Envision science animation: Investigating root traits and belowground dynamics in tundra systems

In collaboration with researchers from the University of Nottingham, we created this engaging and informative animation that illustrates the research being conducted on the impact of environmental change on tundra plant root traits and the broader implications for carbon storage and permafrost degradation.

This is one of the four animations we created for Envision PhD researchers in 2022. Envision ran a competition where candidates submitted a brief for an animated film. The winners were selected by a judging panel and the prize was to have an animation produced about their research work.

Visual Approach:

Our animation uses cool, muted colours,  textured, digital painting style that utilised a variety of brushes in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco. The style was inspired by the colours and textures of tundra environments.

Laura Turner - Arctic and alpine systems screenshot from animation.


Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco were used for storyboard creation and for designing the storyboards and illustrating the textured, painted style artwork, followed by Adobe After Effects for bringing the story to life through animation and motion design.

Research Insights:

The animation delves into how climate change, exacerbated by human activities such as fossil fuel consumption, animal agriculture, and deforestation, is profoundly altering tundra ecosystems. Through vivid depictions of changing plant traits, soil degradation, and the increasing frequency of droughts and wildfires, viewers are invited to understand the precarious balance of this ecosystem.

Highlighting the University of Nottingham’s research, our animation illustrates the innovative methods used to investigate tundra root traits, including the use of in-growth cores and soil samples across various tundra sites. By showcasing the analysis of roots and their symbiotic relationships with fungi and microbes, we offer viewers insights into how these belowground dynamics are key to understanding ecosystem functions like carbon storage and nutrient cycling.

Addressing Climate Change:

This animated journey not only educates about the current state of tundra ecosystems but also emphasizes the importance of scientific research in predicting and mitigating the effects of climate change. By combining belowground and aboveground plant data, the animation underscores the vital role of ecosystems in controlling climate, storing carbon, and cycling water and nutrients.

Public Engagement:

Commissioned by researcher, Laura Turner, this animation was created as a communication tool to explain their scientific work and the potential to help conserve these vital ecosystems. Aimed at a general audience of all ages, it will mainly be used in presentations to other academics and school pupils.

Stills from the Animation:

Production Process

Script & style concept 

We collaborated with Laura to write a 2 minute script for the animation based on the competition entry that explained her research and pitched the storyline concept. A style concept was designed to give an idea of how the animation would look. 
Style concept for animation drawn on iPad in Adobe Fresco

Sketched Storyboards and Animatic Video 

A storyboard was sketched out based on the script in Photoshop then uploaded to Boords. The storyboard images were then put into a video sequence with a draft voiceover recording so we could test the timings and ensure the script and images made sense when played together.

At this point we made some script and image revisions before moving to the next stage.

Illustration of Animation Assets

Illustrated storyboards in Boords app

Once the sketched storyboards were signed off, the storyboards were illustrated in the style design.

The illustrations were created using Adobe Photoshop and the iPad app Adobe Fresco.

Some revisions were made before moving onto the next production phase.


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The animation phase started by preparing all the illustrations for animation. This involved separating artwork out onto layers and naming them.

After Effects’ 3D tools and cameras were used to give depth to scenes.

Photoshop files were imported into Adobe After Effects then animated.

A professional voice over artist recorded the script then the audio track was mixed and edited so it could be animated in time to.