Let’s say (hypothetically) that your company is looking for a vendor to produce scientific animation to describe the details of an important technology. How do you choose the right animation firm? I might get myself in trouble for saying this, but considering how important the message you’re conveying is, you’ll do well to separate the Surgeons from the Witch Doctors.

Your message is part of your brand—animation is one of the fastest ways to get a technically detailed message across clearly, which is why it’s such a popular medium within the medical device, pharma and biotech industries. On a subliminal level, it is also a qualitative representation of the value of your product.

More Than a Demo Reel

Scientific animation companies come in all shapes and sizes, and in addition to Microverse Studios, there are several well-respected animation companies that will deliver an accurate, high-quality product every time and take good care of their customers. There are others that can be hit-or-miss, and still more that can be miss-or-miss. The best litmus test is a combination of two things: animation samples and education.

Samples of previous animations are an important gauge of what your animation would look like if you hire a given vendor. Most animation firms will have a demo reel available on their website, but these clips are hand selected to put the best face on their work. You’ll want to look deeper and ask for case studies and references. If their work is to your satisfaction across multiple projects, then it’s a good bet that the work they do for you will be just as good (or better—remember artists can improve with time).

A witch doctor will rely on flashy theatrics to hide the fact that they don't know what they're doing.

Scientific Animation Requires Scientist Animators

This next statement is one that will probably make a few people angry, but it comes from two decades of experience in science visualization and it needs to be said. With schools in every state churning out animation students, it seems reasonable to think that an individual or a studio with a stunning non-medical portfolio will be able to leverage that talent on your own biomedical project. However, this is where the surgeon and witch doctor comparison comes in: a surgeon will treat a patient knowing exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, while a witch doctor will rely on flashy theatrics to hide the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Non-medical animators might work their hardest to understand the subjects, but a molecular or cellular animation (or anatomical for that matter) deals with systems of fractal complexity. Building a foundational knowledge on these topics takes years of hard study and experience. A lack of understanding of core scientific principles (molecular biology, cell biology, histology, and gross anatomy to name a few) will lead to hand-holding, forced micromanagement, timeline dilation and ultimately a substandard product.

Hand-Holding, Micromanaging and Timeline Dilation

Some firms go half-way, using less expensive non-medical animators supervised by a medical officer. In these cases, there is always the risk that they are simply bringing the hand-holding, micromanaging and timeline dilation in-house. It’s also possible they’ve been doing it long enough that they’ve got a solid system in place, or that their animators have been working in the field so long that they’ve built up the knowledge base they need in order to do it right (in which case refer to their samples and look for the ABC’s: accuracy, beauty and clarity). Just bear in mind that, without a deep understanding of the science, it’s impossible for an animator’s true creative capacity to be reached without making errors that undermine the validity of the animation’s message. In addition, a talented animator with the right scientific background can bring nuance and detail that can make a scientific animation truly magical.

And let’s not forget that it’s the message that really counts—this is your company’s brand we’re talking about, the imagery that helps to guide the world’s opinion of your company and its products.  Make sure you choose people you can trust to represent it.

The brain is a tricky machine to hack, but there are ways to optimize a medical animation to reach deep into the minds of viewers. To do this, one needs to understand how the brain absorbs information.

Someone once told me never to trust animation companies that charge per-minute for animation, that they would make the animation artificially longer to pad the budget.

This surprised and appalled me– because whoever told them this obviously did not know about the cognitive requirements for making a successful animation. Worse yet, someone might have actually experienced this intentional sabotage of the effectiveness of their animations for short-term gain.

In Medical Animation, Pacing is Critical

In my experience, good storytelling (and all scientific animation boils down to storytelling) depends not only what’s being told, but how fast it goes by.

To generate the proper mental state, a story has to move at exactly the right pace. For example, action and comedy are often mile-a-minute fast, while drama and tragedy are slower paced. With scientific animation, the audience must be given the opportunity to do two things:

1) understand the content of the scene, (the visual facts being conveyed), and then

2) put it in context with the larger story being told.

Both must happen for the information to be remembered, and yet the audience must never be allowed to get bored. If we do it right, then the animation leaves a lasting and returning memory in the viewer.  We want our audiences to dream about our animations.

The 10-Second Rule

It turns out there are limits on how fast all this can take place and still load all of the information into the viewer’s working memory to be parsed with the rest of the story. This “loading time” represents the critical minimum amount of time a visual sequence should be on the screen.

Specific numbers for this duration remain scientifically speculative, but at Microverse Studios we’ve found that scenes seem to zip past too quickly if they are under 8 seconds and are easily forgotten. Conversely, when scenes are over 12 seconds with no new visual information, they have a tendency to drag (no matter how beautiful we make them).

When that happens, you run the risk of making the audience wonder if the rest of the animation will be just as boring, and then have them fast-forward or, worse yet, click away.

We want our audiences to dream about our animations, but we don't want them to actually fall asleep.

