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PICK OF THE WEEK: Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion (explainer video)

Blake Harris 03.16.2016

Figuring out how to explain Newton’s three laws of motion is tough. But figuring out how to do that and make viewers actually care? That’s a brutal challenge. Yet it’s one that is beautifully achieved in a new explainer video by the Royal Observatory Greenwich aptly titled Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion, which we’ve selected as our PICK OF THE WEEK.

This swift, stylish explainer video was produced by Beakus, a London-based animation and production studio whose clients include the BBC, Nickelodeon and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion was directed by a French animator and illustrator by the name of Amaël Isnard, who holds a Masters degree from Supinfocom Arles. With a talent for bringing characters to life and blending his creations with minimalist and art deco influences, Isnard appears uniquely suited for achieving that elusive, aforementioned objective: figuring out how to give viewers an emotional reaction to educational content. Which is why it will likely come as no surprise to note that this is Isnard’s 6th film for the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Amaël Isnard’s previous films in the series include videos like these two:

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How Do We Know How Old the Sun Is? (4:14)

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Space Rocks (2:20)

Both are great explainer videos (and well worth the 7 minutes and 24 seconds!) but the one we want to focus on today is our PICK OF THE WEEK:

3 Things We Love About This Explainer Video:

1. Character Driven, Emotionally Connected: Given that our post opens with a reference to the challenge of binding entertainment with education, it’s only naturally that we begin here by praising how that tight rope act is accomplished. There are a lot of reasons why this explainer video works–why it hooks the viewer, why it remains compelling–and many of them have to do with the characters who guide this story.

To understand the impact of these characters, it might be best to start by thinking about what this video would be like without them: a classroom-style lesson. Here is the physics, here is the math and here’s what happens in different environments. Even with great animation, that type of information is hard to care much about. That changes, however, with the addition of characters as we then get to experience the narrative (and tangents) through their eyes.

We feel their excitement…

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We empathize with their sudden concern…

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And we share in their wonder…

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When talking about the value of these characters, we should also mention the advantages of that word being plural. Although many explainer videos focus on a central character, it’s rare for an explainer to focus on four. After all, it’s four times the work. But Isnard chose to put in that work and it pays off by creating a sense of camaraderie and realism that further bond us to the story. And, as a result, to the lessons that lie within.

2. A Couple of Camera Tricks: As noted in the paragraph above, the logistics depicted in this video add a valuable sense of realism. That is something introduced right away and earned through the early portion of Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion. In addition to that, however, this explainer video also does something clever that serves to enhance that notion of realism.

It occurs early in the video, at the :21 second mark to be precise. While the frame is focused squarely on our four heroes, the camera subtly shakes. It jostles around in place for a second and then the image briefly blurs as the camera zooms in tighter on the astronauts.

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Although the duration of this sequence is a few seconds at most and the aesthetic impact is relatively subtle, it’s enough of a camera trick to conjure up a documentary-like feeling. This adds to the realism and gives the audience additional reason to buy into these characters and the story. Especially when, directly after that camera trick, comes another that builds on that relatable element: our heroes jump in the air and are captured in a celebratory photograph.

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3. On-screen Text (and the Feeling of Experiencing a Visual Encyclopedia): Almost every explainer video features on-screen text, but only the best ones are able to make it feel like a natural addition to the story. And in the case of Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion, this is seamlessly achieved by selecting a style (and key moments for deployment) that make the text feel perfectly complimentary. Almost like a much-desired diagram in an encyclopedia.

Whether it’s measuring mass…

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Defining trajectories…

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Or doing something else entirely…

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The on-screen text always seems to appear at the moment of desire, which helps us understand what we are seeing…and perpetually desire more.

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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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