In the entertainment industry, the movement for representation has reached a fever pitch in recent years, with Hollywood scrambling to meet the imperative by presenting diverse stories on screen. Animation, too, has been challenged to respect real-world differences, even in fictional settings.
Representation matters, even—if not especially—outside of entertainment. We all have a responsibility to include and amplify underrepresented perspectives in the content we produce, be it for training, recruitment, marketing, or something else altogether.
Vyond Studio, our build-your-own animated video platform, comes packed with features that empower makers to create customized characters (even robots!). While we’re proud of the platform’s growing capacity for representation, what matters most is how we use it.
We heard of one Vyond maker, Kesley Hoppe, who was tackling the issue of representation head-on with training videos tailored to non-Western contexts. To learn more, we hopped on a call with Kelsey to ask her about how she depicts diversity with safeguarding and risk management training videos created in Vyond.
What Kelsey Hoppe Learned about Representation in Animation
Over the course of talking with Kelsey, we got some great insights on how Safer Edge tackles cultural contextualization with Vyond. Here are her ten tips for makers depicting diversity with animation:
“Vyond’s Character Creator is a brilliant feature. While building your own characters can get time consuming, it really can better contextualize the video within the culture you are representing. This includes all the background characters. Creating your own characters gives you so much more range than using stock characters. Character creation also enabled us to reach some of our goals in visual representation of disability and ethnic/religious minorities.”
“Small things make such a big difference in making an animation feel authentically representative, but this is a big one. Since you can create all your own characters, and no one person on earth has the exact same skin tone as another, give each character their own skin tone.”
“It’s so important to know what a Kenyan refugee camp or rural Indonesian village or water pump in Mozambique actually looks like. We’re lucky because most of our staff have worked in these locations, but Google is also extremely helpful. We were constantly asking: ‘would this tree be in Indonesia?’ A little research gave us the ability to answer these questions accurately.”
“We didn’t want anything to be in a video that wouldn’t be in that context in the real world. This meant some creative use of props and asking the question, ‘would a bucket like this be in a refugee camp?’ or ‘what would a single mother living in a refugee camp have in her tent?’ It’s amazing what you can find with all the props available in Vyond, or what you can import using creative commons imagery.”
“This was one of our biggest challenges, as most ready-made backgrounds tend to depict developed-world scenes. For example; we really struggled with a video that was supposed to be set in rural Afghanistan. Then a member of our team said, ‘a room is a room is a room.’ How could we make this room look like an Afghan schoolroom? We altered our script so that a majority of the video could take place within a schoolroom rather than out in the amazing Afghan countryside, which we would have really struggled to recreate.”
“We asked the client for pictures of their offices and what tools they use in their different locations, and then recreated them in PowerPoint to import into Vyond. This brings a sense of ‘realness’ as the audience would be able to recognize these items from their regular life.”
“Having real people record our voiceover with non-American/UK accents has been key for us. People who watch our videos—especially non-native English speakers—tend to comment on how helpful this is. ‘They speak English like we speak English’ is the kind of comment we receive. Even if the person isn’t brilliant at doing voiceover or the audio isn’t amazing quality, it’s always worth it to have a real person representing the audience.”
“We have a huge number of things we require all our work to show or represent in order to represent ethnic and gender diversity. We always ensure that we give women or minorities active speaking, teaching, and leadership roles rather than having them be in passive audience/learner roles. We don’t feel that it’s enough for women or minorities to simply be present in the video when they need to be active and leading in the real world.”
“We can tend to think of women who choose to cover (or a myriad of other people – young people, disabled people, etc.) as being passive or having accepted a disempowered role in society. This couldn’t be further from reality, especially in countries where women who choose to cover are leading in politics and activism. Using animation can be a great way to disrupt our quiet biases about people by giving covered women speaking and leadership roles. Other ways to do this could be to show any group that we don’t tend to think of as ‘leaders’ in the main teaching/speaking roles.”
“And then simplify it again. We thought we had done a pretty good job of removing idioms and culturally-laden terms, but we fell at the first hurdle (to use an idiom) when it was reviewed by a global group. Our language was still too conceptual and complicated for a non-native English speaking audience. We had to go back and do another round of simplification.”
Use animation for cultural representation.
Vyond combines the simplicity of our easy-to-use platform with the customizations necessary to represent a complex world. We’re continuously improving Vyond Studio to meet the need for diverse representation in all video content. Get a head start on creating your own DEI training videos on topics like Juneteenth, gender & pronouns, and more with the Vyond Video Template Library. Give Kelsey’s advice a go by creating a custom video with Vyond’s free 14-day trial.