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Medical Animation, Innovation and Communication


Medical animation is increasinlgy being employed by pharmaceutical companies to explain the scientific rationale behind their products.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Why animation?
Most people are familiar with animation technology from the film and computer game industries, but its use extends well beyond these areas due to its ability to capture an audience’s attention and maintain it. One of the fields in which it is rapidly growing in popularity is healthcare. It has been used as part of training programs for healthcare personnel, such as to demonstrate complex invasive techniques. However, one of the fastest growing uses of this technology is in the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical companies are mainly interested in producing mechanism of action (MOA) animations to support their drugs, since they often have complex mechanisms of action that are difficult to explain quickly and in a audience-friendly manner. Medical animation provides an ideal medium to introduce multidisciplinary audiences to new scientific concepts and provide them with sufficient background to subsequently learn more about the drug and the disease that it targets. From a promotional point of view, the use of medical animation is a great way to convey the spirit of scientific and technological innovation behind a product.

When evaluating a team for an animation project, it is essential that they convince you that they can generate an air of excitement for your product. Since animation is highly visual by nature, the audience viewing the sequences must be immediately captivated by what is presented.

One of the mistakes that inexperienced sponsors often make is not to remain objective about the animation being created. As a result, they over complicate the development process and strip it of its innovative potential. For MOA videos, success depends on blending science with creative design.

As you will be seeking to convey scientific messages, it will be important to ensure that the visual components are technically correct. However, be careful of becoming too obsessed about scientific minutiae, as you will cripple the visual impact of the final product. For example, you may need to allow some artistic freedom over how a particular component is featured in order to draw attention to it within a complex story. Similarly, it may be impossible to keep all components to scale in relation to each other, particularly when trying to highlight features on the surface of a cell or within it.

A core part of the MOA, that must not be neglected or taken for granted, is the script. Just as story telling is an art, so is script creation and development. Like any story, if you use the wrong approach your audience will simply lose interest and become bored. Therefore, when developing a script it is essential that the story comes across as exciting, educational and impartial. Blatant self-promotion should be avoided at all costs since it is counter-productive and may even have legal and regulatory consequences. Working with a team that consists of scientific, commercial and design personnel will ensure that the end product is scientifically accurate, visually compelling and educational, as well as in line with regulatory requirements.

Keeping to time in MOA videos is also crucial as an audience’s attention span can be notoriously short. More importantly, in animation, time means money and you may unnecessarily add cost for minimal end impact.

Once the script has been nailed down, the next step is to start aligning the words with visuals in a storyboard. Here draft 2D sketches are developed by the animators to accompany the main points being made by the writers. If required, a 3D storyboard can later be created where initial 2D sketches are transformed into 3D images. These 3D images are often referred to as the “main actors” since they will be the main visual elements within the overall animation sequences.

Once the main actors have been finalized, the animation team will proceed to full animation, whereby the static images are transformed into continuous dynamic visual sequences. This is the critical part of the process that is both time-consuming and technically demanding. Far too often, sponsors try to rush this stage, believing it to be simple, and end up compromising the end product.

Another key element that is highly important is narration. Narration enhances the MOA video by providing another means to engage the audience besides image sequences. A great deal of attention must be paid to the choice of narrator as the audience will be subconsciously drawn in by the sound of their voice accompanying the visual components.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly making use of MOA videos to convey important scientific messages about their drugs, but not all companies have managed to leverage the full power of the technology. Poor planning, inadequate resourcing and over expectation have created examples that act as a disservice for the technology, and have unnecessarily scared off others from investing in animation.

Many companies also forget that the technology can also create value for more traditional communication projects. Images from your MOA deliverable will lend themselves to limitless visual applications of 3D renderings in projects such as monographs, manuscripts, sales aids, flash cards, newsletters, URL image libraries, slide sets, and patient materials.

With an objective approach and an experienced team there is no reason why you cannot harness animation’s power to add vital innovation to the communication portfolio for your product and support it through its life cycle.
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