Idea Blog

PICK OF THE WEEK: The Strange Story of Washington State’s Income Tax (an explainer)

Blake Harris 10.21.2015

With so much great work being done in the animation and explainer video spaces, every week we like to shine a spotlight on an outstanding piece of work. This week’s selection is a charming and spirited animated look at the strange story behind the state of Washington’s lack of an income tax.

This explainer video was created by Drew Christie for Seattle’s NPR KUOW. Christie is Seattle-based animator and illustrator whose diverse variety of work–from cartoons and prints to short films and music videos–has been featured in places like Cartoon Brew, The Atlantic and The New York Times. In his new video (our PICK OF THE WEEK, featured below), Christie manages not only to bring alive a seemingly dry topic, but the aesthetic he uses does a great job of taking viewers back and forth through time.

[vimeo video_id=”142887433″ width=”400″ height=”300″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]


  • Animator/Illustrator:  Drew Christie
  • Writer: Carolyn Adolph
  • Music: Drew Christie with Sage Silver (on clarinet)
  • Editor (Local Wonder): Jim Gates

3 Things We Love About This Explainer Video: 

1. The Opening: The opening is the trickiest part of any video—be it an explainer, television episode or even a feature film. That’s because you must, simultaneously, entice the audience, set up what’s ahead and establish the tone of your journey; a task made even more difficult by the fact that the audience begins with no familiarity of context.

Christie, however, ably hits the ground running. In the opening seconds, he establishes a unique old-timey aesthetic and then very wisely (and explicitly) hits at the question behind this piece: Has Washington Ever Had an Income Tax? Now, just because such an overt segue works in this instance, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. In fact, just jumping to a question can often be jarring and clunky. So why does it work here? To answer that, lets take a closer look at how Christie brings us in…

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The key to this sequence, and the pay-off to the typerwriter-based setup, is that the question comes to us via an inquisitive reader. And while few of us have probably written typed letters to with the goal of learning about tax codes, the scenario created is relatable enough to draw us in. And then, only 11 seconds into the video, we are off!

2. Nothing Static: As a result of the style that Christie has chosen, as well as his ability to execute in a smooth and effective manner, there are no moments in this video without movement. Even when the characters, objects or settings themselves aren’t “moving,” per se, the style lends itself to a sensation of movement (via the rhythm of the animation).

Like this…

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Or, even more subtly, like this…

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3. The Style Supplements Substance: For any talented creator, there’s always a temptation to show off what he or she can do. But instead of using style for the sake of crafting something cool, Christie does a good job crafting his characters and shots so that his flourishes actually fit into the narrative of his piece.

Sometimes he accomplishes this by utilizing metaphors…

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sometimes this is done by utilizing perspective…

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and then occasionally he pulls it off with some good old fashioned magic…

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…now you see Emmett Parker…now you don’t!

To learn more about Drew Christie and the services provided by his one-stop studio, please visit his website or Facebook Artist Page. In addition, we also highly recommend a visit to his Op-Docs page over at The New York Times, where he has posted several animated shorts that touch on history, culture and society.


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