Three Minutes Til Naptime

Finally, when a medical animation breaks the 3 minute mark, the audience begins to wonder whether they really want to commit all that time in the first place. Therefore, it is important to be concise with the message.

At Microverse Studios, we tailor our scripts to allow just the right amount of time for each sequence to be absorbed. In English, narration is read at two words per second. That means we can predict at the script phase what the duration of any given segment will be, and we can make sure there is no “dead air” while the imagery plays out before the audience.

There are occasional exceptions to the 10-second rule, particularly in the case of exposition (narration that can’t be animated well, such as lists or value statements), but even in those cases we have tricks to keep the visual parts of the brain stimulated while the auditory centers churn away on the information.

The key takeaway from this is that brevity may be important, but timing is everything.

When trying to decide whether to use scientific video, a lot of my clients look to the competition. If theirs is the only brand without a mechanism of action video to describe their science, they frequently decide that a scientific animation must be right for them, too. But is that really true?

The easy answer: sometimes.

How to Tell if You Need Scientific Video

Before we dive into the complexities of concept depth and deployment, biomedical animation is most useful when these three requirements are met.

Simple vs. Complex Ideas

Not every brand needs to have the curtains pulled back to show its inner workings; in the cosmetics industry, for example, results are often all that matters. However, if your investors need to understand how your technology operates in order to recognize its value, or if healthcare providers will just go on prescribing the drugs they’re comfortable with if they don’t grasp your drug’s revolutionary mechanism of action or the specific disease state it treats, then a bespoke scientific video can get that across quickly– and it can do it without burying them under a Great Wall of Text.

Animation has a special power to tap into the imagination and emotional state of the audience, temporarily transporting them into a world where the only thing that matters is a particular scientific concept. If the concept happens to be an efficacy graph or demographic data, chances are that animation would be overkill and a nicely designed graph or chart would do the trick. If it's a one-step conformational change of a molecule or a revolutionary 2-step DNA sequencing process, probably just a well-drawn illustration would suffice. On the other hand, if the science to be described is a particular method combining viral proteins with gold nanoparticles to deliver gene therapy to a specific cell population, then animation would be the perfect method to convey it (Come to think of it, I'd kind of like to see that animation).

Considering Where it Will Be Seen

Finally, think about where you will use your scientific animation. There are three primary kinds of deployment for mechanism of action videos and mechanism of disease videos in the biotech and pharma world: the web, conferences, and in-person presentations.

In each of those, immediately catching the audience’s interest is critical. A recent study showed that users make a decision within the first thirty seconds whether to stay on a website or click away[1]. On the conference exhibit floor, you may only have the time it takes a person to walk past your booth. With in-person presentations such as sales meetings or investor relations, audiences might start out worried that you will bore them. In all three cases, it’s critical to catch their interest early and communicate your message quickly.

At its core, animation gives your audience context for understanding the rest of your message… if they watch the whole thing, that is. That’s where choosing a high-end animation company comes in. If the audience can’t look away from it, if the animation is worth watching on its own merits, then they will absorb the information naturally. Furthermore, you will have kept them on your webpage past the critical 30 seconds mark!

[1] Liu, C. et al. Understanding Web Browsing Behaviors Through Weibull Analysis of Dwell Time. Proceedings of the 33rd international ACM SIGIR conference on Research and development in information retrieval, SIGIR ’10: Pages 379-386.

So you decided to have a pharmaceutical animation or other scientific animation produced by a high-end biomedical 3D animation company. You committed tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project, depending on your vendor. You know you've made the right decision, but are you going to get everything out of it you can?

Here’s a hint: with animation, the sum of its parts is greater than the whole.

More Than Just an Animation

When we produce pharmaceutical animation or other scientific videos at Microverse Studios, it’s with the specific intent that the animation is going to be used by our clients across all media types. Animation is made to be seen. If you’ve chosen a high-end scientific animation company for your project, you’ll more than likely end up with imagery that your team can really be proud of.

Stills from the video can be used as scientific illustrations in print, on the web, and in presentations. Short sequences can be pulled out and delivered to media outlets. The video can be re-edited to reach alternative audiences. This is a free part of the package we offer– and it’s why every frame of our animation is carefully planned and composed for maximum impact.

The Final Polish for Your Brand

You paid good money to make sure that your MOA video or technology explainer animation was created by scientist animators, who would get to know the science as well as you do. You chose a team of visual storytellers that would convey your science with beauty and nuance. Take that video, and use the parts of it everywhere you can. When you do this, animation is much more than a moving diagram; it becomes a major pillar supporting your branding efforts.

Use images from it to tie together your brand identity in all of your communications, including the website and print collateral. Your favorite stills can easily be turned into an 8×10′ backdrop for your conference or tradeshow booth, or printed for use as a corporate mural at your office entrance.

Have your web developers and commercialization specialists use the animation imagery instead of stock art to accompany their collateral.

