18 June 2020

Animated Films Help DanStem Communicate Stem Cell Research

science communication

A close collaboration with visual storytellers has given DanStem’s researchers a new tool to explain what they do and why. See how their new animated films beautifully illustrate the importance of stem cell research. ​

By Mette Løgeskov Lund for Sund Communication 

Finding animators skilled in science communication is not an easy task, as you need a basic understanding of the science in order to communicate it. That´s why DanStem last year initiated a collaboration with visual storytellers from the Animation Workshop at VIA University College - one of the best animation schools in the world.

The aim was to create a good dialogue between scientists and visual storytellers and finding a better way to disseminate research and scientific processes to the general public.

“With our collaboration being long-term we have the opportunity to test different forms of communication and techniques, while the visual storytellers gain a very special insight into stem cell research. Our goal is to produce small films that both convey relevant research, but which also have high aesthetic quality. We want to show that research is beautiful!” says Sia Søndergaard, Project Manager, Center for Animation, Visualization and Graphic Storytelling at VIA.

Artistic stories convey the science

To ensure the success of the collaboration, DanStem and the Animation Workshop put a lot of energy into letting the two worlds meet and gain a mutual understanding. The animators visited DanStem to meet the scientists, see all the labs and facilities and to interview staff to gain a deeper understanding of their field of research.

Based on the extensive dialogue with DanStem, live-painting storyteller Cosimo Miorelli proposed a storyboard for a film introducing the field of stem cells. After discussing the storyboard back and forth with the scientists, Cosimo Miorelli conducted the film Cells of knowledge.

Cells of knowledge

The result is a very artistic tale introducing stem cell research in broad terms, with DanStem researchers doing the voice-over to ensure authenticity. Senior communication advisor Naomi Dayan from DanStem is very happy with the result.

“We have deliberately been taking a metaphorical approach to the storytelling in this film. We want to captivate the viewer through the storytelling, because I believe that via the story the science will come,” says Naomi Dayan.

Research in a more accessible form

The latest film revolves around liver regeneration and one of the scientists involved in the process is very positive about this type of visual communication.

“During this interaction it became clear how powerful it is to deconstruct a complex biological process and recreate it with a hand-drawn movie. This allowed us to bring across the main message in a simpler, more accessible form. It was fascinating to see how Charlotte and Cosimo, the two main creators of this project, managed to convey our passion for liver regeneration and its scientific potential”, says Elke Ober, Associate Professor, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, DanStem.

 The Superheroes in Liver Regeneration

Mutual understanding eases future projects

The process and dialogue leading up to the first animation film was quite long, which now means that the researchers and animators know each other. They have encountered an informal way of working together, building on their mutual understanding of each other’s work that makes it easier going forward.

“One of the perks of being an illustrator is that every new project is a whole new world to discover. Not only have I acquired some notion of stem cell biology, which was way more exciting and mind-blowing than I could have expected, but I also got in contact with a whole microcosm of people who dedicate their lives to incredibly specific research. Their effort, their dedication and the sheer beauty of nature deserve to be told,” says Cosimo Miorelli.

More animation films are in the pipeline. The films will be used for both showing specific mechanisms at conferences and for public engagement.