Meet Mr. Whiteboard Animation: Andrew Park

Claude Harrington 04.21.2016

Earlier this week, in The Origins of RSA Animate, which talked about how an innovative animated series launched by the Royal Society of Arts in 2009 spurred a revolution for whiteboard animation. The animator responsible for firing those opening shots is Andrew Park, the Director of a Kent-based animation studio called Cognitive. So today–to better understand the story behind this revolution of whiteboard animation–let’s take a closer look at the very talented whiteboard artist Mr. Park.

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In 2009, when the RSA was preparing to launch a new Animate series–one which aimed to entertainingly bring to life the words of their lecturers–they turned to Andrew Park, the director of Cognitive Media, a Kent-based animation company based that he founded in 2004. A company whose motto was “Inspiring Minds Change the World,” which feels rather fitting given how much Park’s whiteboard style would impact animated communication.

Impact, of course, is impossible to precisely quantify. So that’s not something we’ll try to do here. But we’d be remiss not to mention–as both proof of thesis and jaw-dropping wow value–that, in only two years, Park’s RSA Animate videos generated over 46 million views. That demand by viewers, coupled with the intrinsic benefits of the whiteboard approach, has led to an explosive growth for the technique. All of which begs the question: how the heck did Andrew Parker come up with this style?

With many how-did-that-become-popular origin stories, the kernel of inspiration tends to feel exactly like that: a kernel. Small, perhaps logical; but not that intriguing. In the case of Park’s whiteboard animation, however, the kernel is utterly fascinating. In a kernel-sized nutshell, Park credits the source of inspiration to his time working at Ernest & Young, where he and a team of other creatives were hired to help “crack business problems.” There, he’d find himself in a room–listening to high-level business conversations–and scribing them in real-time.

As for the process itself, that’s another interesting story. Particularly the amount of research that Park puts into the topics that he animates. For example: before animating an RSA lecture, he’ll listen to the audio somewhere between 50 and 100 times.

That’s just one of the interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that Park shares in this panel about the “RSA Animate Revolution.”

The entire video is interesting and powerful; it’s certainly worth watching all the way through. To demonstrate why, we’ve plucked a favorite quote from each of the three speakers:

Matthew Taylor (RSA’s Chief Executive): “Sometimes animation can feel like it’s a decorative thing…but we don’t see it as decorative at all. It’s absolutely essential to our charitable mission of making ideas accessible and exciting.”

Richard Wiseman (Psychologist): “I think the new way of academics is far more about engagement…people are starting to really care about that act of communication.”

Andrew Park (Animator): “I don’t tend to draw anything until I’ve listened to it [an audio recording of the speech] at least 50 times. And then I research, I do a lot of research, into the content.”

But perhaps the most intriguing (and important) topic discussed in this video, is the educational potential behind Andrew Park’s whiteboard explainer videos. Around the 1:55 mark, psychologist Richard Wiseman discusses an online experiment which aims to test how much knowledge was transferred when comparing a live-action speech versus that same speech (audio-only) paired with the whiteboard animation of Mr. Park. About a thousand people took part in this experiment and the animated version of this speech resulted in a “huge increase” or obtained/retained information.

Between this psychological experiment, the 46 million YouTube views and the many accolades and attributes of whiteboard animation that we write about every week, it’s clear that this style Andrew Park has left an imprint on the world. But what’s especially nice to learn–and feels like a fitting note to end on–is that the influence of this RSA partnership is a two way street. “Thankfully,” Park says in the video above. “Thankfully, what the collaboration with the RSA has helped me to do, is reconnect with being an artist again.”

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