People often ask about the origins of what has become known as “Common Craft Style” and what inspired us to use paper cut-outs, hands and a whiteboard. The truth is, it was a solution to a problem.
I had been experimenting with drawing on a whiteboard in live action videos and found it frustrating. I felt like such a dork trying to draw and look at the camera at the same time. It felt forced. Sachi, always the problem solver and adult in the room, suggested our current format. She had seen me reach for paper and use drawings when trying to explain something and saw the format as a natural extension of that tendency.
Many years later, here we are. The original format of that first video, RSS in Plain English, is still very close to the videos we make today.
As it turns out, our videos use the same principles of some of the very first animations. They are live action recordings, with stop motion and other visual effects that create animations. I was amazed to see the video below, which was recorded in 1900, 111 years ago:
American animation owes its beginnings to J. Stuart Blackton, a British filmmaker who created the first animated film in America. Before creating cartoons, Blackton was a vaudeville performer known as "The Komikal Kartoonist." In his act, he drew "lightning sketches" or high-speed drawings. In 1895, he met Thomas Edison. Can you guess what this meeting with the famous inventor inspired him to do?
There is amazingly little difference between the animation above and what we do at Common Craft. It's a simple process of holding the camera still and changing what appears on a frame-by-frame basis.
For another example, consider Terry Gilliam’s work on Monty Python, which doesn't use video, but photos. He was the creator of the colorful animations that became one of the most memorable parts of the show. Here’s a video of him talking about his process in 1974 (via CartoonBrew).
Again, it’s very close to our process. It’s just stop-motion with cut-outs. Take a look at the example of his storyboards from the video above:
We start each project with “thumbnail storyboards” that look like this:
Here’s his lighting a set-up
His hand moving the cut-outs...
So what we do has roots that go back to the very beginning. While these examples came to us recently and were not a part of our early process, I think it’s fascinating that the simple idea of live action animation has changed so little over the years.
We recently worked with with Buck Institute for Education on a video about Project Based Learning and at the end of the project, they had a request we hadn't received before. They wanted the paper cut-outs that appeared in the video. We were happy to oblige and recently Alfred, our contact at BIE, sent over these photos.
How cool is that? We're so honored that they would display the artwork in their office.
As so many of you know, Social Media and especially sites like Facebook and Twitter are changing the way that organizations think about external communication. Our goal with this video was to help organizations see how the environment is changing and highlight what they can do to be a productive part of it. This video uses an example that highlights a reaction to a crisis, but the message is meant to be applicable to any situation.
Like all Common Craft videos, this video was produced with educators and influencers in mind. It can be licensed for educational and corporate use.
BitTorrent, which offers a faster way to download files from the Internet, has had a serious explanation problem. It’s one of the most used and least understood products on the Web. After working with BitTorrent on a video, it’s easy to see why this is the case - the inner-workings of BitTorrent are complex. It exists in a world that defies comparison. Millions of users know it works exceptionally well, but explaining why and how it works is another story.
This video was a challenge and we were lucky to have the time and attention of Brett Nishi, Product Director at BitTorrent, who served as our guide. It was a joy to work with Brett and we’re really excited to see how they’ve put the video to work on their website.
I don't know about you, but in the past I've taken passwords for granted. These days though, I'm very careful with my passwords because I know the risks and what lengths criminals will go to discover someone's password. This video is about understanding the risks, creating a password that can't be guessed and protecting it from criminals and wandering eyes.
This video will soon be part of our Net Safety Pack, which is meant for helping students of all types understand the risks and make decisions that will protect them and their information online.
Aimed at younger or inexperienced web users, this video helps explain the long-term risks of sharing inappropriate photos, videos and stories on the Web. We've seen the stories and heard personal accounts about people who shared an inappropriate photo that eventually caused them to lose their job or miss an opportunity. Preventing this kind of problem can come from increased awareness about how the Web works and what it means to share something with the public. This video is about taking responsibility and making choices to protect reputations.