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Explaining Satellites


Explaining satellites through animation


VIDEO: Satellites is a fully-animated explainer video that educates viewers on how satellites communicate with earth and how they enter and orbit in space.

CHALLENGE: Make a video that explains an abstract concept; 6 weeks

TOOLS:  Adobe Illustrator, After Effects




How might I use animation as a storytelling tool to help people learn how a satellite works?


Making the abstract, concrete.

Designers are often called upon to engage in speculative work that is situated in the context of unknown futures. So, the brainstorming of concepts and the communication of ideas frequently requires the visualization of experiences and objects that do not yet exist and are abstract.

Learning through storytelling.

As a result, it is imperative that designers learn how to engage audiences in stories that utilize and weave together visual, aural, and temporal modes of communication as a means of effectively conveying visionary ideas.


How Do Satellites Work Video:


Research & Scripting

How do satellites work?

Learn more: this was my obvious start. Not only did I need to understand satellites, but I needed to take a deep dive into some of the more complex concepts like, earth-satellite communication and entering the planet’s orbit. Dozens of scientific articles and YouTube videos later, I transferred my notes into a format that helped me build a cohesive narrative and sync my visual elements with narration.

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Mapping & Peer Testing Interactions

Next, I developed a storyboard that visualized 4 main concepts:

  1. What satellites main functions are

  2. What are the main parts of a satellite

  3. How satellites get into space and enter earth’s orbit

  4. How satellites send and receive radio waves to communicate

After sketching each interaction on sticky notes, I began pairing them with the script I’d developed. I then challenged myself to explain satellites (in 2 minutes) to my classmates and while having them look at the storyboard. Through peer feedback, I was able to understand what elements of the story needed more explanation and which parts of the script broke the flow. In this stage, I did a lot of re-sketching, editing of content, and restructuring of the story.

Storyboarding on Post-its

Storyboarding on Post-its

Mapping the storyboard with content

Mapping the storyboard with content


Visual Style


Next, I created a mood board that illustrated some of the visual styles I wanted to experiment with. I was interested in reaching a young audience, between the ages of 15-25. To do that successfully my visual style needed to be playful, but realistic enough that it didn’t taint the complexities of the subject. In the end, I achieved this by using deep purple textures in the background and bright, rounded assets for the foreground. Through the use of color value, texture, and shading, I was able to give the scenes a sense of depth without making them 3D. I developed all of my assets in Adobe Illustrator.

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Once I landed on a visual style, I spent the next phase animating my scenes in After Effects. Since my scenes and and assets were already developed in Illustrator, I was able to simply import layers and individual elements into After Effects. This streamlined my workflow, because it allowed me to anticipate the interaction sequence and develop scenes more efficiently.

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