A Brief History of the Whiteboard Animation

Whiteboard animation may seem like a purely modern invention, but their existence stems from some deeply entrenched human values and tendencies. In the era of viral videos, their popularity isn’t surprising, but how did whiteboard animations come to be? Let’s go back in time and look at some trends in history that led us to this point.

A human history of imagery and moving pictures

We know that the earliest humans communicated ideas using drawings on cave walls. They told stories using simple images. Several of these sites still exist today.

Fast forward to the 20th century. The rise of the animation industry throughout the 1900’s demonstrates how captivating animations are. Think of the monumental popularity of Disney and Pixar films. From etchings on cave walls to digitally rendered moving pictures, humans have long enjoyed communication via imagery.

Smart sensibility of a whiteboard and marker

Imagine a modern-day conference room or classroom. What do you see? Among desks and chairs, you probably envision a whiteboard on at least one of the walls. Whiteboards have become a ubiquitous element in offices, and have essentially replaced good old-fashioned chalkboards. Invented in the 1950’s, they enjoyed a steep rise in popularity in the 90’s, and for good reason. They are an easy way to visually express ideas and relationships, a tool for collaboration, visually appealing and enjoyable to use. In some ways, whiteboards are the cave walls of modern times.

The dawn of the YouTube era

In 2005, YouTube was founded. YouTube made it infinitely easier to share videos online. Before long, everyone wanted in on the video trend. And with the rise of YouTube, video marketing was suddenly available to everyone, not just companies with the budget to create a TV commercial.

Not long after that, the first whiteboard animations starting cropping up. Some of the earliest known whiteboard videos were made by UPS to explain key concepts to customers:

Then, things got a little more sophisticated. Some of the most famous whiteboard animations were produced by RSA Animate. These animated seminars illustrate complex issues in simple, charming images that are enjoyable to watch come to life.

The trend started by people who wanted to create something unique. Imagine: a marketing professional sitting in their office, racking their brain for an innovative way to share their product, and then… they look at their wall. And the answer is right in front of them.

These clever folks who dreamed up the original whiteboard animations found inspiration from a long human tradition of using simple images to communicate complex ideas, and the familiar, practical environment of a whiteboard.

The first whiteboard animations were drawn by hand and produced in the style of a stop motion video. Many still are created this way. But in the last several years, software has been developed to replicate this style. Today, there are dozens of shops that specialize in custom whiteboard animations. Some of the techniques and tools for creating whiteboard animations have changed, but the overall effect remains the same: a unique, engaging viewer experience that leaves people feeling informed and delighted. And we can thank the cavemen and the inventor of the whiteboard for that.

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