Envision science animation: Solar parks for pollinators

We worked with the environmental researcher, Hollie Blaydes, to communicate her research into the potential for solar parks to become habitats for pollinators. Hollie's research was reported on in the Guardian in December 2021.

Pollinators like bees, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths perform a number of jobs critical for human society and ecosystems. Perhaps most importantly, pollinators contribute to food security and 75% of crops depend on them. Wild plants, which provide resources and habitats that support other biodiversity, also rely on pollinators. However, pollinators are threatened and worrying population declines have been observed in the UK and further afield. Numerous factors are driving these trends, with many linked to habitat loss as agriculture has intensified. This has affected pollinators through diminishing their resources (used for food, reproduction and shelter) and fragmenting their habitat.

Whilst land use change and intensification for agriculture has been detrimental, other land use changes offer opportunities. For example, there is potential to enhance pollinator populations through harnessing land use change for solar parks (fields of solar panels mounted above the ground).

This video aims to communicate Hollie's research to a range of audiences and increasing understanding of solar park potential to play a role in pollinator conservation including the solar industry and those working with pollinators, such as ecologists and farmers, all of which do not often associate solar parks with pollinator conservation.

An animation will ensure these groups are more aware of this opportunity and reach bodies that could help change policy and practice, helping to ensure the sustainable deployment of solar parks. Furthermore, this will be an effective way of raising awareness of upcoming research findings among such groups and may prompt others to contact Hollie, informing future work and facilitating collaboration.

This is one of the six animations we created for Envision PhD researchers in 2021. In autumn 2020 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.

Process


Script

We collaborated with Hollie to write a 2 minute script for the animation based on the competition entry that explained her research and pitched the storyline concept. 

Style design 

We had previously worked with Hollie to create an illustration about the pollinator services a solar park could provide in to increase biodiversity. So we decided to design an animation style to suit the existing illustration.
A style frame was designed to give an idea of how the final animation would look. 
The style design was created using Adobe Illustrator. 
An illustration of a solar park with areas highlighted that benefit pollinators.

Sketched Storyboards and Animatic Video 

Sketched Storyboard - Solar parks for pollinators
A storyboard was sketched out based on the script. We sketched them in Adobe Illustrator as we had existing illustrations to use in some frames. 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

Storyboard - Solar parks for pollinators
Once the sketched storyboards were signed off, the storyboards were illustrated in the style design. 
The illustrations were created using Adobe Illustrator. Some elements such as the solar panels were designed as 3D models with 2D texturing in Cinema 4D.
Solar parks animation cinema 4d
Some revisions were made before moving onto the next production phase. 

Animation 

Hollie Blaydes solar park animation
The animation phase started by preparing all the illustrations for animation. This involved separating artwork out onto layers and naming them.
Some illustration 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.  

Results

Hollie is using her animated video to successfully explain and engage people in her research including those working in the solar industry, those working with pollinators and policy makers. 
The animation was released publicly on the Envision website and Twitter and received positive feedback and engagement from peers in the science community and members of the public.
Hollie Blaydes animation on Twitter

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