Scientific Animations are Boring

Jan 21st, 2016

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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