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.

 

3. Visual Impact

A Viscira-produced image of HER2 overexpressing cells, which have been shown to play an important role in the pathogenesis and progression of certain aggressive types of breast cancer, and in recent years have evolved to become an important biomarker and target of therapy for the disease.Animation is highly visual and you want the audience to be immediately captivated by what they see. This is why it is important that when you are choosing an animation team for your project that they are able to create a piece that is visually engaging and memorable. You also want the finished product to have a long shelf life. 

However, you still need to ensure that you strike the right balance between the art and the science, since too many visualizations can quickly veer into fiction. There are certainly instances where it's possible to take more liberty with various creative elements and other instances where restraint is appropriate based on the audience or the disease state. It's very important for the animation team to recognize and respect these differences.

Director of Animation Hagop (Kane) Kaneboughazian of Viscira, a leading provider of dynamic interactive visual solutions for the life sciences industry, sums it up well. "Success depends on blending creative design with science," he says. "We start with primary research on a disease state and product, key message definition, and script development. Since the human body is an amazingly complex system with millions of moving parts, it's critical to understand the science first—because it's the science that feeds the visuals and helps to create a more dynamic and rich animation."

 

4. Creative Delivery Options

The delivery of 3-D animations has now advanced well beyond just a straight video viewing experience. There are stereoscopic formats, unique projection display options, fully interactive versions and augmented reality possibilities that can help enhance communication impact.

Depending on your marketing and communication goals, your chosen medical animation partner should help guide you through the various options to help your piece stand out from the competition. It is important to think through these possibilities upfront when beginning a project so that the animation can be optimized for these various delivery options.

5. Repurposing Opportunities

Choosing to create a quality 3-D MOA animation will represent a meaningful investment for your brand. If done correctly, your animation will be a key asset for your product that can be leveraged in many different ways across multiple deployment channels.

Your medical animator should help you clearly map out the various repurposing possibilities from convention booth deployment, to the Web, to sales rep delivery. However, it is important that you and your partner also recognize the differences between these channels so that the animation or portions of the animation can be deployed in the most effective manner.

Using these criteria should help steer you to a quality medical animator. Budget may also have an impact in selecting the right partner to work with, but generally the level of investment is likely to be commensurate with the quality and sophistication of the finished product. In other words, you generally get what you pay for.

If, at the end of the day, you are still confused with your choices for an animator then you may want to ask to see a sample DNA strand. If it's the left-handed spiral, then you'll know what to do.

Dave Gulezian is President and CEO of Viscira. He can be reached at [email protected].

Noël Ashekian is Marketing Communications/Recruiting Manager at Viscira. She can be reached at [email protected].

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