Why Explainer Videos Work

Semiotics, illuminated manuscripts and the films of Wes Anderson.

Since the birth of the written word, we’ve used images and illuminations to help guide the reader’s mind to the conclusions we want them to have. In the modern world of explainer animations, pictures and words continue to work wonderfully together. But why is this?

When we hear a word like, for example, the word ‘dog’, our brain starts to provide a series of images and thoughts that we associate with the word.

Quantum dog…

Quantum dog…

The problem is, without context we don’t know what kind of dog to imagine.

Is it a shaggy dog, an angry dog, a dachshund or St. Bernard? Is it the dog that bites you, one you can cuddle and stroke, or the one that helps a blind person navigate the city?

While we wait for further information, the dog is unfixed and fuzzy, and our brain is overflowing with possible traits this dog could have. It’s a quantum dog, and it’s tiring to hold on to!

So, rather than asking you to access the recesses of your memory banks, with an explainer animation we can show you a specific dog, giving your brain one less thing to worry about.  

It’s extremely comfortable and extremely efficient to be shown the message at the same time as we hear or read the word.

Images can also instantly add additional context and clues about what might be coming next.

This is why when transcribing the bible, the medieval monks of Lindisfarne, embellished it with images of how they believed the saints would look. By including their famous trumpeting angels, they leave you in no doubt that their message is divine.

Readers, it’s why Wes Anderson, the master film director and influencer of Creative Connection Animation Studio, prefers to simultaneously show you and tell you what’s going on.

The voice-over for this clip gives you all the information you need to know about this character.

Chas Tenenbaum.jpg

Chas Tenenbaum had, since elementary school, taken most of his meals in his room, standing up at his desk with a cup of coffee, to save time.”

Not only does this image reiterate the message you’ve been given, but it also tells you what kind of a person Chas is, as well as his motivation for saving time.


Which leads us wonderfully to the world of the corporate explainer and advertising animations.

One of the first examples of a modern-day explainer animation was created by Dropbox in 2009.

The animation, that I dubbed ‘the magic pocket’, was wildly successful and could be considered the proud grandfather to millions of similar website introductory films. It looks very simple and basic by today’s standards and has been updated many times. But when it launched, it was revolutionary and helped Dropbox to become the global leader in their market.

While this film was being made, Visual Minutes and scribing started to become a fashionable way of upping the production values of facilitated events and meetings, and it’s pretty much where we as an animation studio started from.

One of the great visual minuting talents was Andrew Park who, eight years ago, was asked to create a “visual minuted” version of the famous Ted Talk, Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Educational Paradigms. It went viral, and the world became aware of the power of the whiteboard animation.


These are commonplace now, and some might even say a little bit of a cliché. Computer-generated whiteboard animations featuring false hands and clip art can be purchased very cheaply, but sadly miss the point of what it feels like to watch someone create something beautiful.

I would argue that the computerisation of explainer animations using motion graphics and cookie-cutter characters (or, as I call them, ‘sausage people’) has diminished them significantly.

Like the Lindisfarne bibles, Ken Robinson’s creation was clearly a labour of love, showing that the artist believed in and supported the message that you, in turn, are hearing—aiding cognition while at the same time lending credibility to the idea that you should care about it too.

Computers, as far as I understand it, are incapable of love.

At least at the time of writing…

One 2019 example that I believe shows us the future of what a really great explainer film will be over the next few years is Molly Crabapple’s animation for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Intercept's A Message From the Future.


Whatever your politics, you have to agree that it perfectly tells a story that needs to be told, in a way that would be very difficult to do using Adobe Character Animator.  

Like much of Creative Connection’s work, Molly’s film is a combination of disguised computer graphics and real-life artistic talent.

It is our mission to create films that astound and amaze people with their care, beauty and attention to detail.

So, if you can’t afford Molly Crabapple and want to see what else might be available a little bit closer to home, we’d be happy to take your call.

Dann Casswell

Creative Director