6 Steps to create an explainer video

We often get asked by prospective clients what the process of creating explainer videos is, how long it takes, and of course, how much it costs. We work on quite a variety of styles in our videos; however, there are very similar steps that we follow for each. We broke these down into six steps, and this is what it looks like;

Our example sequence

I go into more detail for each of the above steps and show behind the scenes visuals for creating one specific sequence from our explainer video for The Guardian.

For this step by step guide, I’ll be breaking down this short sequence from the main video.

A cookie is a small file that can be placed on your computer, phone or similar device.
It means that organisations such as the Guardian can recognise and remember you.”

Step 1: Script

The very first and most crucial step is always, the story! The simplest and clearest way is to start with a script. A script helps you and your team put ideas into words and more importantly align on the structure the final video should have. The script usually starts looking like a monster, but after a few drafts, after removing quite a few non-crucial elements, you should end up with something presentable and easy to follow. Here’s a snippet of the script describing what cookies (web browser ones!) are, and why they exist.

Clear and simple! However we’re not here to write a book, but create a visually compelling video, so how do we turn these words into exciting visuals that help the viewer understand and more importantly grab their attention for a few seconds.

Step 2: Storyboard

Once you’re happy with the script, it’s time to chop it into smaller chunks, or scenes if you prefer. Each scene describes a visual idea using text, but also very rough sketches. No, you don’t need to know how to draw, stickmen sketches are excellent at this stage. It’s just a way to determine what elements will be in each scene and how long each scene should last. Here’s the script I showed you earlier, broken down into scenes with very rough sketches and a description of what happens in each scene.

A folder appears with a visual of a cookie on it
Camera zooms out to reveal a computer screen
This is some text inside of a div block.
…then a tablet
While still zooming continuously
revealing a human silhouette on a staircase with a lock for an eye.

Step 3: Design

When everyone is aligned and happy with the storyboard, it’s time to design each of the above frames. You’ll determine the look and feel of the video itself. Here, brand guidelines are essential. The Guardian has a very detailed style guide which was at the same time very flexible not to limit us creatively. Colours are usually the first and most important choices to make, and when there’s an existing style guide, it should be a smooth start. In this case, we created design mockups, since the final visuals were going to be real paper models that we would then be shooting in a studio. Here are some of the storyboard scenes shown earlier, as design mockups;

Step 4: Production

Welcome to the point of no return! I don’t want to sound very dramatic, but this is where the intense work begins. Hence, changes to anything done before from this point on are usually not very welcome ✋This is because creatives start getting into their flow and anything that stops that can hit the team’s morale hard. I’ve too often seen passionate creatives lose their energy over minor modifications at this stage. So an exciting project can risk becoming an annoying burden.But this is also where the fun starts; sourcing materials, coloured paper, fabrication of objects and more Once the visuals and timing are validated, production can begin. Sourcing materials and objects and fabricating the elements designed, cutting paper & boards etc.

Step 5: Animation

Stop motion animation is fun but involves a lot of patience and effort. In it’s purest form it’s about moving an object, taking a photo, then slightly moving it more, take another photo, and repeat and repeat. It’s an art form in itself, and Nico & Dazz shown in the pictures below have an absolute blast doing it!

There’s no better way to explain this part of making a video than to show the fantastic making-of video Nico & Dazz put together here:

Step 6: VO, music & sound design

This final step is like the glue that fits everything together. The sound makes the visuals pop and also gives the video its rhythm. Making custom music for videos is critical to provide that video with its own identity. We work with various talented musicians, who love their craft and elevate videos like these to different levels. Sometimes the music style is in our heads when we’re reading the script for the first time, other times it’s a magic touch that’s added at the end that ends up surprising us. In any case, it’s crucial that the voice over, music & sound effects (or sound design) are well mixed to feel like they’re part of the same thing.

…and without further ado, the final result