Case Study: Santa Monica City Explains It ‘Like A Kid’

Shawn Forno 10.18.2017

Everyone knows that whiteboard animation and explainer videos are great for explaining complicated topics. It’s in the name. Animated TED Talks, RSA-style animation, and tech startup videos showing off the newest features of flashy apps are the norm. But a great explainer video doesn’t have to look like it just stepped out of a corporate synergy business meeting. In fact, some of the best explainer videos look like they were made by a kid.

Animated Video: Explain It To Me Like I’m a Kid

When the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office set out to make an animated video explaining tenant rights under Fair Housing Regulations they turned to the most unlikely source for inspiration—kids. They held an elementary school poster contest, and approached us about turning the winning design into an explainer video.

“As soon as I heard the concept, I was really excited about the possibility of creating an animation in a children’s art style,” explains Creative Director, Will Gadea. “The idea of approaching an issue like fair housing from a kid’s point of view, with kid’s art was really powerful.” The result is one of the most innovative (and fun!) explainer videos we’ve ever made.

Explainer Video: Re-learning Animation

The video, featuring the winning entry from seventh grader, Peter Riedle, lays out exactly what tenants can expect from landlords and properties thanks to California Fair Housing Regulations, regardless of any disabilities or special circumstances. And while Peter provided some fantastic concept art, turning a seventh grader’s poster into a full fledged animation is “more challenging to than you might think,” confesses Gadea.

“I’m a big fan of children’s art. It’s a fresh view of life,” explains Gadea, “but our designers had to unlearn how to draw, essentially.”

“I hadn’t really done a lot of hand-drawn animation since my college years,” admits Director/Animator, Scott Strong. “This project, benefited greatly from the imperfections of a human’s touch, so I decided to hand-draw the animation. While the designer was unlearning some of her more refined drawing techniques, I was actually re-familiarizing myself with long-dormant skills!”

kid explainer video


The project came together when Gadea suggested a live-action introduction featuring Peter holding his winning art. “We suggested that we film Peter with his art, then zoomed in to kick-off the animation with Peter reading from a script.” After that, the message takes centerstage, and that’s the whole point—the message.

Rhoades agrees, “When you have the right production team, you can achieve your exact vision for the project—and then make it even better. That’s what happened here. IdeaRocket and Peter did such a great job with the animation, along with our feedback at every step, that we got our dream animation.”

Clarity is King

Even the script was carefully crafted to sound comfortable coming from a young person (Peter also narrates the animation) to show that anyone can understand Fair Housing laws. The video is simple, clear, and comprehensive, and that clarity and simplicity is exactly what drew Deputy City Attorney, Gary W. Rhoades to bringing kids into this unique project in the first place:

“We saw animation as a way to creatively raise fair housing awareness and bring complicated fair housing law to lay persons. The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office has sponsored a fair housing poster contest with local students for many years. Hundreds of students participate each year and from the many works of art that we see, it’s been clear to us that kids bring a vibrant understanding to the issue of equality in housing.”

Animated Explainer Video: Picking a Winner

This video’s objective is awareness of housing law, so hooking viewers with a compelling angle, and great character design is key. “We were looking for a student poster that had plenty of character and style for carrying an animation across the goal line. As soon as Andrea Cavanaugh and I saw the wheelchair-using, eye-patch-bearing ‘John’ on Peter’s colorful poster, we knew we had a winner,” explains Rhoades.

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s office liked Peter’s contest winning design (and the subsequent video) so much that they held a public screening of the explainer video on October 18th. The event featured an interview with Peter, a presentation on the implications of the Fair Housing Act by Rhoades, and a life size cutout of the video’s protagonist “John.”

santa monica explainer video

Making A Great Explainer Video: Even A Kid Can Do It

Santa Monica’s Fair Housing video highlights all the classic strengths of animated explainer video. The video grabs viewers right off the bat with a unique idea and interesting, colorful visuals. Then, it keeps people hooked with a narrative (read by a contest-winning seventh grader), that delivers clear, concise information in under a minute. It’s a total slam dunk. If viewers want to know more, they can just call the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office (the number and website are at the end of the video).

kid explainer video

“Working on something meaningful is incredibly rewarding. I’m proud of the amount of care and love that our team put into this video,” concludes producer, SaraJane Askildsen.

While it’s fun to focus on the techniques, hooks, and engaging factors of animated explainer videos, remember that your video only has seconds to get your point across. The ability to get that message across in a memorable, lasting way is what it’s all about. Don’t waste your time on expensive CGI and technical nonsense. All a great explainer video needs is a good story, strong characters, and a simple explanation. The best animated videos are so simple, even a kid can do it.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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