BPS Video Conest: There’s More to it than Prize Money

Last year, our video about the structure of collagen across the length scales won the Biophysical Society video contest. A wonderful honor, particularly for the folks at the animation studio that put a huge amount of time and effort into this. We’ll get to them in a bit, but let me tell you first, very briefly, why we created it and why you, too, should consider creating one.

Last year’s winning video:

We are theoretical biophysicists, and – as you may have experienced for yourself – theory talks tend to get a bit, shall we say, boring. I know mine were, anyway.

Boring, because in order to convince an audience we’ve done our jobs properly we have to tell them what we did – in as much detail as a talk slot will allow. Our problem is that these details are often quite, well, detailed. As, I imagine, are your details. And too much detail detracts from your core message; the overarching story that you are telling an audience. So, you go easy on the details, right?

Probably, you don’t. The details of what you and I do in biophysics matter. In fact, most worthwhile science is in those details. So now what?

A well-conceived animation can be the key to solving this problem. After using ours on collagen for over a year, here’s what I’ve learned: an animation is a fun, low-threshold way to engage an audience in the initial stages of your presentation. More people will be on board, curious to hear what you have to say.

After showing it in full initially, strategically placed stills in your talk slides can provide structure, a coherent narrative thread, to your talk which helps people stay on board.

But the best part is that, if done correctly, an animation can help you with those details. Side by side with your data, your equations, or your microscopy images your animation links your detailed work to the broader context, which your audience will have seen several times by now. They will understand better how what you actually did fits your overall goals.

For all this to work, it is absolutely vital that your animation is done well. At the Eindhoven University of Technology, we have the immense fortune to have, on campus, a fully kitted-out animation studio run by both scientists and visual design people. In the preparation of our collagen movie, we’ve shared with them literature, endless microscopy imagery, simulation data, X-ray crystallography data, and PDB structural data which was all meticulously combined to ensure scientific accuracy without sacrificing a clean and simple presentation.

The result, I think, is visually stunning (and I can say this, because I did not create a single frame myself – all credit to the animation studio and now-graduated PhD student Dr. Henry Amuasi!) and, more importantly, it works. It works for all manner of formats and audiences. An unexpected benefit has been that an animation even works when you don’t: The YouTube views of ours vastly outnumber the total citations our scientific papers have amassed. People are even “borrowing” our animation, which is just fine by us (as long as they credit its makers) and contributes to the overall exposure our subject, collagen, is receiving.

Give it a shot! You’ll have a ton of fun preparing your animation – and you may learn some new tricks along the way. Even if you don’t win this year’s competition, your audiences will thank you for it.

If you’d like some advice on your movie, perhaps our animation studio can be of some assistance. You can contact them at animationstudio@tue.nl. Our collagen animation and other cool samples of their work may be found on their YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/icmstue.

– Cornelis Storm, Eindhoven University of Technology, Dept. of Applied Physics.

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