How do you make your own ‘Snow Fall’ effect?

When the New York Times published ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek‘ in  2012 it gained plaudits everywhere for its clever integration of multimedia elements and long-form journalism.

Visit rates were huge, and bounce-rates low, as the video and embedded interactive elements for the Pulitzer winning pice by John Branch.

Alongside instantly coining its own rather pretentious verb (“we need to snow fall this”), the article  took a team of developers six weeks to produce.

But the success of it inevitably meant other journalists, publications and content creators, both big and small, naturally wanted to create their own versions – and ideally without the 6 weeks of hand-built development work by a team of high-end web developers.

What is Snow Fall though?

According to Multimedia Shooter, there are a few things that make it different:

  • “There are silent videos that automatically play; some of them providing a graphical backdrop, others as informative graphics.

  • “There is a scrolling mechanism (called jquery.inview) which will trigger actions as the user scrolls. For example, it will play a video, graphic animation or change some CSS properties like fading the background.

  • “A “curtain” effect that reveals or covers images and videos as the user scrolls.”

So, how can a relatively non-techy journalist or (ugh…) ‘content creator’ create their own version? Well, here are the options…

  1. The WordPress Plugin

Despite the massive popularity of WordPress as a CMS for publishers, there seem to be very few specialist long-form WordPress plugins or themes on the market at the moment, with slightly archaic (and pointless) page anchor plugins hitting the top for Google search rankings.

One plugin and theme that seems to be attempting to recreate the ‘Snow Fall’ effect on WordPress seems to be Aesop Story Engine (ASE):

“ASE is an open-sourced suite of tools that empowers developers to build feature-rich, interactive, long-form storytelling themes for WordPress.”

The actual interface is fairly impressive and (relatively) intuitive too.

‘Components’, such as maps, quotes, videos or text are added layer-by-layer to create long-form posts in the ‘New Post’ window.



2. The DIY option

The original snow fall article of course, along with many of its imitators, was designed built by highly experienced, professional web developers.

So, if you want to take this option yourself, how might you go about it? Media Bistro says:

“So, how might you go about building something like this? It’s simple. Start by learning some HTML and CSS (yes, its [sic] the new literacy — the equivalent of learning how to use punctuation). Codeacademy is a great resource if you’re just getting started.”

Hmm… the slightly vague ‘learn html and CSS’ isn’t great advice to be honest. I’ve never sat down and ‘learned’ either HTML or CSS, yet use them every day – initially reworking bits and pieces of other people’s, code that I know works,  and learning by doing.

Still, if you want to try building your own JavaScript ‘Snow Fall’ style tool, you might like to try CodePen, which shows instant changes in a preview window to any tweaks you make to the code.

In fact, there are even a few templates that could be adapted to make your own ‘Snow Fall’ effect with just a bit of code copy and pasting, such as this one:


3. The Off-Site Tool 

The final – and easiest option –  is to use a 3rd party tool:


ScrollKit – A simple to use, free drag-and-drop editor feels more like Adobe InDesign than a web page builder, but worth a try if you’re averse to coding.


Creatavist – More text-friendly than ScrollKit, Creatavist allows you to layer and rearrange content and create an attractive long-form page easily, although lacks the fade-in/out of images and media elements found in other Snow Fall style tools. Here’s an attempt I edited for News UK’s Build the News weekend.



Shorthand – A paid agency option, which builds long-form multimedia projects on behalf of publishers.

Have you tried building or writing your own ‘Snow Fall’ style piece? Are there any immersive tools I’ve missed? Post them in the comments below.

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Dave Allen

Digital Marketing Manager at Birmingham City University
I manage the social media and online presence for Birmingham City University's Faculty of Performance, Media and English, and provide one-to-one social media consultancy for the Faculty's staff.

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