Explainer videos are a business staple. Here's how they are made.

I'm a motion designer and educator with a real passion/addiction for learning. I'd be a terrible animator, teacher, and mentor if I didn't follow the advice I give to students all the time: Always be learning. So when School of Motion came out with a new course called Explainer Camp I said "Yay! A course I haven't taken!" and promptly signed up for the first run. Disclaimer: I'm a TA for School of Motion. They didn't pay me to write any of this stuff, but I still feel it's only fair to share that bit of info.

Explainer Camp is taught by Jake Bartlett, who promises to teach you everything about creating explainer videos "from Script to Final Render." Explainer style advertising videos have been the bread and butter of my freelance business for a long time, so I was eager to see if I could learn some things to improve my work flow and skills. Even after 15+ years in the motion design/animation business, I picked up some super useful tips!

This course was a great opportunity to create a step by step case study of the motion design and animation process to share with clients. Here's what I made (case study follows):

Mombi Explainer Final Animation from sarawademakesstuff on Vimeo.


Each School of Motion class starts with an orientation exercise and this one was no different. The goal here is to jump right in and knock something out in the first few days of class to get your baseline. It also helps your TA see where you are coming from skill-wise. For this exercise we were given a written script about compound interest and tasked with creating scratch VO, a concept, and an animatic.


This first post-orientation week of the course gets in to process. If you are a freelancer, this is a lot of really good stuff. Jake shares his process from the first phone call with a client through bidding, scheduling, and concept. I've been freelancing for over a decade and I learned some tips here that I have been using with my client projects ever since. Particularly useful are the suggested call/email scripts.

For the exercise, you get to choose one of three fictional client projects. Based on the brief you choose, you create everything you would send to a new client to get the project. The deliverables this week were many: Bid sheet, production schedule, visual script, bracketed mood boards, and a written treatment. Note - I did not create any of the imagery in the mood boards. I created a Pinterest mood board to collect inspiration and all original image sources can be found there.


Next step... storyboards! I'm a lover of good old fashioned ink on paper. I love to work in After Effects, Animate, Maya, and Cinema4D; but on every project my first step is "quick and dirty" little thumbnail sketches. There's no faster way to get my ideas on paper. I can spend 15 minutes and come up with several pages full of thumbnails trying out many different ideas. Jumping in to the software, it might take that long to try out just one single idea.


When it comes time for the animatic, I like to clean up my boards a bit. I typically do this in Adobe Animate because I can sketch over each "quick and dirty" sketch with some grayscale rough lines. I export the sequence to Premiere to sync up the audio and then render the video from there.

Before I took this course, my sound workflow was a mish mash of cut and paste in Audition and really lacked reliability. Jake shares his Premiere audio workflow and Joey demos some awesome sound editing tips for Audition. These are hands down my biggest takeaways from this course. I've been using Joey's tips to edit down music clips and Jakes Premiere workflow to edit VO right in the timeline. Thanks to Explainer Camp, I now have an organized and reliable audio workflow. Yippee!

Explainer Camp Mombi Animatic from sarawademakesstuff on Vimeo.


Time to expand those rough boards in to style frames! I have to admit, I often get carried away making style frames. It's so much fun! I probably spend more time than necessary on these, but the good news is I've never had a client be surprised by the final look.


Boardimatic time! Somewhere between the animatic and the first animation pass, I move from Animate over to After Effects. Sometimes I do the boardimatic in Animate and export it over to AE and other times I start making the shape assets in After Effects and Illustrator. I'm sure the latter is more efficient, but I'm lightning fast with the drawing tools in Animate and old habits die hard.

It's on my list to take Jake's Photoshop + Illustrator Unleashed one of these days. I hope that forcing myself to get faster with the AI drawing tools will help me to make the boardimatic part of my workflow going in to AE more efficient.

Explainer Camp Mombi Boardimatic from sarawademakesstuff on Vimeo.


It might seem like it's a quick jump between boardimatic and final animation. It's not. For me, it's usually multiple passes of animation. The number of passes depends on the complexity of the project, the client's feedback, and the budget. I'd love to say I had an unlimited time budget for this, but as a busy freelancer that's not the case. This is the result of three full passes of animation.

Mombi Explainer Final Animation from sarawademakesstuff on Vimeo.


I've been doing these types of projects as a freelancer for over a decade. I had a pretty good process in place before this course but I still picked up some killer tips and made some improvements to my project workflow. Jake is a fantastic teacher and all around good guy. His personality shines through in the lessons so you never get bored. You can choose to watch each and every minute of his work flow, or watch in double speed if you prefer. The PDF resources sum everything up from each week so you can come back to them later if you just want a refresher. All in all, this class was a great experience and well worth the cost.

If you are an experienced animator, student, nine-to-fiver, or freelancer; this class probably has something for you. I think it's especially awesome for those who might be thinking about going freelance or who are new to freelance. The process driven approach works really well for the course project and for client work too. I was a freelancer for over a decade before I took the course and I learned a bunch. No matter how much experience you have, this course probably has something for you. If you take it, come and find me in the alumni Facebook group afterward. I'd love to know if you had a similarly awesome experience.