How whiteboard animations led to the next generation of explainer

It’s been six years or so since whiteboard animations took the explainer video genre by storm. The style, conceived by seasoned scribes or graphic facilitators, was a natural progression of the kind of squeaky-penmanship upon which our fledgling industry was being built at the time.

They take a lot more planning than our live event scribing, but they have a lot in common with it. They’re simple, shareable, witty, human and handy. They’re something fun and engaging, born out of the familiar and frankly quite dull apparatus of office life.

scriberia whiteboard animation

You only have to look at the viewing figures for the brilliant RSA Animates whiteboard animation series, to see that this charming, lo-tech style (combined, of course, with great quality content) struck a chord with audiences all over the world.

The resulting increase in demand for corporate explainers in whiteboard style quickly gave rise to countless imitators, many of whom weren’t actually drawing under the camera at all, but creating an approximation of the style in post-production.

Then – to our amazement – followed the development of numerous pieces of software that enable anyone to “whiteboard-ify” their presentation, just by adding a few bits of generic imagery and a static image photograph of an artist’s hand.

So, it’s not that we don’t like whiteboard animations – we do! But there’s a time and a place for them. In short, much of what made the earliest whiteboard animations appealing – their originality, their human quality, their humour, their ability to edit and elevate the most relevant content, their ability to show the bigger picture as well as the detail within it – was lost in many of the examples that followed. 

People started to confuse the technique with the content, ending up with something that looked like a whiteboard animation but lacked the visual interpretation and ingenuity that would make it memorable.

An animated scribe-style animation: packing a punch for WWF's Save the Amazon campaign.

So when clients come to us asking for a whiteboard animation (and they often do), we focus on what it is about whiteboard style that appeals to them. Is it the simplicy of black lines on white; the hand-drawn style; the way that it connects ideas together; the joy of watching each image emerge…? And then we work from there.

Earlier this year, the World Wildlife Fund came to the studio with whiteboard style in mind for an animation to explain the global importance of protecting the Amazon Rainforest. 

In tackling a subject as vast and complex as the Amazon itself, we could immediately see what it was about whiteboard style that suited their content. But their story demanded more than whiteboard could give them.

The approach we agreed upon was what we call 'an animated scribe'.  An animated scribe has a similar hand-made aesthetic to whiteboard animation, but it’s achieved digitally. It allows us to design the bigger picture, and guide the viewer around it, as each scene emerges. 

But, unlike a whiteboard animation, it’s not drawn by an on-screen hand; allowing the animation to flow faster and more freely. When you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, as we did here, this more animated approach really enhanced our ability to tell the story.

In this case, the final animation, brilliantly narrated by WWF’s President, Yolanda Kakabadse, combined an animated scribe with some innovative stop-motion sequences to give it a really a tangible, tactile feel.

The result, we feel, is a great example of the new generation of whiteboard animation.