relented when his girlfriend at the time insisted it was a good idea.
The rest, as they say, is history. The response and critical acclaim are credited with legitimizing not only the concept of cartoon music videos, but arguably the music video art-form entirely.
From this moment onwards, it was without question that one could not seriously release a single without a music video if you expect widespread airplay and success.
The band followed this quickly with “Brothers in Arms”:
This, too, was animated. But while “Money For Nothing” was glossy, colorful, and high-tech for its time, “Brothers in Arms” was subdued, noisy and grainy, and in black-and-white. Like a living charcoal sketch, it mirrored the somber spirit of the song. Not surprisingly, the video was among the best animated music videos to ever win a Grammy.
Prince was an artist as diversely talented as he was groundbreaking and revolutionary. It’s no surprise that the video was something completely new and different for “Sign O’ The Times” in 1987:
“Sign O’The Times” was one of the best cartoon music videos consisting essentially just of the lyrics, word by word, over a few simple shapes and colors, emphasizing the message rather than distracting from it. It was a stark, minimalist and haunting zeitgeist in song form. Therefore, this was the first successful lyric video, well over a decade before lyric videos became commonplace.
Some of us remember the 1988 movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” which deftly combined goofy, over-the-top cartoon animation with live actors on film. In a similar fashion, the music world followed suit with the animated music video of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” in 1989, where she danced and sang alongside a rapping 2D cartoon character named MC Skat Kat. It went on to join "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits to be amongst the best animated music videos to win a grammy.
In a continuing trend, it also won a Grammy.
As the decade turned, cartoon music videos were nothing particularly unusual or rare into the 1990s. But there are a few notable works that stand out amongst the crowd.
Much like how 1989’s “Opposites Attract” emulated “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, Icleandic artist Björk teamed up with the creators of the animated cartoon “Ren & Stimpy” for her single “I Miss You”:
The animators stuck with their trademark bizarre and somewhat disturbing style for this type of cartoon music videos, causing MTV to be apprehensive about airing it during daytime hours. Björk rejected requests to edit the video, and once the song started rising through the charts, MTV relented and aired it at all hours anyway. Just like “Ren and Stimpy,” the video was goofy, surreal, bizarre and subtly disturbing - although one can never pinpoint why. This is a video that will stick around in your memory just like the catchy earworm of the song itself.
Comic books and graphic novels have always had a connection with the world of animation. The 90s saw some acts experimenting with blending a decidedly graphic-novel kind of aesthetic into their animated music videos, such as “Freak on a Leash” by nu metal rock band Korn (1999), notably directed by comic book artist Todd McFarlane:
With “Freak on a Leash,” the dark, gritty, highly stylized comic book art blended so perfectly with the explosively angsty and brooding sounds and themes of nu metal and hard rock, that it’s hard to believe it took this long for such a collaboration to happen. It is one of the best animated music videos to come from the band.
The video of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” was burdened with the daunting task of summarizing the violent history of the planet Earth in just four minutes. This is a feat that, arguably, only cartoon music videos could have pulled off so well. The video pulls no punches, viscerally painting the cruelty of the human race in a frantic, furious slideshow of nihilistic horror, from neanderthals to Nazis and napalm, ending in a world-ending nuclear inferno. The song is explosive and seething—Pearl Jam at their best. Combining the two, the viewer endures a spectacular assault on not just their senses, but their psyche as a whole, and the effect isn’t blunted by repeated viewing. It was one of the best animated music videos of the 90s.
Both “Freak on a Leash” and “Do the Evolution” were directed by Todd McFarlane. Trivia: McFarlane is a comic book artist and writer who created “Spawn,” a comic book series that was later adapted into a suitably special-effects soaked Hollywood movie.
Animated music videos like these prove just how diverse, flexible, versatile and wildly creative the world of animation can really be. It seems one is only limited by one’s imagination.
