I love TikTok.

So much, in fact, that I dedicated my masters thesis to it.

Seriously. A simple look at my phone’s battery health will tell you I spend anywhere from nine to eleven hours on the app weekly. This is terrible news for me personally, but great news for this project. If you know anything about the short-form video app, you’d know that it has just about everything you can think of— and there is always an audience for it. On one of my phone-zombie escapist binges, I wondered to myself: “Where was the news on TikTok?” So, I decided to sniff it out.

The news presence I found was small and not what I would have expected major newsrooms to produce. As a multimedia journalist first and a gen-z phone addict second, I devised a way to combine my interest in animation with my worst phone habit: explainer videos for TikTok.

Young people want to be engaged. A dive into the comments section on any educational TikTok would show you that the app’s users are curious and welcome information when it is presented in a way that is convenient and accessible. Too many newsrooms haven’t figured out the right way to engage younger audiences, and the rift between traditional journalism and youth is growing. Let’sTok sets out to show newsrooms that unconventional journalism geared toward mobile-first generations can find a place in the news world and is worth exploring.

Below are five animated explainer TikToks I produced, all exploring different topics related to COVID-19. I selected sub-topics I hadn’t heard a lot about, researched them, broke them down into 60 second scripts and recorded them. Then I theorized graphics, hand-drew assets for every line of script, and brought everything to life in Adobe After Effects. Each video, though only 60 seconds or less, took dozens of hours to produce. Sure, it is a lot of effort for a simple TikTok, but I have single-handedly produced a standard that I believe all major newsrooms should be capable of.

Maskne (mask induced acne)

Relatable, no?

The first video of the series explores why we get breakouts and irritations from our face masks. This idea was borne from my own frustrating skin journey at the beginning of the pandemic. I could not figure out why I was sprouting blemishes daily. One day, as I stared at myself in the mirror, I lifted my hand to the lower half of my face so as to block all the breakouts from my sight. Standing in that pose made me realize what the cause had to be.

“This would make a great explainer!”

The production process for this TikTok was likely the most challenging. It was the first time I was writing and producing my own video. I had to record my audio at 1:00 am in the back of my closet. I had to learn to draw digitally using a wacom tablet. Overall, I had to get over my art fear.

There were a few bumps along the way (yes the rumors are true, I did accidentally delete the file halfway through the animation process) but the learning experience was invaluable.

What is FDA Approval?

What does it mean when something is approved by the Food and Drug Administration? With all the talk about the FDA giving the COVID-19 vaccines emergency use authorization and not full approval, I wanted to find out.

What a mistake that was. If you didn’t know, any research into “what gets approved by the FDA” is a horror show of things that, legally, we are allowed to eat. It was educational, but icky, and so is the TikTok.

This video was still one in the “learning process” phase of the thesis project. I learned the hard way what the difference between a drawing made on Photoshop and one made on Illustrator was. But, one night class on Illustrator later, I took my shaky next steps into the digital art world. I re-drew all of the assets that weren’t going to work and had a lot of fun bringing them to life in After Effects. Did you see those bugs?! They are my magnum opus.

Ok, but what is Emergency Use Authorization?

Once the second video was planned, it made sense that this would be the third. Knowing what FDA approval is is great, but knowing what Emergency Use Authorization was was directly relevant to the vaccines. I thought a video de-mystifying it would be important for people on the fence about taking the vaccine.

In the name of slow progress, I made some changes to my production process during this video. I recorded audio using a better microphone and recording space, I got a cool digital brush pack to illustrate with from a free marketplace, and I moved away from the slideshow motion graphic technique I had used in the FDA TikTok. I also chose a more serious-sounding background song, in hopes of demonstrating that though these are TikToks, their style and tone can be adapted to fit the tone of many different newsrooms’ style guides.

The Traditional Vaccine

The only thing I love more than TikTok and animation is video games. You can see where I’m going with this. The explainer for “how traditional vaccines work” was a great opportunity for me to push the envelope when it came to illustrating concepts.

I styled the video after nostalgic arcade fighter games, animating health bars and fight clouds, and bringing in game-y background music. There was a dark period of the production process where I sat listening to hundreds of soundbites looking for the perfect punch sound effect, but even that came together. Though the mRNA vaccine is the new kid on the block, because Johnson & Johnson used the traditional method of vaccine production, I thought it would be good to bring the audience back to the basics of vaccine technology.

Now what about the mRNA Vaccine?

The plan all along was to have the fourth video explain vaccines and the fifth explain the new mRNA vaccines. I’d say by far the hardest part was teaching myself what the mRNA vaccines technology was and then simplifying it for others to understand.

This was the smoothest and fastest animation process so far. It was actually a coincidence that I fell down a ragtime music rabbit-hole when looking for a background song, and when I found the one that is now in the video, it gave the whole TikTok an old movie feel.

I think this is one of the most important videos in the collection because there is so much concern over the new vaccine technology. It was important to me to make learning about it approachable and informative for anyone who was apprehensive about vaccines.

I guess that’s it. Hmm what else? Oh! I made a GREAT spotify playlist that I listened to as I worked. It’s called “Animation Station” and it’s a collection of video game music and music from various animated things that I love. Here is the link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1CKjeIZnh5rzzknlzMzPpl?si=XVn4FmE3RgO7cS4W9oeiow