With its unique combination of scientific rigor, stick figures, and bad puns, MinuteEarth tackles the most interesting stories on our planet! We asked the creators of MinuteEarth a few questions about themselves and about how their short educational series all got started. New episodes of MinuteEarth will release every day this week on VRV!
The following interview has been transcribed from a Google Hangout with the team of MinuteEarth.
Can you introduce yourselves briefly?
Emily: I’m Emily, I’m a writer, an editor, a director, and a narrator for MinuteEarth.
Kate: I’m Kate and I’m also a writer, an editor, a director, and narrator for MinuteEarth.
Ever: I’m Ever and I’m do all the drawing and animating for MinuteEarth.
David: And I’m David and I’m a writer and I handle all the business-related stuff for Minute Earth.
How did MinuteEarth Get Started?
Emily: Minute Earth got started because Henry, who is running Physics, got pestered by his brother and dad over several years to start a second channel that was more Earth focused. And eventually Henry caved and he got some people together and we became MinuteEarth. I’ve been on the MinuteEarth team for the longest. I joined the team before we launched in 2013. I tried to get Henry to work for me on another project and he said, “I don’t feel like it, but how about you join this thing that I’m starting!” And that’s how I got involved.
What makes MinuteEarth different from the other educational based entertainment shows out there?
Kate: Bad puns, or good puns, depending on how much you like puns. We tend to dig really deep into the science and do a lot of fact checking and talking to experts, and I think that comes across in our videos, though they seem really light they’re really well researched, and that’s definitely a bonus for us!
Emily: That’s a big thing, we have this thing called a High information density, where we try to put a lot on information in a short period of time. So in 2 and half minutes you actually learn something and there aren’t any dead seconds where we’re just talking about nothing. At least, that’s always the aim.
How does this extend to the look?
Ever: Well, we have cute drawings and stick figures. We try to make visuals as simple as possible and try to apply some economy to the visual assets as well. We try to avoid being too fancy with the visuals or the animation. We try to keep visuals as simple as possible in order to convey the idea that we’re trying to make.
Ever: (laughing) Well… MOST of the time! I usually tend to push a bit for fanciness… but that usually requires much more time, because the more elaborate the visual the more time it takes.. so I get feedback from some members of the team to cut down the fanciness.
How do we go about translating all the complex science stuff into something that “laypeople” can watch?
Emily: I think it helps that everyone on the team has a different background; we all kind of had som science background but it’s different. in science. So when I write about geology, but I don’t write clearly about geology, everyone else tells me that what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense. And that really helps to figure out what does actually make sense.
David: You usually put it like as: “It’s great that we have all these different areas of expertise,” but what you always get to is the fact that you like that there ARE people that have no idea what you’re talking about.
Emily: Yeah, exactly! I think it’s really helpful— in the same way that David and Kate get really excited and in-depth about evolutionary biology, and a lot of times I’m like, “Can you make this mean something to me and my life? Because I don’t get it.” And I think that’s it’s helpful to have critics and be surrounded by critics.
Kate: We’re just ignorant people; especially geology ignorant.
Speaking about the different backgrounds in science, can you talk a little bit about what you’re most interested in and things that you’ve made that sort of reflect that?
Emily: My background is in geology and I love rocks and especially love soft rocks! (Laughing) And I love sedimentary geology. My favorite video that we’ve made that’s geology related is “Why is All Sand the Same?” Because I love that it sort of cuts across a few different subfields in geology, we go into why different minerals crystalize out of lava at different temperatures all the way to sort of how rocks ultimately break down and become sad. I think that video has a high information density and actually sets out to answer in a fun way. And.. it has some really dumb jokes in it.
Kate: I am an animal nerd! I have a Ph.D in Zoology, I studied hyenas. I know more about spotted hyenas than probably anybody in the world should know. But animals are just so cool! So I spend most of MinuteEarth writing about animals. I wrote both of our hyena videos, “Why It Sucks to be a Male Hyena” and then “Why do Female Hyenas Have Pseudo-Penises?” I think those are pretty fun videos because they kind of explore a weird order of the world that most people don’t know about. But I really love our “Should We Let Pandas Go Extinct?” Video because I think that’s a really interesting look at conservation and how we should think about who to save first when we have to figure out priorities. So that is one of my favorite videos in MinuteEarth in my field.
