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Rethinking nerve therapy

Over 20 million people have peripheral nerve injuries in the United States alone. Most suffer long-term consequences, however, a novel surgical technique may provide a better future for these patients.

Challenge

Work collaboratively to create a 2D animation about a complex scientific topic for a target audience

This 2D animation was created to highlight modern research on peripheral nerve regeneration conducted by Dr. Chan's lab at the University of Alberta. The lab discovered that a novel surgical technique, called Conditioning Electrical Stimulation, can stimulate nerves to grow 5 times faster than their usual rate! 

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Tracy Xiang, Felix Son, and Kim Nipp during this project, with my main roles being asset development, motion design, and compositing.

Clients: Dr. Ming Chan, Dr. Jenna-Lynn Senger, and Dr. Christine Webber | University of Alberta

Format: Animation, Illustration

Roles: Storyboarding, asset development, motion graphics, and compositing

Software: Adobe Illustrator, AfterEffects

Ideate

First and foremost, we needed to establish the clients' goals in order to determine the content and the style for the animation. Since the main goal was to bring awareness of the new surgical technique, we decided to focus on the outcomes of the research, rather than get lost in the details of the science. We then brainstormed what visual style, use of language, and tone we wanted to use to achieve this goal. 

Throughout the project, we kept everything highly documented, including our role delegation, asset development assignments, shot breakdown, and animation assignments. We also kept a living document to keep track of changes to be implemented after each meeting with the clients.

Storyboard

After getting the script approved, the storyboard was developed. The story was divided into scenes that were then assigned to a particular team member. After the initial storyboarding process, we created an animatic and recorded a scratch narration to determine the pacing of the animation. This facilitated easy communication with the clients and allowed for specific feedback on both the look, feel, and audio-visual contiguity of the animation.

One challenge we immediately ran into was uncertainty about the accuracy of scientific content: 1) the events at the molecular scale, and 2) the order at which the surgical events occur. Since these aspects were central to the story, we discussed our confusion with the content experts and after a couple meetings, the content was clarified and certain parts were disregarded as we thought it would confuse the audience with little gain.

Asset Development

In order to ensure assets were optimized for animation, they were constantly shared and edited in an iterative manner. We initially divided up the assets between all four team members, assuming that we would all adhere to our established style guide and look development. We quickly discovered that our own personal styles were too different to establish a consistent look.

This caused us to completely rethink our asset development plan and restart from scratch. Myself and Kim had the most similar styles, so we decided that we would design all the assets, and Tracy and Felix would take on the more intensive animation roles. Luckily, this new plan worked perfectly and the project continued with only a few more minor bumps in the road.

Animation

Going into this project I knew I wanted to improve my motion graphics and smooth transitions. With this in mind, I focused on animating scenes that had more of these elements. Additionally, I had the lead compositing role and stitched the scenes together in Premiere Pro, as well as added the soundtrack.

Lessons Learned

Overall, this project was a major opportunity for growth and to understand the value of collaboration. Although it was challenging at times, I loved the experience to work with my talented classmates and scientists at the forefront of their field. Some of the main takeaways I got from this project were the following:

Deal with the most complex information first to figure out possible areas of confusion.

Organize tasks based on strength, then factor in what you want to learn. You can balance both.

To do great work, takes time and involves watching many, many tutorials.

Schedule regular meetings to maintain a steady pace of work, consistent progress, and regular feedback

Animation can be a fun and engaging way to disseminate research findings!

This is absolutely fantastic, well beyond what I had hoped the video would look like.

Dr. Jenna-Lynn Senger, MD/PhD Candidate

Faculty of Dentistry and Medicine

University of Alberta

I am most impressed with your effort and the quality of your work. It will not just be helpful to make our work more widely known to a general audience, they will get to recognize the people behind the work.

Dr. Ming Chan, Professor

Faculty of Dentistry and Medicine

University of Alberta