The power of medical animation

Sep 01, 2009

Click on the image above to view an example video.

Today’s pharmaceutical market is a dynamic, crowded and competitive arena. With companies spending around $1.3 billion (E0.92 bn) to get a drug successfully to market, and given that only two in 10 medicines ever produce revenues that match or exceed average R&D costs, it is imperative that you create messages for your product that resonate with the audience.

One of the most effective means for achieving this for a drug is through mechanism of action (MOA) animations. Most people will be familiar with animation technology from the film and computer game industries but may not have realised how well it can be adapted for the medical environment.

Realism and objectivity
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.

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 on show. If you are showing your animation in a crowded exhibition hall, then you may only have seconds to capture their attention before they are seduced by a rival exhibit.

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.

Getting the basics right
A core part of the MOA, that is often neglected, is the script. This is essentially the story you to tell about your product. Like any story, if you use the wrong approach your audience will lose interest and become bored. Just as story telling is an art, so is script creation and development. The writers and animators must create the right buzz about your drug so that your audience will not only remember important details, but will want to know more.

Initially, the writing team will work with you to understand your product’s key features and your aspirations for its success. When developing a script, it is essential that the story comes across as educational and impartial otherwise people will lose interest. Blatant self-promotion should be avoided at all costs since it is counter-productive and may even have legal and regulatory consequences.

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. The old cinema maxim “always leaving the audience wanting more” is usually correct and an experienced writing team will soon determine the optimum length for your MOA video.

Through a step-wise approach, the script will be developed and fine-tuned until it serves as a compelling story for people to follow. The next step is to start aligning the words with visuals. This is usually done through the creation of a storyboard, where draft 2D sketches are developed by the animators to accompany the main points being made by the writers. Once this has been done to everyone’s satisfaction, a 3D storyboard can 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 finalised, 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. This is why realistic timelines are of paramount importance to the success of the final video. Animation teams must be given sufficient time to leverage the technology’s full power.

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. Natural-sounding and well-timed narration can do wonders in keeping people’s attention and helping them follow the story being told in the MOA video.

Animation adds value
Although you may wish to create an MOA sequence for a particular occasion, such as a convention, good planning can ensure that its impact goes well beyond just a single event. A key part of this is the structure that is used to put the MOA video together. Experienced teams proactively design and build MOA videos in segments, each which act as semi-autonomous units. This means that by moving the self-contained segments around you can tell a very different story about your drug and convey different messages from your core set. Through splicing and rearrangement your team may well be able to create myriad communication scenarios for your product to tell its story from “birth through to launch and beyond.”

As the MOA video is a dynamic product, people often forget the impact it can have on more traditional promotional elements. In addition to being a multimedia vehicle for communicating key messages at meetings and congresses, 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 set and patient materials.

The MOA video has become increasingly popular as a tool to convey important messages about a drug, but not every sponsor has realised its potential.

Sadly, there exist a multitude of poor examples of animation sequences in the pharmaceutical sector that have acted as a disservice for the technology, and have scared off others from using it to create advantages for their product. Unsettled by high costs, and crippled by poor planning, many other sponsors have unnecessarily given up on an approach that would have expanded the audience for their product’s messages. The truth is that with the right approach and right team there is no reason why you cannot harness animation’s power to add vital innovation to the communication portfolio for your product.

For more information and to view some MOA animations, visit

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