Illustrating Nature's Stories - Behind the scenes of our latest film for The North American Forest Partnership

As well as creating succinct and effective films for clients, we love the learning experience that comes with each film we produce! 

Whether it is a film for the RSABBC, TED or another corporate client there is always a great deal of research and development that needs to be done in the studio to produce a high quality whiteboard animation.

One of Cognitive's Senior creatives; Kayle McLeish documents the experience of creating the latest film, 'Wildfire', for the North American Forest Partnership (NAFP).

Our  latest NAFP  film  ‘Wildfire’ is about educating and  changing perspectives to better equip communities to deal with the overwhelming force of wildfires and ‘mega-fires’.   
~ Kayle McLeish
Kayle McLeish, Cognitive Senior Creative

Kayle McLeish, Cognitive Senior Creative

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to work on the latest in a series of films for the North American Forest Partnership.  

NAFP are a collective group that run, manage and protect all of North America’s forests, which cover a billion forested acres and include 800 species of tree.

Large wildfires are a well-documented occurrence in these large forests and so the NAFP commissioned us to make an explainer video that showed not only the danger of fires but also the opportunities and benefits fire management. The latest NAFP  film  ‘Wildfire’ is about educating and changing perspectives to better equip communities to deal with the overwhelming force of wildfires and ‘mega-fires’.   

Like most of the films we make at Cognitive, the production process is initially daunting. This is due to training our brains to think in our clients' languages. We have to get up to speed quickly with a wide spectrum of information. This involves collaborating with our client and also undertaking thorough research. When we unpack information in space, we can see correlation between disparate elements, this doesn't make bridging the gaps between diverse  activities such as paddle-boarding and clear cutting any easier. 

The team of illustrators working on this particular film (Suzanne, Patience and Aggie) and I had tonnes of fun researching and learning about the flora and fauna that make up the forests of North America. Not only were we thinking in our client's language we also had to understand an unfamiliar eco system, that is thousands of miles away.  A lot of this influenced the final visual outcome of the films. I will admit, there were stages where we just shared pictures of cute forest dwelling creatures! There were plenty of laughs along the way,  both in-house and with the  NAFP team. On one occasion some questionably placed rocks next to a bear looked suspiciously like droppings, which raised some eyebrows and some giggles! 


Aggie 1.jpg
Kayle 1 Silly.jpg
Aggie inks _1_with bear.jpg

The pictures above show the team working on 'Wildfire'.


Our 'Wildfire'  animated explainer animation explores  some of the causes of wildfires, from overly dense forests and undergrowth,  to unprotected communities and property maintenance. Drawing and animation can achieve great results to enable better communication. Literal and conceptual information can be explored seamlessly. For example, It's easy for us to show the various species of trees we researched, as well as the practical solutions that are used to combat the wildfires. The visual languages flip-flop between representational and diagramatical. Our visual thinking toolbox is virtually limitless!

Unpacking that information in space allows us to make connections that is more akin to how people think - and our trademark pull-out at the end of the film is a great visual recap to the information we have just seen. 

We like to think we build great working relationships with our clients. When people first come through the door, many haven't ever made an animated film before. We pride ourselves on supporting our clients through the process. Our production team are great and Kerry is a great liaison allowing us, the creative end to really concentrate on what we do best: Telling the client story! 

We have made two other whiteboard explainer animations for NAFP.  'How Forests Make Our Lives Better' and a second animation called 'Different Forests, Diverse Outcomes'. 


Wildfire pic A.jpg

Sometimes our films have to balance the communication of information with more emotive elements. We use people in our storytelling. People respond to people and they also respond to emotion. When we attach information and data to an emotion, that data becomes more memorable. Obviously this can be a very useful tool, if you want your messages to stick! 

Wildfire pic B.jpg

The above vignettes are a good example of how we add real-world elements to create believability in a scene. We use small visual clues that speak in the language of our client's world - for example the red markers around the trees to denote that they require felling. We also have to help the audience understand that world. Visual communication is a balance between those subtle clues and more obvious and explicit language and animation direction.

Trees are very versatile in their ability to produce a vast variety of items and ecosystems, and they extend that versatility further on the whiteboard.
~ Kayle McLeish

Often we like to run with a metaphor and create a visual language that can be employed throughout the animation. When illustration and animating using the subject matter of a forest it is the logical next step to use trees as a symbol. Trees just lend themselves to illustration and as you can see in the animation, we have used them in a number of ways using different visual languages and approaches: from illustrated literal representations, to smaller more iconic versions. We deconstruct and rearrange them to explain a multitude of meanings from bar charts and measuring scales, to tree-houses and skyscrapers. They can perform all these tasks and still be fully recognisable as a tree. That's why using pictures enables you to do so much with your narrative. 

We are eagerly awaiting the start of the next NAFP film, ‘Carbon’. Like all our films here at Cognitive, it will be a fun, exciting and engaging learning experience both for ourselves and the audience. 

Kayle McLeish

If you would like to find out more about how we can apply our visual thinking to your message then please get in touch.