3, 2, 1: YouTube Countdowns use eclectic animation styles to add anticipation to live online events

The leading video and social media platform’s project manages to centre the audience, creators and artists all at once. We speak to members of its art department to discover the whys and hows.


Few things capture the exhilarating feeling of embarking on a new frontier like a countdown. There’s nothing like being in a room, filled with friends, family or even strangers, and feeling united by a drumroll, synchronised chant and fixed eyes almost sweating with avidity. In those few moments that pleasantly feel like forever, we usher in fresh beginnings and stand on the precipice of change. And that’s what YouTube harnesses in its recently launched YouTube Countdowns, a series of videos created to garner excitement around its live content.

Created in collaboration with a number of artists and studios, YouTube Countdowns prelude the platform’s exclusive premieres, hosted across a diverse pool of channels by its growing range of video creators. The series of countdowns are developed for the viewer, which ostensibly feels like a blast from the past, but is fresh for its focus on the audience’s growing desire for tailored live experiences and the creators’ desire to stand out. Prior to its launch, audiences were left to countdown using their own clocks while staring at a blank YouTube page before the live content began. And, creators – no matter the number of subscribers – found it hard to customise their premiere in a way that would keep their audience engaged.


Simone Noronha: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

Throughout YouTube Countdowns the creative team wanted to not only provide a more customised and engaging experience, but also reflect the diversity of creativity found on the platform; the videos sit in line with one of its core tenants of improving and amplifying creator tools and options. Across its offering of 20 new themes, they poignantly reflect the diversity of communities and topics on the platform too. “From fluid and funky, or colourful and dramatic, to light and romantic,” YouTube design lead, Jason Sao Bento tells us. And let’s face it, if you’re premiering a short film, live streamed gameplay or tarot reading, each demands a very different energy.

While the debut of YouTube Countdowns is also deserving of its own countdown and the team worked to make it memorable for the creator and fans, it’s important to note that it isn’t fixed. One of the most interesting parts of the project is that all features will be available to all channels regardless of the nature of its live content; creators are given the licence to choose a different countdown for every live premiere if they so wish. Making it more about the necessity of capturing the moment of intensity and connection between creator and community, as opposed to overly curated fixed themes. “When people gather to watch something for the first time, there’s a palpable tension,” Jason shares. “Fans hold their breath in excitement, creators balance nerves with last-minute prep, and everyone shares the suspense of waiting.”


Dedouze: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)


Bryant Nichols: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)


Arina Shabanova: Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

“There’s a palpable tension. Fans hold their breath in excitement, creators balance nerves with last-minute prep, and everyone shares the suspense of waiting.”

Jason Sao Bento

YouTube: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

Want to see more of the countdown library?

Unlock the 20 animations and videos revolutionising the connection between creators and creators during live premieres.

Explore here

Representing the breadth of content on YouTube is no easy feat, so when starting the project the YouTube creative team approached it from the perspective of giving its creators options that would complement their content. “That meant not simply looking at different art styles, but also different mediums,” Chris Bettig, creative director at YouTube tells us. They commissioned traditional animation, 3D animation and stop motion, with tools ranging from Blender to good old pencil and paper.

Andrew Lebov, animation director over at Youtube, explains that constructing the countdown library “was a multiyear process, where we briefed artists rather informally”. As the scope of the project and creativity on the site grew, so did the guidelines for creating the videos. This brought about challenges such as balancing the nurturing of the artists’ voice and style, and meeting the needs of the countdown. But, the animation director sees it as quite a “lucky” result, as the artists “adapted and delivered work that challenged not only our thinking around the program, but they also effectively elevated the work of the ‘countdown artists’ that came after them.”

Artists had some important parameters to adhere to, such as legibility, and the ability to adapt to different formats (from 16:9 to square), as well as custom audio. But largely, the brief was quite conceptually loose. It had to give the general feeling that time was passing, for example. “We looked at the top types of premieres that creators were wanting to launch, extrapolated the themes – ‘gentle’, ‘cinematic’, ‘ambient’ – and chose the artists whose work was a close match,” Chris shares. “The brief was open and we really tried our best to reinforce that we were hiring these artists because we love their work,” he adds.


Lucas Zanotto: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

Andrew was initially drawn to the work of one of the countdown artists, Arina Shabanova, because of its calming themes. “The countdown she produced imagines a peaceful, natural setting with thoughtful character interactions that reads as a series of playful vignettes.” Arina’s contribution is certainly traditional and would possibly be used by creators building a community centred around self-help, development or even those around storytelling, art or nature.

This theme of creating visuals that are both easily associated with its thriving communities, yet adaptable across a wide range, is a key aspect of many of the countdown videos. Take Réka Busci’s, for example, which takes the viewer through a motion experience of her abstract paintings. “Réka works in so many styles, so at first I was curious to see what direction she would go in,” the animation director shares. The process saw her go from a treated video experiment to expanding her painting style into an animation, which is a testament to the freedom that the creative team allowed the artists. As such “the countdown turned out to be something that is both alien and familiar, with a heavy dose of vintage influence,” Andrew adds.


Jessie Zo: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

“It was a delight to see how the videos extended beyond the platform itself. It gives us the opportunity to be a resource of inspiration for bigger audiences.”

Jessie Zo

When reflecting on the project, the team are most proud of the way the artists have expressed their own visual styles to create a diverse and unique experience for the platform. “One of the most enjoyable elements was creating artefacts like the internal-facing book and a public-facing archive of these countdowns,” says Jessie Zo, one of the visual designers at YouTube. “It was a delight to see how the videos extended beyond the platform itself, giving us the opportunity to be a resource of inspiration for bigger audiences.” Conversely, Andrew most enjoyed allowing artists to pair their visual language with their choice of accompanying audio, which helped the team to create a library of diverse viewpoints and mediums. And for Chris, it’s the variety, but also the quality, which he attributes to collaborations with top stop motion studios, 3D motion houses, sound artists and more. “We rarely have the opportunity as a product design team to curate and create such a large visual experience with YouTube products. This experience truly is unique.”


YouTube: YouTube Countdowns book (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

YouTube: Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

All things considered, it’s not amiss to say that YouTube as a platform has revolutionised the way we interact with video media. Neither is it wild to suggest that they would still lead in this realm without customised countdowns. But it holds close the sacred nature of the live experience in a time when our viewing habits are more independent than ever, while also being open to these very habits developing in the future. As the team have been growing the library slowly over the years, they see no reason to halt the creation and adaptation of its countdown videos, merely because of its launch. “As user needs arise, we will always adapt and grow experiences to meet those needs,” says Chris. “We measure success by how widely our creators use each countdown. We seek feedback from the creators and viewers on how this can be expanded into the future,” Jason adds. And that's what makes YouTube Countdowns so special, the team understand that creators and fans across will always find a way to communicate and the countdown will long be a ritual to usher in the new, so they offer both parties something more – the opportunity to feel deeply connected and seen.

Want to learn more?

Discover what goes into bringing the eclectic animations styles to life

click here

Sponsored by


YouTube’s Art Department is an identity design and branding team whose mission is to express YouTube’s brand across all of our products and services. It is a multidisciplinary team with decades of combined experience in illustration, animation, and graphic design.

Hero Header

YouTube: YouTube Countdown (Copyright © YouTube, 2024)

Share Article

About the Author

Sponsored Content

This article was sponsored by a brand, so is marked up by us as Sponsored Content. To understand more about how we work with brands and sponsorships, please head over to our Work With Us page.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.