Rock music in particular seemed to enjoy a close relationship with animation. Consider industrial metal band Static-X’s debut, “Push It” (1999):
Some fans hail this to be one of the best cartoon music videos by the band. This delightfully bizarre video employed stop-motion animation heavily. The look, style and feel seamlessly complemented the genre of industrial rock, which is essentially hard rock and/or metal saturated with heavy effects, programming and post-production. For example, Static-X frontman Wayne Static famously described their music as “evil disco.” The video leaves little doubt.
If there ever was a golden age of animated music videos, then we have Gorillaz to thank. 2001 saw the world’s first ever “virtual” band, Gorillaz, literally comprising of comic book characters who only interact with our world through animation and cartoons. The band went on to release some of the best animated music videos of the decade. They were an instant hit with their debut, “Clint Eastwood” (2001):
For the first time, cartoons and animation were not only important, but essential to a successful mainstream band.
Some could argue, however, that the first animated band would be television show The Simpsons’ foray into the music world, with “Do The Bartman” in 1999:
Animation is an artform that seems infinitely comfortable collaborating with other forms of film and media, from comic books to movies and music. A good example of this would be the cartoon music video for “Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me, Kill Me” by U2, a song commissioned specifically for the movie “Batman Forever” (1995):
The music video is 2D animated with Batman heroes and villains complementing the driving rock sound, with even the band members animated as characters as they perform. Despite the movie itself being widely panned and suffering much scorn from critics, the song had one of the best cartoon music videos which was well received and was even nominated for a Grammy.
Speaking of Grammy Awards, Gorillaz has been nominated awards over the year. It even won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for its song Feel Good Inc in 2006. That isn't the only animated virtual band, though. A somewhat lesser-known but equally notable project was the animated cartoon series Metalocalypse. According to its creators, the show was both homage to (and satire of) heavy metal culture and music. It surrounds the adventures of an implausibly successful and wealthy heavy metal band, Dethklok, and featured an array of amazing original music performed by many of the world’s best real-life metal musicians. To date it enjoys a cult fan following.
Dethklok is a virtual animated death metal band, comparable to the more famous Gorillaz. The band exists in the fictional world depicted in the Adult Swim animated series “Metalocalypse,” a show perhaps best described as “being both a satire of, and loving homage to, heavy metal counterculture.” While the band is fictional and animated, their music has been critically acclaimed in the real world. The creators even formed a real-life band to go on tour.
To begin with, there are no real “rules” when it comes to creating music videos. Ostensibly, the animated music videos serves to accompany, complement and enhance the song. There are no real guidelines beyond that definition.
This freedom means that anything and everything goes, so long as it broadly meets the rules of censorship so that it can be broadcast to the public. At its most basic, cartoon music videos can consist of the band performing the song. But most videos aim to be more abstract and freeform. Sometimes they can be ambitious, big-budget, telling some kind of grand story, employing expensive special effects and featuring Hollywood actors.
It’s this kind of freedom that meant that experimenting with animation was all but inevitable.
The benefits are obvious. With animated music videos, you’re limited only to your imagination. If you can imagine it, you can draw it. If you can draw it, you can animate it. In comparison, with film, there’s the logistical hassles of scale, set-building, special effects, actors and so on.
Put another way, if you want your video to depict something grandiose and spectacular - like, say, spaceships in battle over the skies of a recognizable city, or aliens on another planet - the budget skyrockets with the expense of elaborate sets, special effects, CGI, and so on. In comparison, it would be far cheaper to simply shoot close-ups of the band performing the song in a simple room, for example.
However, with cartoon music videos, the execution is no more complicated for depicting an alien invasion than it would be to depict a band playing in a room. It is, broadly speaking, the same amount of work.
This is why animation has always been the field where you can take on the most grandiose, visually challenging, imaginative ideas that, if attempted on film, would be prohibitively expensive and often impossible.
While that gap has been narrowing in recent times with the advent of ubiquitous and increasingly affordable CGI, this is still broadly true so far today.