Ever: I am a Math and Physics teacher! That’s my formal education. I just make drawings and learn how to make animations and drawings by myself. I haven’t illustrated a lot of MinuteEarth videos and I have only written once, I think? Which was the tutorial “How to Draw.” That’s actually narrated by me! It’s very difficult to pick a favorite video because there are so many that are good. I like “The One That Got Away” which is a really cool video that starts with a premise that is somehow reasonable and you get to smaller fish. I also like “How Do Rivers Curve” that a really nice video and visuals and content. There are several videos that I have liked because they represent a challenge to draw, illustrate, and animate. Like, for example, “Why We Only See One Side of the Moon” I really love that video because it was challenging to animate. It was really great!
Kate: It’s funny, Ever, because even though you don’t write videos, they have so much of your voice in them because of the illustrations!
Ever: I usually try to add a lot of pop culture references… I am the one responsible for Pokemon references and any references to games! I always like, when I’m storyboarding, to include any references of games into the video.
David: My background is evolutionary biology and anthropology. So every video I try to write about how evolution has changed something about and made it really awesome. One of my favorite videos I’ve ever made was with Kate, where we wrote a video called “Why Does the T-Rex Have Such Tiny Arms?” And it basically uses these little ridiculous nubs that T-rexs have on their forearms to explain basically all these different hypotheses about how evolution works and takes us through everything from red heads in Ireland to salamanders or chameleons and all sorts of other cool stuff! So I’m really excited to tell these kinds of stories, but I think the team would say my biggest contribution would be that I like to make really really stupid puns as often as possible. I think my current favorite pun is one I didn’t write, but the one in our most recent video about “diarreaching” and I have never gotten more feedback from anyone (about puns). Three family members actually reached out with the word “diarreaching” and question mark.
Who are some of the people that influence you? Are these videos drawing from any particular style? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Ever: It’s funny, on the visual side you can notice that the visual style is similar.. It is stick figures because I was aiming for them to look like Henry’s drawings on MinutePhysics. MinuteEarth drawings are basically derived from MinutePhysics drawings and you can see that it’s usual to see humans represented as stick figures, dogs, sheep, and cats represented as stick figures, but there are other animals that Henry never drew that are not stick figures, and are more elaborate drawings. And we keep drawing cats, sheep, and dogs as stick figures because we are trying to mimic the initial MinutePhysics style. So you can say that MinuteEarth is sort of a hard fork on MinutePhysics. “Sort of.”
Emily: Yeah, our style guide actually specifies that you can draw animals as animals except for dogs, sheep, and cats, which much be stick figures. And the rest of the animals can be real.
Kate: Sometimes we have to make exceptions, like our dog and cat videos themselves. You can There are only so many stick figures cats, sometimes they have to look different. So there are videos in which cats are cats
Emily: So you can’t make a video about dog breeds..
Kate: Yeah, stick figures have a surprising number of limitations. When you’re trying to show internal organs in a stick figure…
David: Yeah, in our video “Why Sled Dogs Can Run Forever” I think there’s a stick figure with striated muscles in there.
Ever: Y’know… I think we have drawn dogs and cats, but I think we haven’t done really human representation.
Kate: No! No faces. We draw a hard line at hands! No hands.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world on a video, who would you choose and why?
Kate: That’s a toughie. I’m a giant Jane Goodall fan so if she wanted to come and work with us, I wouldn’t say no!
Emily: I would collaborate with Ken Burns, just because I get tend to get bored watching or reading non-fiction, which is awkward as someone who makes nonfiction content for a living and I feel guilty about that. Ken Burns is a master at taking nonfiction and doing deep dives and making it SO compelling without any gimmicks just by presenting the story in a way that pulls you in and makes you a part of the journey. I would love to know how to do that for science.
Ever: I don’t know how would be possible, collaborating with CGPGray would be AMAZING! For some reason he has been the Youtuber that I haven’t been able to meet, or talk to, or have any interaction with. And he’s AMAZING!
David: And you know in real life he looks exactly like his drawing— just a giant stick figure wandering around!
Any last thoughts for the VRV audience?
Emily: We’re just a bunch of nerds! We’re really actually as nerdy as it seems like we would be.