Understanding the Applications of Medical Animation

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This post has been written in conjunction with Steven McDowell. If you like this post and want to reach out to Steven, visit www.mcdowell.nl.


Medical animations are used to portray and explain medical concepts, which make them popular and powerful tools for communicating with your audience – be it patients, researchers, medical doctors or potential investors.

As a medical doctor myself, I know that effective communication is key, and is the reason why these animations combine voice-over, graphics and on-screen text, to ensure the concepts shown are concise and easily digestible to their target audience.

Also in this blog post, I’ll explain different applications of medical animation and how they can help you communicate more effectively with your audience.

mito closeup2
Steven McDowell

The animations that I create are both 2D and 3D, with examples in my showreel below if you want to take a quick overview of my work.

In each section I’ll also recommend an animation company. Because I’m from the Netherlands, my focus is mainly on Dutch companies, but all the companies listed will also be able to fluently work in English.

Visualising Scientific Data

An animator can work with any data obtained through research. The animator’s role is to incorporate raw scientific data, interpret it and convert it into an aesthetically pleasing whole. My medical training ensures I can understand the story within the data, meaning that there will be a direct connection between the input data and the animation, to maintain scientific accuracy.

Represent medical imaging data in an understandable way

One example is the incorporation of medical imaging data.

It’s possible to input data from medical imaging techniques – such as PET, MRI and CT – so that you can easily showcase a disease or process on the relevant site of anatomy. The collection of two dimensional images can be converted into 3D models, for easier interpretation by non-experts.

Here’s an example of real MRI brain data being visualised in 3D, and in this case the raw images of MRI slices were sequenced and converted into a 3D model.

Make statistical data appealing

Furthermore, a medical animator can effectively visualise statistical data, animated over time. For example, to show the spread of an infectious disease, with all frames of the animation being informed by scientifically accurate data.

Creating life from scientific Protein Data Bank files

Another example of this is protein data.

Protein Data Bank (PDB) files can be used and converted to 3D models, ensuring scientific accuracy. The animator interprets the data – for example splits the backbone ribbon from the rest – and uses the data as the basis for an animation. This raw protein data then forms the basis of many animations showing the inner workings of the cell.

Phospho is an award-winning bio-medical animation studio in London, UK. They specialise in cellular and molecular visuals and have worked with a wide range of research institutes, charities and pharmaceutical companies.

Explain the Mechanism of Action for Pharmaceuticals

The Mechanism of Action (MoA) is a complicated concept in pharmacology, but ultimately describes how a drug produces its effect.

Most biological processes occur at the cellular level, invisible to humans, but an animator can visualise a mechanism of action to show how a drug produces a pharmacological effect and making it an efficient way to show foundational information on how a drug works.

The typical audience for this kind of data is healthcare providers and investors, as users will prefer to watch a short video instead of reading a long technical document. Pharmaceutical companies can effectively communicate the Mechanism of Action and the benefits of their medication to doctors, patients and consumers.

Glow MoA v01
Glow Medical

Glow Medical is an animation and design studio based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. They specialise in Mechanism of Action and Mechanism of Disease animations.

Communicating with clients, customers and investors

Innovative companies can struggle to communicate what makes their service or device unique. But fortunately an animation can help overcome that.

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Steven McDowell

Explain intricate research processes

Getting the momentum going for a medical research project can be hard and in the early stages of a project it’s essential to communicate effectively and efficiently.

A short medical animation can be used as a tool, for instance for recruiting into clinical trials or to help secure funding.

phospholipid bilayer2
Steven McDowell

Replacing an expensive film shoot with an effectively simple animation

Filming real patients or real locations can be a privacy nightmare, and creating a film with actors can be tough and costly, not to mention the risk of increasing costs due to necessary re-shoots.

An animation can solve these problems while maintaining a professional and friendly style.

GeriCall ANW Final 01
Wevoke: GeriCall

This 2D animation, made by Wevoke and assisted by me, shows a range of characters, patients and medical locations, in what would have been near impossible to show with a traditional film shoot. It explains the medical service GeriCall provides, of which you can view the full video below:

Medical device demonstrations and instructions

Medical animation can also be used to train doctors to use your device.

This makes it essential for potential users of the device – such as doctors – to be able to quickly grasp how it works, and the visuals can additionally be used at product launch, for marketing and as an instructional guide.

The animator can work with available blueprints to create a 3D model or can build it from scratch from specifications, with the workings of the device then being adapted to be shown in different 3D settings.

Nymus 3D is part of Demcon, a high-end technology supplier. Nymus3D is based in Enschede, the Netherlands, and being a part of Demcon they naturally have a strong technical background.

Educating patients on medical procedures

For this the target audience is patients. Having good communication with patients helps them to have a better outcome and increases their satisfaction with the treatment. A well informed patient will be empowered to make the right choices for themselves and have a better outcome. This empowers them to partake in shared decision making.

A good script combined with high quality animation can explain the concepts around a disease to patients, while maintaining a professional and formal style, and without disturbing viewers.

informed plus
Informed Plus

Informed Plus are an animation studio based in the Netherlands specialising in patient education.

My Final Thoughts

While the underlying animation and motion graphics principles will be similar to those used in other forms of marketing, not every animation agency will be suitable.

A medical animator such as myself will be experienced in the medical industry and be scientifically literate, and able to combine the skills with the techniques used in regular animation to ensure an effective and accurate animation.

If you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

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Steven McDowell

About the Author

stevenmcdowell

Hi, I’m Steven, a medical doctor and scientific animator.

After my medical studies in the LUMC in the Netherlands I’ve worked as a doctor in- and outside of hospitals. At the same time I’ve expanded my skills into animation and CGI and have now been working professionally as an animator for a few years.

This means I bring a unique and highly specialised skill set to the table. My understanding of technical concepts is vital to my clients. As a doctor, I am committed to delivering accurate and reliable information to my patients. This same level of care and attention is what I bring to my work as an animator. I help specialists, scientists and life science companies communicate their message.

www.mcdowell.nl