When executed correctly, pharmaceutical animation brings with it not only immediate benefit as a presentation for partners, investors, and/or HCPs, but also creates impact across all communications efforts. Choose the right vendor, and you will have an enduring showpiece that generates confidence in your brand.

With the pharmaceutical landscape now saturated with scientific animation, is it still possible for animation to make a pharma branding campaign stand out?

Over the last few decades, medical animation has become increasingly important to the pharma, biotech and medical device industries as a means of quickly delivering key information. Whether it’s used to educate sales personnel, health care providers or patients (or all three), it has become the preferred means of initial communication. Additionally, animation as a medium has the potential to embed its message deep in the viewer’s consciousness.

Pharma Branding That Stands Out

As in any crowded and growing market, there are providers for all budgetary niches creating animations that range from inexpensive and mundane to beautiful and extravagantly priced. Luckily, the trend has been for the popularization of inexpensive and mundane imagery. Most of the time, this budget-conscious animation does a satisfactory job of communicating the science. It is watched once, and then the viewer moves on. Why is that a good thing? Because it means there is still room for new pharma brands to stand out, of course!

High End Animations Enhance Brands Without the Massive Agencies

But procuring stand-out animation is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, right? That’s mostly true, but with an important and growing group of exceptions. In recent years, small and nimble animation companies that specialize in ultra-high-end animation have sprung up. They don’t have the inflated infrastructure that comes from years of producing animations with quarter-million dollar budgets. Today's studios employ cutting-edge organizational tactics such as virtual offices, cloud storage and delivery, and effectively unlimited cloud-based supercomputing.


These companies have MD/Ph.D-level medical experts and Masters-level medical animators who know the industry, know the science, and are masters of the art form. While they may not offer the cut-rates comparable to outsourcing overseas, their flexibility allows them to offer prices significantly lower than top-tier competitors and still serve up a production value, professionalism, design standard and scientific knowledge base on par with their higher-priced counterparts.

The net result is that the decision to use animation in a pharma branding strategy can still make a campaign stand out in a big way.

It’s a frequent perception: scientific animations are cold, clinical and technical. But what if they were truly as amazing as the science they describe? By using a few simple tricks from the realm of neuropsychology, your scientific animation can be not only informative, but mind-blowing.

With the right techniques, an animation can specifically target the brain structures that handle various types of memory, layering information in and connecting it more deeply to the viewer’s other long-term memories for faster recall. Not only does this deliver your message more effectively, but as a byproduct it makes viewing the animation actually… rather nice.

an undersea environment, or an asteroid field or an alien planet

Experience and Facts

We possess two types of information memory: episodic memory (experiences) and semantic memory (the list of facts that one knows)[1]. One of the best comments we get from our viewers is that Microverse Studios animations remind them of something– perhaps an undersea environment, or an asteroid field or an alien planet. What they’re really saying is that the information we’re conveying has been recorded not only by the viewer’s fact-list memory, but it’s also been documented as an adjunct to another memorable experience. It will be remembered for longer and easier to recall.

This “mnemonic resonance” targets the hippocampus and surrounding regions to maximally engage them to encode memories of our imagery[2] using more than one pathway.

Like You're There

Visual metadata is another trick used to make the viewing experience more immersive. Gelatinous transparency, lazy movement of floating particles from eddies and currents, depth of field to communicate scale, and lighting all help the viewer to really sense the story’s environment, its scale, and what everything would feel like if one were to touch it. This provides the viewer with a physical context for the information to be learned.

Scientific Videos Should Elicit an Emotional Response

Probably the most important factor, however, is Emotional Context. The way a molecule moves, how it’s lit, its color, how a cell moves and the type of lens we use on our virtual cameras; these all provide subtle cues to the limbic system to generate an emotional response. A heightened emotional regard toward the animation’s subject matter actually alters which parts of the brain encode the memory[3] and strengthens the encoding process[4].

With all of these techniques, Microverse Studios strives to generate a sense of awe in our work–  we feel it for the science, and we want our viewers to feel it too. Who forgets having visited the grand canyon, or seeing a spectacular shooting star? We work to make our animations memorable on that level, so that your science is never mistaken for being cold, clinical, or boring.

[1] Ullman MT. Contributions of memory circuits to language: the declarative/procedural model. Cognition 2004; 92: 231–70.

[2] Eichenbaum, Howard (2001). The Hippocampus and Declarative Memory: Cognitive Mechanisms and Neural Codes. Behavioural Brain Research, Vol 127: 199-207.

[3] Erk, S. et al. 2003. Emotional context modulates subsequent memory effect. Neuroimage, 18, 439-447.

[4] Stephan Steidl, Salwa Mohi-uddin, Adam K. Anderson.  Effects of emotional arousal on multiple memory systems: Evidence from declarative and procedural learning Learn Mem. 2006 Sep-Oct; 13(5): 650–658.

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