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Educating for Disease Awareness using Animation

In corporate communications, complex biological processes can be represented in clear animations that bear little resemblance to the actual physiology inside all of us.

If you stuck a camera inside the human body, you wouldn’t see much more than tissue pressed up against the lens, AKA “the meat wall,” looking a bit gross. That’s why the medical community understands that sometimes clarity needs to take precedence over medical accuracy in corporate and consumer communications.

Healthcare graphics and animation have many of the same phases as the narrative short films like Pixar produces — but they are required to be much more sensitive in the details around legal facts and medical accuracy.

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The mechanics of proteins and genes populate the majority of Mechanism of Action (MOA) and Mechanism of Disease (MOD) animations. Understanding microscopic physiology is a prerequisite to producing high-quality animations. Some studios don’t have certified medical illustrators on staff, but their producers should be comfortable working with agencies and the client’s medical directors. Throughout the process, the studio should have productive meetings to discuss research materials without requiring low-level explanations from the medical director in order to keep the project on track. The finished product must depict these “mechanisms” of physiology accurately to tell a story that illustrates how the disease affects the human body and or how treatments benefit the patient.

Those mechanisms look very different on screen than they do under a microscope. Over the years, medical illustrators (in books or motion) have depicted tissue, cells, viruses, proteins, and synaptic signals as recognizable distinct objects for the ease of communication.

For instance, under a microscope, the double-helix of DNA looks nothing like the models and illustrations we’re used to seeing in explanatory illustrations.

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Another good example of creative illustration is the depiction of single cells and proteins as floating individually through an empty cavern of space, then connecting with what seems to be a sense of self-awareness — as opposed to the real-life randomness that governs these microscopic elements of physiology.  

Medical animations can easily cost six figures, and take three to six months to complete and pass through the legal process. A clean and organized proposal — with a clear scope of work, assumptions, deliverables, client expectations (who supplies the script and medical director), deal points, and most importantly, a detailed schedule outlining major milestones or phases of design and animation — is a sure sign of a studio that has its act together.  

I hope this gives some insight into choosing an animation studio that fits with your needs and style. Please watch out for the second part of this article in which we discuss the added complexities of production when working on a medical education animation, including the legal stuff.

Originally published: 10/28/2021

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