How I made the MOOC videos.

Little workspace.
As mentioned, I recently completed three videos about Massive Open Online Courses. The videos were part of a research project conducted by four very fine individuals, and, as I understand it, it’s been a success in the community. You can see them over on Dave Cormier’s YouTube account.

The videos feature hand drawn animation, and since their release, we’ve received several queries as to how we made these videos. Here’s how we did it.

The short answer

Experience. This sort of video isn’t really something you want to attempt if you haven’t worked with video much before. Dave has a lot of experience writing and talking (trust me), and playing with video is something I do for a living.

The long answer

  1. Dave wrote and recorded the narration, and then emailed me the audio file.
  2. I pulled that audio into Final Cut Pro, and split it up into manageable sized chunks (30 seconds to one minute, usually).
  3. I created a new Motion project for each one of the chunks.
  4. Once in Motion, I animated the segments using the Paint Stroke tool and my teeny tiny Wacom tablet.
  5. Those projects were saved, sent back to Final Cut, and then the whole thing was exported and compressed in Compressor.

If you’re used to the Final Cut Suite, this is all pretty straightforward, and you probably could figure most of that out without me telling you.
Lil' Wacom

A few things I learned whilst animating in Motion

  • It was a lot easier than I anticipated. Once you get used to the tablet, things move relatively quickly.
  • It can be easier to draw/write slowly (and then speed up the animation) than to try to draw/write quickly.
  • I’m not a fantastic artist, so when I couldn’t draw something, I traced. For example, when it came time to draw the schoolhouse, I just found some schoolhouse clipart, pulled that into Motion, drew over top of it, and then removed the clipart.
  • Groups are the shiznit. Almost every object or word went in its own group, and those groups were added to bigger groups, and so on. This is probably Lesson #1 in Motion Graphics 101, but having never taken a course in it, I stumbled upon the idea myself.
  • Groups also allow you to copy previously created objects and use them in other parts of the project, saving a lot of time. For example, the schoolhouse, computer, and “thingamajigits” appear multiple times across the videos. I only had to draw or write them once.


The idea for Knowledge in a MOOC came about first, with Dave acting as a talking head and having the animations build up around him. It made sense to use similar animations for the other videos.

Also, I tried to use colour (mainly in Success in a MOOC) to break the steps up. The steps are introduced and listed in different colours, and then most of that step’s segment is drawn in the same colour. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it helps to differentiate the content in a visual way.

It was kinda fun

I think the most important thing when creating any video, especially “explainer” videos, is to have fun. The content isn’t always exciting (I’d love to have worked a car chase into these videos, but the subject matter really didn’t warrant it). If you’re planning to do something similar, wether in Motion or iMovie or with PowerPoint, the key is to have fun. It’ll make the creation process a lot more enjoyable and viewers will notice it.

Have more specific questions about how the whole thing was put together? Feel free to ask in the comments or send me a message on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “How I made the MOOC videos.

  1. Tripped over the MOOC video from twitter (then to youtube) and was very impressed with the quality of the video and the audio. It is truly an enriching experience when the quality of the presentation is equal to that of the content… not always the case,
    I very much appreciated how this was done and the way it was presented.

    Good work!

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