Animation collection

BBC iWonder

The brief

BBC iWonder is a factual and educational brand from the BBC. Their aim is to provide thought-provoking answers to the questions sparked in everyday life – by BBC programmes, what’s in the news, important anniversaries, or what’s trending on social media.

Their brief to us was to create over 60 pieces of highly shareable animated dataviz, in the categories of science, nature, food, religion and arts.

Crunching the good ideas

We’ve worked with BBC iWonder before, so we know the sort of pieces they like. But there were a lot of individual concepts needed for this, so our first step was to get everyone involved in producing a long list of potential ideas.

And good ideas can come from any member of the team, so we like to include everyone – left and right-brained, designers and writers – for these initial sessions.

Graphic of mountains and a balloon

Choosing the strongest stories

From our long list, we focused on the stories we felt we hadn’t seen before and, crucially, the ones we felt were most shareable.

The brief called for ideas to “delight, inform, entertain – time and again – not just for a split second on a passing social media post” (although they had to work there, too).

Graphic showing multiple bathtubs

Working with different durations

Because each idea had to work in three different durations (1 minute, 30 seconds and a six second clip), we started off by writing synopses for the longest. Once we were happy with that, we edited down to fit the shorter lengths.

Each shorter synopsis would re-use edited versions of the same core data and assets as the long versions, to help make the animation production as efficient as possible. Then, we produced storyboards – pencil and paper first, to make everything quick and easy to change and refine, before moving onto anything digital.

Animated data visualization of blood pumped per heartbeat
Animated data visualization of meat produced per kilo of feed Animated data visualization of the height of mountains

Getting the data moving

Storyboarding only takes you so far in terms of framing the story and judging length.

Some of the transitions themselves in AfterEffects proved the most challenging. This was particularly true when huge numbers were in play, or for example, when a long scrolling scene for a story about the Somme was required, in order for the data to make sense…

Ideas that seemed straightforward occasionally turned out to be the most difficult to animate in practice. Who knew that circles could be so tricky?

The trickiest challenge for us as a design team was creating a design language that allowed us to bring an incredibly broad range of subjects to life as a family of animations. How could we make everything from tooth fairies to sewage works, bamboo to battlefields look like they exist in the same universe?

This wasn’t just limited to illustration style either. How they moved, what they sounded like, these were all problems we had to solve.

Oliver Todd


Sounds right

Of all the subject areas – from Tea to the Tooth Fairy – we’re particularly fond of our ones on the size of Stars and the growth rate of Trees.

And the incredible realisation of how a searingly hot Carolina Reaper chilli might sound.

Data visualisation of the Scoville units of four chillies