Idea Blog

PICK OF THE WEEK: What is Dark Matter? (an explainer)

Blake Harris 08.13.2015

With so much great work being done in the animation and explanation spaces, we thought it would be valuable if, each week, we shined the spotlight on an impressive piece of work. This week’s selection is a gorgeous explainer video by a Munich-based design studio called Kurzgesagt (who, if you recall, we featured on this blog back on July 15)

To refresh your memory, Kurzgesagt was founded in 2013 by a team of designers, journalists and musicians whose mission is to “make science look beautiful…because it is beautiful.” With this in mind, they put out one science-themed explainer per month.  And this month, they’ve released a 6-minute explainer to try and answer a complicated question: What is Dark Matter and Dark Energy? Here’s the video:

 

THREE THINGS WE LOVED ABOUT THIS EXPLAINER:

1. It Begins with What We Know

Since much of this explainer will be devoted to something that most people don’t know much about—and that, by reputation, is considered complex and perhaps esoteric—the video wisely begins by talking about what people do know. And visually, to compliment this, the opening shot is broken into six quickly recognizable sections.

DM Beginning

Cleverly, right after this introduction, the video frames what we know into perspective, by depicting that this type of matter accounts for only 5% of the universe.

5 percent of known universe

2. The Humor also Conveys Information

When detailing a dry topic, it’s usually a good idea to inject some humor at times (provided, of course, that it doesn’t disrupt or betray the overall tone). What’s nice about this explainer is that not only does it contain intermittent blips of humor but, in addition to going for a laugh, these moments also wrapped in a bit of information.

Like this:

Humor that also conveys information

What makes this notable? Well, given that so many explainer videos (this one included) rely on narrative, it certainly wasn’t necessary that the filmmakers point out that this is not what dark energy/matter actually looks like. But to hammer home the point, and do so in comedic fashion, they actually spell it out while simultaneously collecting a chuckle.

3. A Rejuvenated Finish: 

To some degree, the goal of every explainer video is to lead audiences towards that moment of “Ah!” That moment where everything clicks together and everything now makes sense. That’s why X happened! This is how product Y works!! This explainer, however, doesn’t necessarily yield that moment. That’s not meant to be a criticism so much as point out that much of this topic is still very unknown.

As a result, it’s reasonable to expect that at some point the dense-but-cloudy 3 to 5 minute mark, the viewer’s level of interest wanes. The video, sensibly, seems to accept this to some degree; and also, wisely, makes a final push to repossess our attention.

At the 5:27 mark, the tone notices shifts back to one of colloquial familiarity.

Kind of Frustrating

And through placid, well-hued visuals, the narrator seems to acknowledge our confusion and try to put a positive spin on this.

On the Other Hand

A dollop of humor is then added to the mix as we are asked to take a step back.

Tiny Planet

And accept the fact—the unimpeachable reality—that “there is so much left to learn…and that is awesome.”

So Much Left to Learn

Blake Harris

Blake Harris

Blake Harris is the author of "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation."
Blake Harris

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