How to Choose a Medical Animator

Feb 01, 2012

A proper, right-handed type DNA rendering is just one subtle nuance picked up by a properly trained animator.
As doctors have less discretionary time and are relying more on digital resources for product-specific information, pharma companies have increasingly turned to visual communication tools that immediately capture their audience's attention. One of the most effective means for achieving this is through product mechanism of action (MOA) animations. Overall, the use of 3-D visualization to captivate and inform has become pervasive in the industry.

There are many companies that claim to be experts in medical animation, but will often misrepresent the complexities of the underlying science. For example, incorrect DNA structures depicting the left-handed type Z spiral, only observable when the DNA has been chemically modified, are pervasive in scientific graphics and used incorrectly to represent the DNA found in conditions normal to cells. It would take a trained eye to pick up on the nuance of the awkward and step-wise left-handed DNA spiral versus the smooth turnings of the right-handed type DNA.

The migration toward "non-personal promotion" combined with the complexities and nuances associated with the development of scientific graphics prompts us to propose some basic guidelines for pharma brand managers in search of an effective medical animation firm.

The core objectives behind the medical animation process are to take complex information, break it down into component parts, and then transmit the essence in a succinct visual message that is accurate, educational, and aesthetically pleasing. When considering a company, it is important to take into account the following criteria:

1. Scientific Accuracy

In a November 15, 2010, New York Times article called "Where Cinema and Biology Meet," the author makes the point that it isn't always desirable or necessary for animators to create images from scratch. In fact, one company has developed a way for animators to extract data directly from the Protein Data Bank into a 3-D animation software program like Maya allowing for many of the 60,000-plus proteins in the database to be more easily rendered and animated. This can be a helpful technique since often a key question is whether or not there is data to support the image that is being created.

Although some creative license needs to be taken with respect to certain variables, such as color, texture, and spacing, it is important that the starting point for any video involves a rigorous process of scientific research in order to understand what is happening even at a cellular or molecular level.

To this end, it is critical that the medical animation company you choose not only has the artistic expertise and technological savvy, but also the medical knowledge. Some important information to decipher is the educational background and experience of the medical animators.

Many are highly specialized, interdisciplinary professionals who have advanced degrees from universities affiliated with medical schools. These degrees offer education combining medical science, art, communication, and technology. Others are also board-certified medical illustrators or CMIs, which is a testament to their commitment to maintain professional competency.

2. Educational Value

Content is king. No matter what animation solution you use or how it is delivered, make sure that the medical information is something that HCPs truly want instead of just communicating what you think is important. Start by asking yourself, "What value can we bring physicians and how can we help them be more successful?" Answering this question will assist you in developing the script, which is a core part of the animation development process. It is essentially the story you tell about your product and the associated disease state.

If you use the wrong approach, your audience can lose interest just like they would with any story. It is up to the medical writers and animators to create just the right buzz about your product, so that the audience will not only remember what the key messages are, but will also want to know more.

It is essential then that you find a company that is willing to collaborate with you from the beginning to fully understand your product's key features and points of differentiation. They also need to understand any medical and regulatory constraints that may also exist.

In theory, you should go through several iterations of developing and fine tuning the script before settling on a convincing story that is ready to be aligned with visuals.

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