Julian Glander has directed Blockchain Explainer, a short animation to help explain the concept of blockchain systems and how useful these digital databases can be in the real world. The short is the first in a new series for MIT Technology Review called Decoded, which aims to unpack seemingly complex concepts via digestible shorts. Julian was brought on to the project after speaking to Lynne Carty who art directed the animation with Jordan Awan. “Even though I told myself I was about to go on a commissioned-work sabbatical, it was too good of a project to pass up,” says Julian.
“It was a great division of labour. The creative team at MIT did all of the heavy lifting in terms of writing a solid script, and I was allowed to work off that pretty freely. Some of the visuals were my idea but I can’t take credit for the space babies, which I love.” The film visualises the narrator’s words in bubbly, pastel graphics that have become Julian’s signature style, and their friendly appearance allows the different symbols and icons to feel universally understandable.
When receiving the brief the animator was apprehensive about taking on an unknown subject. “I first thought, ‘I’m not qualified to make this video, I don’t understand what blockchain is’ – but it’s really not that complicated. Hopefully everyone else who watches it will feel the same way,” Julian says. The animator wants viewers to “learn something, while also having their eyes popped out of their heads” and it’s this mix of the informative and the absurd that really makes the film engaging.
The process was traditional yet quick, with Julian simply following the “genius” creative direction of the people at MIT. “I modelled everything I thought would need to appear in the video, got a rough voiceover, animated the action, let my computer render it out while I took a nap and sent it off for sound design,” says Julian. “I think the whole process took a couple of months, with my bit lasting for a few weeks.”
The biggest challenge during the project was keeping the “energy alive without going completely off-topic”. “It’s definitely a drier subject than I’m used to… I did several versions at the end adding confetti, smoke etc. but I think David Kamp’s sound work is really what drives it all home,” explains Julian. “I know just about everyone in the animation world is a fan of his, so I was really jazzed to get him on this project.”