Animated Information Graphics: using data and motion to reveal the story

Graham Roberts, Senior Editor in Graphics at The New York Times

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9 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Introduction

    • 3. Finding the story

    • 4. Reporting your story

    • 5. Separate the signal from the noise

    • 6. Collecting data and assets

    • 7. Creating a hierarchy

    • 8. Writing a script

    • 9. Creating a storyboard


Project Description

Create a storyboard for an animated information graphic


  1. Let's get started with Step 1

    Finding the story

Find the story

  1. Choose your story carefully

    Consider what kind of story will benefit from visual explanation in order to be best understood. This could be anything from a major recent news event, to a local infrastructure project, to a historical look at a topic. I also find that sports and science topics are good places to look because of an abundance of readily available statistical data.

  2. File away visual ideas

    Don't jump too early to decide the form your graphic should take. Wait until you have fully reported the topic and let the reportage guide you.

Report the story

  1. Report broadly on your topic

    Try to learn everything you can about your topic, and only then begin to consider the kind of more specific reporting you will need for your visual approach.

  2. Find sources

    Determine the kinds of expert sources, technical sources, and data sources that can later provide the level of detail you will likely need for your visual explanation.

Separate the signal from the noise

  1. Find the best angle for your explanation

    What element of the story can be best illuminated through the use of a visual explanation?

  2. Think of ways to make your presentation visually exciting and engaging

    This is a great place to demonstrate your unique vision. Find a unique and clarifying way to organize your presentation.

  3. Focus on clarity

    Bring to the surface, out of the noise, the signal, or all of the points that matter, that are revealing, and that are interesting.

Collect data and assets

  1. Determine what you will need to create your project

    If you are working with an architectural scene, for example, can you settle for photo reference to get the right general look, or do you need a level of detail that requires architectural plans or even CAD models? If you are collecting a data set, will you need a specific, narrow time frame, or will you require data across all time?

  2. Collect and Organize your data / assets

    A good source for 3D models to play around with:

    Consider learning about data scraping:

  3. Clean up the data / assets

    Your data and assets may need some preparation or cleaning before they are in a useful form.

Create a hierarchy

  1. Decide what is most important

    It is unlikely that everything you have collected is interesting or of equal importance in telling the story you want to tell.

  2. Create an organizational structure

    The points you make will all benefit from a clear organizational structure and order, and from being carefully considered in the context of one another.  

    Don't say to your audience, "here is some data, I hope you find something interesting."

  3. Curate the information

    Think carefully about the way you build up the story visually. Is there continuity? Are you drawing attention to everything flatly, or do you have a clear hierarchy that is easy to follow.

Write a script

  1. Decide about language presentation

    Determine if you need a voiceover or not, and consider any annotations you may need as part of your visuals.

  2. Edit tightly

    Be as clear and functional with you language as you would hope to be with the visual.

Create a Storyboard

  1. Consider the flow of your project

    The flow and pacing you establish in this step will help you find out if the hierarchy you established is working or not.

  2. Consider the arc of your narrative

    What shape does the arc of your narrative take.
    Does it want to:

    • bring an idea full circle,
    • or is it a compare and contrast between two or more ideas.
    • Maybe it has multiple threads that should ultimately converge,
    • or perhaps it should build cumulatively until it reveals a final whole.

    It will help you to have an overarching structure in mind as you begin to storyboard.

  3. Create a storyboard template

    How you lay out your storyboard is ultimately up to personal preference, but however it is presented, it should generally include these 3 things per frame:

    - a visual preview of the moment. This can be anything from a crude pencil sketch to a screen grab of a 3D scene. Whatever allows you to think your best.

    - a visual description. Even though you have an image you often will need more to explain the idea. It could be a camera move, a transition, or a clarification of what the moment should eventually look like. And keep in mind that if yours is a collaborative project, this can be an important tool of communication of what the project will ultimately be. Someone just coming to the project will likely need more than the image to understand.

    - the portion of your script that the frame corresponds to. This is the merging of your script with the visuals so it should be included.

    Primary Example - Up — And Down storyboards:



    Alternate Example: Mariano Rivera | King of the Closers storyboards




    Another example: One Race, Every Medalist Ever storyboards



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