Best examples of science animations

Science has two faces.


One is grinning happily, and is fascinated by the fun, quirky facts about the natural world. This face is often seen on children discovering the solar system for the very first time, staring bright-eyed at the stars.


But the other face, looking quite grimaced, is confused and frustrated about the unknown. This face can sometimes be found on undergraduates trying to tune into a dry 8 am university lecture. And the coffee isn’t helping.


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Which of the two faces do you most relate with?

So, what does science need to do to turn that frown upside down? That’s where science animations come into play as a tool for delivering science in a visually engaging way.


In this blog, we talk about the purpose and value of science animations, who should be using them, and finally showcase our favourite examples of ones that are particularly well-made.



What are science animations?


Science animation refers to the use of animation to portray, communicate, and explain scientific concepts. They are often used for the purposes of academic teaching, awareness campaigning, as well as for entertainment.


We know that animation as a whole has been embraced by the world as a tool for delivering captivating stories. After all, we’ve experienced this firsthand with cartoons and animated feature films.


But how, and why is animation such a powerful tool specifically for science?


Well, it boils down to the fact that science feeds on curiosity. Like with any story, you eagerly want to know what happens next.


You’re curious. About how deep the oceans go. Or about how far the universe stretches.


So instead of being buried for hours in the nitty-gritty details and jargon of static and verbose textbooks, lecture notes, or manuscripts, instead science animations provide a dynamic, precise, and engaging view of the topic at hand in mere minutes.

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Save yourself the hassle and put away that textbook!

In other words, animation is a novel language by which science can be communicated.


And luckily for us, we’ve been speaking this language since childhood. I guess all that time we spent watching Saturday morning cartoons was totally worth it!

Who makes science animations?


Despite the name, science animations are rarely made by scientists themselves. Given how busy they are with their research, the vast majority of scientists aren’t trained in visual media. Indeed, it’s rare for a scientist to have formal training in both academic research and animation. Though it’s certainly not impossible, and we encourage all academics to try and produce a quality animation in familiar software such as PowerPoint.


But in all other cases, academics enlist the help of those who can balance their expertise. The artsy part is often done professionally by artists and designers, who in turn, aren’t necessarily trained in academia. So how can we fit this puzzle together to make a science animation?


Science communicators form the bridge that brings them together. Versed in the dealings of both sides, science communicators translate the science from the researcher and advise the designers how it could be represented accurately.


It’s a full team effort.

Do science animations work?

Yes!


The literature has shown that animation is an effective medium for communicating science. In summary, they show that animations:


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Animations promote memory, literacy, and are the perfect tool for merging the worlds of art and science.

If you need more convincing, take it from the video comments section from the biggest stars of science animation on YouTube which boasts almost 17 million subscribers.


Animation makes science more accessible and fosters an informed and engaged public. In other words, it’s the perfect tool for outreach. Through animation, lay audiences can more easily understand and appreciate complex topics like climate change or vaccination.

What’s more, is that animations are the perfect tool for promoting research visibility. In the sea of 7000+ manuscripts that are being published every single day, you’ll find that those that can best get their message across to a wider audience are cited far more often. It’s all about increasing your impact. And the best way to do this is to represent your work through an animation, including video abstracts. We’ve even summarised these points in our own animation about video abstracts.




So, do you think that society would be better off if more people understood and appreciated the value of science?


If your answer is 'yes', then we wholeheartedly agree.

7 examples of the best science animations

So far, while we’ve been hammering on about how science animations are the key to successful communication, without a doubt, there’s still an assessment of quality to be made!


It’s late 2021 (at the time we’re smashing away at this keyboard), and there’s a LOT out there.


To inspire you all, we wanted to share some of the best science animations we know of in no particular order.


Hey, pass the popcorn would you?


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Let's hit that play button!


Oceans: how low do they go?


You know that the ocean is deep, right? But do you really know just how deep it goes?


It's well-accepted that we know more about our solar system than we do about the depths of Earth's oceans. And here we are pondering about life in outer space, when there’s so much left undiscovered in the depths below!


This animation from Tech Insider does a great job of explaining the sheer scale of the depths of our oceans.