Cons? Back in the early days of animation, it was prohibitively expensive and slow, requiring teams of artists to painstakingly draw and paint each “cell” or single frame by hand. However, nowadays this is no longer the case, with increasing computing power and improvements in the suites of software used. We are in an age where amateurs can create animation right at home in their spare time, for fun, and compete with the big name studios on the internet if their work is up to snuff.
The music video format in general has very little in the way of “rules” or established guidelines, and the same holds true for the sub-genre of animated music videos. Broadly, good animated music videos should first of all be well-animated, which should go without saying. It’s a big bonus if the videos are unique and highly creative, because this will help them stand out in the crowd.
Ultimately, if there’s just one rule that should be held as sacrosanct, it is that the animated music videos must complement and enhance the songs above all. Beyond this, anything else the video accomplishes would be icing on the cake.
2D (standing for two-dimensional) animation is what most people think about when you say the word “cartoons.” It’s classic, old-fashioned animation, once exclusively hand-drawn. It was tedious work, with large teams of artists painstakingly hand-drawing thousands of “cells” to create individual frames. Nowadays software has taken over a lot of the grunt work, but artists’ hands are still needed. They’ve just exchanged pen and brush with a digital stylus, drawing tablets and software.
Some examples of 2D animated music videos:
Björk is known for her rather unconventional music, why should the videos be any different? This is one of the best cartoon music videos made in 2D.
It's no secret that this is one of the best animated music videos to ever come out of the band. It remains one of the best 2D music videos out there.
Whereas 2D is “flat,” 3D involves creating entire three-dimensional virtual worlds. This is the kind of graphics usually seen in mainstream big-budget animated movies like the kind produced by Pixar and Dreamworks, and also in most video games. Like everything else, it has advantages and disadvantages.
Some examples of 3D cartoon music videos:
This video is one of the best animated music videos using 3D along with live footage.
This video is amongst the best animated music videos in 3D.
Rotoscoping is a technique where animators would “trace” and draw over every frame of an existing piece of live footage, and then run all the traced artwork in a sequence to create the animation. While incredibly tedious and time-consuming, the resulting animation is startlingly lifelike in its movements, motion and depth, because it is in fact real footage that’s just been drawn over - as opposed to traditional 2D animation, where the shots are “imagined” up, as it were.
An example of a music video employing rotoscoping:
This video deserves to be amongst the best animated music videos—not just in the rotoscopy category.
Stop-motion is a technique where, basically, a series of photographs is taken, as opposed to a series of drawn artworks. The advantage here is that one can employ puppets, models, figurines, toys etc and bring them to life. It sounds simple but it is at least as tedious and detail-oriented as 2D animation.
Examples of stop-motion animated music videos:
Fairly straightforward stop-motion animation. The grungy, sci-fi animation perfectly complements Static X’s unique flavor of industrial music. It is one of the best animated music videos made in stop-motion.
Stop-motion animation using only Lego bricks, in a fun and quirky twist to the genre.
Claymation is stop-motion animation using real clay figurines / characters specifically, as opposed to hand-drawn art on cells to create frames. This gives the animation a realistic and detailed feel, because each frame consists of essentially a photograph of real figurines / dolls / structures.
A good example of claymation in a music video was experimental metal band Primus’ unique rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (2003):
A much earlier example was comedy metal band Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs” (1993):
This type of cartoon music videos consists of the lyrics of the song appearing prominently on the screen, with all the focus and animation centering around the text. This is distinct from lyric videos, which are a relatively recent genre where a supplemental lyric video complements the original “main” music video.
Some notable examples of such cartoon music videos include:
A typically hilarious parody of the hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke by the master of lyrical parody, Weird Al Yankovic, the entire video consists of the lyrics in animated text. This video is another good example of kinetic typography in one of the best animated music videos.
A sublime, ephemeral song with a delightfully light and breezy lyric video to match, the kinetic typography blends in perfectly with the mood of both the live-action video and song.
A more fluid and creative example of typography and text animation in animated music videos; the words and text blend effortlessly into live footage.
Here are some of the best cartoon music videos we’ve worked on:
Here’s a curated list of our top picks in animated music videos!
