Idea Blog

The Origins of RSA Animate (RSA Animation Series)

Claude Harrington 04.18.2016

On this blog, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how popular whiteboard videos have become—how useful whiteboard animation can be for clear messaging and video marketing—but we’ve only tangentially touched upon the origin of this style and technique. So that’s precisely what we’re going to do today. We’re going to look at the origins of RSA Animate, and explore how this groundbreaking animation series managed to so quickly and convincingly popularize the concept of whiteboard animation.

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WHO IS THE RSA?

To fully understand the origins of RSA Animate, we must first understand that pivotal three-letter acronym out front: RSA. Who is the RSA and what is it that they do?

RSA is an abbreviation for The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Founded in 1754, the RSA is a British organization whose mission is to “embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine art, improve our manufacturers and extend our commerce.” More specifically, 250+ years later, the RSA characterizes itself as “an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges.”

One of the ways that the RSA aims to achieve that ambitious objective is through a coveted Fellowship program. Chosen by either application or nomination, this international program is diversely composed of “achievers and influencers from a wide array of backgrounds and professions.” Notable past members include Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith. Currently, the Fellowship members from over 80 countries.

One of those members is the British artist Andrew Park. Later this week, we’ll go into more detail about Park, but for the moment the most important thing to know is that he was the animator behind the original RSA Animate series. Which leads us to…

RSA Animate: From Speech to Screen

Every year, as part of the RSA’s program, the organization hosts over 100 free lecture, debates and screenings. To help generate a further reach for some of these speeches, the RSA launched an unusual program in December 2009. The idea was to complement some of the RSA’s important-but-complex speeches with simplified and entertaining animations

To kick off this new animation series, the RSA hired visual scribe Andrew Park to present his interpretation of a speech delivered by a Norwegian sociologist and political scientist by the name Stein Ringen. To make Ringen’s material (“The Economic Consequences of Mr. Brown”) more accessible and (literally) bring it to life for the viewer, Park came up with the unorthodox technique of animating the speech in real-time on a whiteboard. This was the result:

These videos were then distributed on YouTube, where they really started to catch fire. In particular, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us” (based on a talk given by author Dan Pink) sparked mainstream attention. How much? Well, this video alone has been viewed over 14 million times since being posted on YouTube in April 2010:

The Incredible Value of Story + Animation

All in all, within the span of just the first two years, the RSA Animate series generated over 46 million views and became the #1 nonprofit YouTube channel worldwide.

To this day, the RSA continues to produce films for their RSA Animates series.

The most recent is “How to Help Every Child Fulfill Their Potential” based on a talk given by Educationalist Carol Dweck.

The entire archive of RSA Animate films can be found on the organization’s website: https://www.thersa.org/discover/videos/rsa-animate/

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