The creative team at Microverse studios, brainchild of Cameron Slayden, takes pride in creating intricate and gorgeous short films that take place inside cells. “Imagine all those beautiful images of outer space captured by the Hubble and James Webb telescopes,” says Slayden, “Looking at inner space can be just as breathtaking. And it should be.” According to Slayden, medical animation is the easiest way to get complicated scientific information into the brains of viewers. The trick is knowing how the brain works, and taking advantage of how it processes imagery and story structure to engage with the emotions. Slayden believes that if it’s done right, scientific animation will be worth watching simply because it is so beautiful.
The stories Slayden’s company tells through animation contain complex biomedical concepts, such as the mechanism of action of drugs or how a new gene therapy works. Clarity and ease of understanding are critical. They use cutting-edge technology and animation techniques to bring medical information to life, creating the perfect communications tools for biotech startups to educate prospective investors, and pharmaceutical companies to educate prescribing physicians.
One example of the company’s work is an award-winning animation that explains how a biotech startup called Ventus uses simulations of water moving over a protein molecule’s surface to predict what drugs might bind to it best. Proteins are the active machinery of life, and drugs usually bind to them and change their function in some way to achieve their effects. The short film is visually radically different from typical scientific imagery, evoking meteorite and precious metals and alien technologies.
“It used to be that the way biotech and pharmaceutical stories stood out was by using any animation at all. Nowadays, the biotech industries are saturated with it, so the only way to stand out is to look like nothing anyone’s ever seen before,” says Slayden.
Slayden’s approach is to first completely understand the scientific story, and then use that understanding to identify the essence of the story, and then let that drive the aesthetic. That’s no simple process. He and all of his animators have graduate degrees in medical illustration, a qualification he says is indispensable.
Slayden can’t help but gesture with his hands when he talks. “Take an animation of a cell surface, for example. If you want it to stand out, you can’t just look at how everyone else has done it before. You have to ask yourself ‘what’s a good visual metaphor for this?’ Well, to be able to ask that question, you have to have the scientific background to understand the story on a deeper and more conceptual level. A cell surface is covered with all kinds of stuff, receptors and carbohydrates and so on. It’s a complicated place. What else is like that? Maybe a desert filled with cacti and Joshua trees, or maybe a coral reef. Maybe a cluttered playroom filled with toys. Any of these visual metaphors can then be used to drive choices of color, illumination, and form, all while keeping the science accurate. It’s hard to do that if you don’t have a solid scientific background.”
He says that the animation industry has come a long way and that today’s animations are not just about explaining science to doctors or investors, they’re about captivating and inspiring an audience.
“Twenty years ago when I got started, it was enough for a new drug or biotech to have any kind of animation, because animation was so hard to come by. Today, there’s a new scientific animation company being founded every six months. If you want to stand out, you need to be breathtaking.”
According to Slayden, the glut of new animation providers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Accelerating advancements in technologies in the life sciences have created a never-ending churn of increasingly complicated and novel scientific stories to be told. The key is standing out amid the noise. With biotech startups, investors will make a decision about whether or not they want to learn more within the first couple of minutes of a presentation or visit to a website. In the pharmaceutical industry, the same holds true with healthcare providers. That precious window of time is all there is, and the more efficient the communications medium, the better.
“When it comes to scientific stories, keeping the audience’s attention is the foundation of efficiency. If the audience gets bored and clicks away or starts playing with their phone during your presentation, none of the other considerations of efficiency matters. That’s why the aesthetic is so critical.”
Microverse Studios has been at the bleeding edge of technologies that are changing the world. With Slayden at the helm, their scientific storytelling through carefully developed aesthetics sets them apart in the medical animation industry, making their clients speak highly about the studio and the mastermind, Cameron Slayden.
If you love beautiful imagery and have even a passing interest in science, it’s worth your time to check out their website.