A stark, stunning, two-tone animation (just black and white, not even any shades of gray) that draws you into a lush sci-fi world battling overpopulation. It is one of the best animated music videos we've seen.
Hand-drawn animation that’s delightfully surreal, colorful and a tad disturbing. Like most of the best animated music videos we've mentioned in this list, watching this is a visual drug trip.
Another mostly two-tone, black-and-white animated music video for Danish Indie band Siames. It is one of the best animated music videos we've ever seen. From transitions to the way characters have been animated, everything about the video was perfect.
A trippy, sci-f-themed, anime-inspired animated video. This video absolutely had to make it into the list of the best animated music videos.
A collaboration with the creators of the hit animated show, Rick and Morty, the video serves as a visually stunning, colorful mini-episode backing the song. Many fans of the show found it to be one of the best cartoon music videos ever.
A space-themed animated video from French Indie Rock band Stuck in the Sound, with a gripping, hilarious and unpredictable story unfolding through the course of the song. It is mostly because of the way the story has been told in the video that we've put the video in this list of the best animated music videos.
An enigmatic story with layers of meaning and symbolism, animated for a catchy electronic track. There's so much about this song because of which it made its way amongst the best cartoon music videos on the list.
An anime-style, cyberpunk-themed music video with clear homages to Akira. It isn't the cyberpunk theme that compelled us to put it in the list of the best animated music videos—it was the way the characters were animated that compelled us to do so.
This is one of the best cartoon music videos themed around Minecraft.
It is one of the best animated music videos made with the stop-motion technique. The way the story is narrated with the help of Lego blocks is totally breathtaking.
This is one of the best animated music videos using stop-motion photography with real-life human actors.
Creating animated music videos is different for every individual piece. But broadly, it begins with an animation company (like ours) discussing the idea with the client (the band / musician) about the concepts and ideas behind the song.
Once everyone’s on the same page, the next stage is the storyboard and/or screenplay, where the framework is built. Depending on the complexity, the animation company will consult with their client at several key stages as needed.
The next stage is to finalize the graphics and style of the animation and artwork. The style sets the mood and “look and feel” of the video, and must complement it suitably. It’s not a random choice: bright, loud colors and fast movement will match an excited, happy and upbeat story and music; while darker, more subdued colors portray a more reflective and dour mood.
Once this has all been agreed on, the final animation is executed. Usually this takes a team of skilled animators a few weeks to a few months to complete, depending primarily on the length of the video, the art style, level of detail, and overall complexity of the animation. All of these will factor into the budget and costs, which can vary from project to project.
We have over a decade of experience animating all sorts of videos for clients all over the world, from individuals to Fortune 500 corporations. There’s no one-size-fits-all format for everyone. The process is always different for every client, depending on what they need.
Over here at Broadcast2World, we’ve done everything from cartoon music videos to animated infographic videos, explainer videos, educational, training, public awareness campaigns, and social media videos. In fact, there’s such a wide range of art and animation styles to use that it can be overwhelming if you’re just dipping your toes into the waters for the first time.
Fortunately, our experienced staff guides our clients through the process at every step. We start by listening to what the client is hoping to accomplish with the animated video. If they don’t have a script, then a few drafts are outlined for the client to pick from. Once a script has been agreed on, the storyboards and screenplay are finalized and approved by the client, along with the art style.
The animation stage takes the lion’s share of the timeline. While it can vary depending on factors like style, complexity, detail and so on, as a general rule it takes 3-4 weeks to finish one minute of animation.
Once the video is finished, the client deploys it as needed - whether online, social media, or on their own website.
It can be argued that animation is all about making the impossible, possible. Things you cannot shoot with a camera or capture on film. In animation, you’re only really limited by your imagination-- if you can imagine it, we can animate it and make it real.
So are you ready to turn your vision into reality? Ready to promote your music with a video that will demand attention, stick in viewers’ minds, and set you apart? Get in touch with us today and find out what’s possible.
Life is too short to put out a boring music video!