Idea Blog

PICK OF THE WEEK: Einstein’s General Relatively (Explainer Video)

Blake Harris 11.30.2015

With so much great content being created in the animation and explanation spaces, every week we like to shine a spotlight on an outstanding piece of work. This week’s selection is a celebratory and cerebral explainer video about Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

This explainer video was created by Eoin Duffy, a Vancouver-based writer, animator and filmmaker. Last year, he produced an award-winning short film called The Missing Scarf, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Academy Awards. And prior to that, Duffy was responsible for another popular animated short called On Departure.

Missing Scarf Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 4.45.48 PM

[images from THE MISSING SCARF (left) and ON DEPARTURE (right)]

This explainer video–our Pick of the Week–was created to honor and celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

[vimeo video_id=”146907636″ width=”400″ height=”300″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]


  • Eoin Duffy Design/Animation
  • Jamie Lochhead Writer/Producer
  • David Tennant Narrator
  • Wesley Slover Music and Sound Design
  • Anais Rassat Writer/Communication/Science Outreach


1. It Makes Relativity Relatable: A great explainer video—regardless of subject, context or length—must know its audience. It should take into account both the viewer’s base level of information and his/her curiosity in order to find an entertaining way to use the former to address the latter. This is not easy balance to strike because even amongst small demographics (i.e. employees in the same division, customers seeking a similar product) there are inevitably differences in knowledge, taste and specific objective.

With this in mind, the best explainer videos tend to open with a handful of small cues intended to connect with audience members. This is something that Duffy’s video does wonderfully well, particularly within the opening sequence.

For example, the video begins with an image (and voiceover narration) of Albert Einstein. By opening on a historical figure that most people probably know, it serves to provide viewers with a step on which to climb the ladder of information ahead.

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But if the viewer is not familiar with Einstein, the animation provides another entry point into this story. Not only is the face friendly and welcoming, but it exudes a playful sensibility.

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Meanwhile, as all of this is happening, the video is priming the audience for the educational content and hurdles ahead.

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Individually, each of these elements  provide a chance to grab viewers. And if they work together, as they do in best-case scenarios, they generate tremendous momentum towards bringing viewers into the notoriously complicated topic ahead.

2. Camera Movement: Typically, when we think of explainer videos (and, frankly, animation in general) we don’t think much about camera movement. After all, these are animated spaces that, unlike live-action, can be altered to fit desires. But even so, well-executed, intermittent camera movements can be a highly effective way to demonstrate size (usually vastness) and curate an emotional response. A good example of this begins at the 1:49 mark.

First, we are sucked out into space…

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Then, to instill a discombobulated sense of presence and vastness, we are twisted around and around in this seemingly infinite environment…

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One final note on camera movement: In addition to conveying scope, subtle camera movements can also help bring a sense of realism to a story. Like the handheld cinematography most often associated with documentary films.

3. Cast of Characters: Every story has characters. That may sound obvious but what it’s meant to convey is that even in stories without traditional “characters” (i.e. humans, talking creatures) other things will fill that void (i.e. words, locations, inanimate objects).

With so many options, it can sometimes feel daunting to figure out the ingredients of who, what and where that should carry your story. But contrary to that mindset, there’s another way to look at the same situation: there are options everywhere! In this video, Duffy has certainly chosen to consider the idealistic perspective.

As we mentioned above, he chooses Einstein as a relatable (and playful) character early on, but here are a few of the less conventional choices he introduces:

  • an apple
  • a sock
  • a piece of dark matter

To render all of these characters with a similar sensibility is impressive, but what we found even more so was the boldness to recur these figures throughout the video. Stringing them through the narrative and introducing them into scenes where their presence comes as a surprise.

For example, our Apple friend is initially cracked in half (in relation to Isaac Newton’s famous theory) and not long that he appears again, drifting through outer space…

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And the sock too, throughout the video, becomes quite the intrepid traveler…

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There are many more examples similar to this and, ultimately, the reason that they work is because they’ve been carefully curated to integrate tone, story and environment. And although it can be difficult to pull off such a feat, it’s a greater reminder that options, truly, are not daunting at all. In fact they’re quite empowering.

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To learn more about Eoin Duffy’s work, please visit his website. Additionally, there is an enjoyable short interview with Duffy (from late 2013) available on Studio Daily.

…You can follow Eoin Duffy on Twitter @EoinDuffy

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