What we love most about this animation:

  • You can get a real sense of scale, including a comparison of the size of marine animals and everyday objects. The depths of the oceans are often compared to the heights of mountains. That’s great data visualisation!

Life and light in darkness


Cancel your Netflix subscription.


Forget about the next Star Wars film.


Mother nature has devised some weird and wonderful creatures - more fascinating than any you've seen in any Sci-fi film to date.



What we love most about this animation:

  • True to the topic, the animation makes fantastic use of light to contrast with dark backgrounds and silhouettes. This ensures every highlighted object in the animation stands out in time with the narration.

Do you even lift?


We use the muscles in our body all day, every day - from lifting weights to sleeping.


But how do I actually bring that coffee mug from the desk to my mouth, in order to deliver the crucial, life-sustaining beverage?


One of our teammates did their PhD in Exercise Science, so this is one of their personal favourites!



What we love most about this animation:

  • Expressive characters are a great way to tell a narrative. Body-language is another important channel for communication, even for science!

Riding on the waves of space and time


Theoretical physics, being a mostly non-tangible branch of science, is by far one of the most difficult disciplines to visualise. And with the recent discovery of gravitational waves, the world was curious to know what they were exactly. This explainer video takes a very simplistic, symbolic and metaphorical approach to explaining concepts involving space and time!


Monochrome never looked as cool as it does here.



What we love most about this animation:

  • Our eyes are focused on just one or two objects at a time. The entire story is told from a single focal point, so our eyes aren’t distracted while we listen to the complex narration.

One jab makes all the difference

Kurzgesagt consistently produces some of the very best science animations we've ever seen.


Choosing the best wasn't an easy task, but here is one that provides evidence-based information, in a non-judgemental way, about a quite heated topic.



What we love most about this animation:

  • We absolutely love Kurzgesagt’s bird mascots - they’re so iconic and are featured in every single one of their videos.

  • Each cell is anthropomorphised with cartoon expressions to portray good and evil. Even a kid could easily understand who the protagonist and antagonist cells are. Go immune system!

Who turned up the heat?


Here you’ll learn all about volcanic eruptions and the underlying geology could help us predict when they’re ready to blow. Understanding how and when natural disasters occur has the potential to save entire populations of people and helps sustain the surrounding environment.


Also, did you know that a “volcanologist” is what you call a volcano researcher? That’s got to be one of our new favourite words.



What we love most about this animation:

  • The art style of this animation is very reminiscent of comic books or cartoons from the late 90’s/early 2000s. It’s very pleasing to the eye!

  • The transitions are seamless between scenes. This is a creative use of zoom-ins and zoom-outs using a defined earthy colour palette.

Man-made minds


Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise our world.


But there is a lot of concern and uncertainty about what AI is - and what's machine learning?


To help make things clear, we produced this video explainer.



What we love most about this animation:

  • The example using ducks and geese as AI training tools are a fantastic nod to the real-world children’s game of duck-duck-goose. It gives an easy-to-understand view of AI, before dipping into the more nitty-gritty applications of AI.

Take-away messages


  • Science animations are a medium for communicating science in a visually engaging way.

  • They condense hours of reading into minutes of understanding.

  • They promote the visibility and citation rate of research studies.

Feeling inspired?


After that movie marathon, we sure hope we’ve sparked some awe and inspiration in you. Perhaps you’re even thinking about making your very own explainer video or video abstract? And we get it, making your own science animation may seem scary and daunting at first, but there’s definitely ways for complete beginners to get started.

If you’re looking to produce a video abstract specifically, we’ve got a guide tailored for that too.

Need the help of a professional?


You’ve got us, the AYS team, to fall back on.


We completely understand that researchers like yourselves have their hands full running experiments, writing grants, and mentoring the next generation of scientists. But in your pursuit of great science, surely there must be room for an animated science video that could tell your story!


That is why we offer our professional animation services to scientists from any scientific discipline. Contact us today to see what we can do for you!



Until next time!


Authors:

Juan Miguel Balbin

Dr Flynn Slattery

Dr Tullio Rossi


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