Preface: In the latest interview with companies that are using innovation to support researchers, we asked Emma Feloy from Science Animated how the team is amplifying research communication with simple, effective science animations. We learned that sharing research using visual media has a huge benefit in audience learning and retention, and that pairing the simplified core of research findings with creative representations invites engagement with scientific concepts. As a skilled team of communicators, Science Animated connects research to viewers in a way that is understandable, accessible, and lights curiosity!
Can you tell us a bit about Science Animated and how it came to be?
Sci Ani is one of the brands run by Research Publishing International. We started in 2016, to quite humble beginnings – we actually worked out of a cabin in our founder Simon’s garden in the early days! The idea to animate science and research was born out of a desire to make science accessible, appealing, and visually pleasing. From just three of us in that cabin in the garden, we’ve grown to a dynamic team over 40 strong of editorial assistants, scriptwriters, technical and creative consultants, project managers, illustrators, animators, and social media experts who bring people’s work to life in the form of animations. We’ve also constantly expanded our suite of services so that now we can offer simple whiteboard explainer videos to really complex, hyper-realistic 3D art. The latter projects are always enjoyed by the team!
In 2022 we were acquired by Karger Publishers which has really helped us as a business. They’ve been able to provide support and guidance in key areas and we’ve learnt a lot since then. The two companies are quite different in many ways but from the start it was clear there were many areas of synergy between us. It’s been great exploring that together.
Why is it important to make scientific concepts engaging and entertaining?
One of the things we hear a lot is that while researchers are really excited about their work, they find it hard to get others excited about it, too. That’s where the need comes in to bridge that gap. The science can be beautiful, amazing, ground-breaking; but unless we can find an effective way to show people that, it often doesn’t get the exposure it deserves. The majority of people aren’t going to understand – or even want to read – a research paper, for example. But if we can take the key points of that paper and turn that into something simple, attractive, and engaging, that bit of research becomes accessible to so many more people. Plus, studies have shown that there is a statistically significant improvement on learning, recall and retention when using video resources versus text-based resources.
How can science animations help with communicating research to the public?
There’s this concept called ‘amplification through simplification’, which underpins a lot of the theory behind using comics, cartoons, and animations to communicate and educate. It puts forward that essentially, if we simplify a point or a complex down to its very core, and remove distractions and superfluous information, we’re able to amplify the important stuff. Animation has been shown in several studies to promote learning and retention, all the way from young children, to university students, to farmers in Mozambique with limited literacy.
Is there anything you consider to be most important in translating scientific concepts effectively in a visual media?
Going back to that amplification through simplification idea; it’s about distilling concepts to their core, and thinking up creative ways to show that on screen so that not only are we showing an accurate representation, but it appeals visually to the viewer and lights that curiosity. So, I suppose ultimately, it’s finding that perfect balance of scientific accuracy, aesthetic appeal, and simplicity that is going to keep the viewer excited.
How do you approach bringing abstract or invisible concepts like the greenhouse effect or nerve transduction to life?
We’ve got a team full of really creative people who brainstorm how to visualise abstract concepts. This could mean finding visual metaphors; for example, we recently produced an animation on misinformation, where we represented the sea of misinformation as just that: an ocean; and the techniques to deal with misinformation were visualised as a life raft. For other things, the actual dynamics of an animation help a lot in showing them; for example, a nerve firing off an impulse can be visualised as a flash of light flickering down an axon.
Do you think in the future more research grants or programs will require communicating science to the public through a medium like animation?
I can imagine more and more funding bodies will stipulate the requirement for wider dissemination outside of the research community, but I’m not sure they would go to the extent of dictating the format that dissemination needs to take. Having said that, there is growing evidence that video is more widely used than other formats, enhances retention, and allows you to reach younger audiences. Videos are shared 1200% more online than text or images; more than 80% of internet traffic consists of video; and animation has been shown to significantly enhance knowledge retention and improve understanding. Based on that, I guess funders might want to promote the medium for communication efforts.
Can you tell us about your vision for the future of Sci Ani?
I’d love to see Sci Ani become the go-to provider for any researcher looking to communicate their work in an innovative way. We’re currently experimenting behind the scenes to see how we can include more interactivity and gamification within our offering: I think the team will always be pushing to improve and expand on our services. And I also want us to continue honing our customer experience. Whenever someone comes back to work with us again I see that as the best feedback our team could receive.
We would like to thank Emma for sharing her insight!