How Vi Hart Makes Her Viral Videos: A Look Inside Her Creative Process

Spend some time pok­ing around on the Khan Acad­e­my, or this site for that mat­ter, and your chances of run­ning into math­e­mu­si­cian Vi Hart are extreme­ly favor­able. 

I’ve tried—and failed—to keep up with her high­ly digres­sive, rapid fire, doo­dle-based expla­na­tions on such top­ics as net neu­tral­i­ty and the space-time con­tin­u­um. I had bet­ter luck fol­low­ing her direc­tions for turn­ing squig­gles into snakes, a math-based par­lor trick that seems more like mag­ic to me.

What I real­ly want­ed to know is how does she make those fun­ny lit­tle videos of hers?  Doubt­less, any sev­en-year-old who’s logged two or three hours in an after-school pro­gram devot­ed to stop motion ani­ma­tion would have the chops to explain how to make sim­ple draw­ings ren­dered in Sharpie on a spi­ral bound note­book come to life, but what if I still did­n’t get it? I would­n’t want to give the short­ies the impres­sion that the lay­men and women of my gen­er­a­tion are too dim to keep up with mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy.

Then on a whim, I typed “how does Vi Hart make her videos” into a search engine and voila! The video above, in which the doyenne her­self reveals exact­ly how she does just that.

Actu­al­ly “exact­ly” might be over­stat­ing things a bit, giv­en that she does so in her imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able style. If I under­stand cor­rect­ly, she starts with a script, which she pares to the essen­tials, before shoot­ing the seg­ment with a team of interns, some of whom serve as body dou­bles for her hands, their arms encased in funky, detach­able sleeves. Then she speeds things up by delet­ing the frames in which the mov­ing hand obscures the page. I’m pret­ty sure she wings it when record­ing her voiceover nar­ra­tion, but I could be wrong.

She also seems to have a thing for pin­ning her long brown hair up with a turkey feath­er. Even so, I’ll bet the deci­sion to give her ador­ing pub­lic a glimpse of some­thing beyond mere hands cement­ed many a celebri­ty crush. She’s a Tina Fey for the geek set. (Not that Tina Fey isn’t already serv­ing that func­tion for the same demo­graph­ic.)

As win­some as she is, I have to say, I pre­ferred her 14-year-old intern Ethan Bres­nick’s con­sci­en­tious behind-the-scenes look at how these things come togeth­er. Have a look above if you’d like some straight dope on soft­ware, cam­era posi­tions, and the like.

(Depend­ing on how much work you’ve got to get done today, you may also enjoy the extreme­ly infor­mal, hour-plus inter­view Ethan con­duct­ed via Skype, dur­ing which Hart eats her din­ner and invites fans to join them via Twit­ter.)

The only thing lack­ing is the nit­ty grit­ty on how and where Hart stores her enor­mous video files. With­out a benev­o­lent Khan Acad­e­my to over­see my work, such tech­ni­cal specs would def­i­nite­ly come in handy for a begin­ner such as myself. The Sharpies on spi­ral bound I can fig­ure out on my own.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vi Hart Uses Her Video Mag­ic to Demys­ti­fy Stravin­sky and Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Com­po­si­tions

Vi Hart Explains & Defends Net Neu­tral­i­ty in a New Doo­dle-Filled Video

Math­e­mu­si­cian Vi Hart Explains the Space-Time Con­tin­u­um With a Music Box, Bach, and a Möbius Strip

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author of sev­en books, a cou­ple of which have mor­phed into ebooks. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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