How do you make a scientific animation?

Scientific animation still depicting a phosphonium molecule donating a hydrogen to produce ammonia.
We get a lot of questions about our processes – especially around scientific animation! And like our approach to all projects, it depends on what an animation needs to effectively communicate the science, and of course, look amazing!

So let’s go through the process for our latest 3D animation on the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia. We produced this animation to accompany a paper from the Monash Ammonia Project and recently published in Science Magazine – let’s go through the process!

Chats and Briefs

To kick things off, founder and lead creative, Molly, had a chat with the research team via Zoom. Because we work with so many groups across Australia and worldwide, video meetings are a big part of our client communications. 

Based on this initial discussion, Molly then prepared a project brief and got in touch with one of the Studio’s talented motion designers, Dee – who regularly teams up with Molly and has produced some of our most sussessful journal covers!

Pre-Production
Voice Over

Once the details are ironed out and everyone is happy with the project parameters, we then enter the pre-production phase.

If the animation requires narration, as this one did, it’s important that this is the FIRST thing we do because the voice-over timing will determine the length and pace of the entire animation.

Sometimes one of our voice over artists will produce this, but we’re just as happy to work with you and guide you through the process of producing your own recording. In this case, that’s exactly what happened and the research team recorded their own voice over.

If the animation requires narration, it’s important that this is the FIRST thing we do because the voice-over timing will determine the length and pace of the entire animation.

Storyboarding

Once we have our voice over, we then get to work on storyboarding the visuals that are going to accompany the animation. Storyboards help us compose each frame and make sure our visuals match the narration.

For highly complex productions like 3D animations, we’ll often produce an animatic; a moving storyboard with the narration over the top. This helps us make sure everything flows and makes sense because it can be very tricky to change once we begin animating.

Style Frames

Whilst you’re reviewing your animatic, we’re already going to work creating what the final product will look like. For this 3D animation, we were able to repurpose 3D molecule files from Avogadro so the production of assets was comparably faster than that of a 2D animation.

For 2D productions, we would need to illustrate everything first – which is actually one of our more popular bundles for boosting research impact – but back to animating ammonia! Below we have some style frame examples we explored before settling on the final look.

Production

With the final tick of approval, we then entered full production mode; creating the entire animation based on all the planning work we did previously.

We may make a few adjustments here and there, add some special effects, optimise the lighting and do everything we can to make the production amazing!

Wireframe composition of a new scientific animation on the production of ammonia.
Wireframe composition of a new scientific animation on the production of ammonia with colours.
Rendering and File Packaging

This animation was less than 1 minute and took two days to render! So, whilst rendering doesn’t take a lot of work, it can take a long time and is something we need to account for in our timelines.  

Once the render finished, we then packaged it up and placed the file in one of our secure online lockers, ready for download.

What did you think?

That’s it folks! What did you think of our scientific animation process? Was it different to what you thought it would be? If you have a question about any of our processes, or if you’re keen to start a project, send us an email or book a free 30-minute consult with Molly.

Until next time, stay awesome!

Curious to know more?

Learn more about the Monash Ammonia Project group’s latest research:

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