A simplified thought about the accuracy vs artistic taste in science animations

Just want to voice my thought after a meeting.

I got a chance to go to a meeting where at one point a professor addressed the issue of the lack of annotation in molecular animations. Those animations looked cool, but no-one might know what was actually going on. A few days back, a topic about the complexity and accuracy of biomedical animations was also brought up again on a one-month-old discussion thread on LinkedIn. And I haven’t forgotten about the talk I had with my teacher when I had a class visit: it was about the level of ‘fact’ that could be ‘safely’ represented with a certain degree of artistic license involved.

This is my on-going concern while learning to create these kinds of work; and I bet it’s the same for many people in this field also, given that I’m still a budding illustrator. Personally, I think in science illustration and animation, the authors should be responsible for what is being shown. The work might be seen by audiences who are unaware of the relevant info that is available out there, and that the illustrations/animations could be their first impression about a certain topic. Although it is not fatal, but to misunderstand or learn misleading info could lead to:
(a) people being unimpressed/uninterested to find out more about the topic;
(b) people making unfavorable choices (medical situations, etc.);
(c) people might be confused and would have a harder time fixing their first impression about the misconception later on (students, etc.).

The main purpose of a visual aid is to get the core message across, strong and clear, before tapping on aesthetic (although the bar is raising). I keep reminding myself of this to not produce something that would not be of use.

However, a large part of this lies on the fact that just like any editorial illustrations, there should be a board in charge of reviewing the content before the work goes public, in order to screen for mistakes. After the ‘pre-production’ stage is the production where the animators work on the piece; then ‘post-production’ would be peer review and recommendation, field categorization, and public rating/feedback; like a central shopping site incorporating results from many input sites with collective product ratings. Then the cycle repeats with the animator going back and reflecting upon feedback and learn from others’ mistake as well as theirs to make better animations in the future.

One thing though: although experts know best about their own fields, there are certain instances that there are something they take it for granted and simply forget to mention or assume to safely omit when present their work to the public. To revert one’s mind back to the blank state as a child or a freshman in college in order to describe thing in a more intuitive way is a needed skill. Metaphors, relations among things, common senses, and universal symbols could help in explaining a new concept and make it likable and interesting to build upon. And certainly, imagination and facts would intertwine within as well to complete the story.
It’s a much needed step to learn to put oneself in different types of audiences’ shoes to understand what would attract their attention and what would be worth it for them to get out from one’s work. With science knowledge, art and design skills, and a sense of curiosity, one could be that audience who could step up to find and present the answers to his/her own questions visually. Well, a Jack-of-all-trade with unique blend is not too bad after all :).

Anyway, it’s ironic that the saying “Science is art and art is science”, although being true to its nature, might not apply totally in the case of human visual interpretation of the world around them for the purpose of delivering facts. It could be applied, but where is the boundary for artistic license in science presentation before we could have the technology for real visual capture then? … Just a thought.


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