Envision science animation: The behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change

We worked with the environmental scientist, Rachel Gunn, to communicate her research into the behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change.

Environmental change has affected all environments on earth. Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable. Rising temperatures cause corals to bleach and eventually die. Increasing nutrients causes a shift from a coral to an alga dominated environment. Human impacts, such as destructive fishing physically damage coral structures. Coral cover is therefore declining at an alarming rate. For example, since 1995, 50% of all corals on the Great Barrier Reef have been lost.

By changing their behaviour, organisms can respond quickly to environmental change. Researchers at Lancaster University are trying to understand more about the behavioural responses of reef fish to declining coral cover.

They are interested in the behaviour of individual fish, and what this can tell us about how individuals, populations, and species will be able to cope in the future.

Predicting the responses of butterflyfish to future declines in coral cover can be applied to conservation efforts, to identify which individuals and populations are most at risk. Efforts can then be made to preserve as many individuals of as many different species as possible, to protect coral reefs in the future!

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.



We collaborated with Rachel 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 

Style_Envision science animation The behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change
A style frame was designed to give an idea of how the final animation would look. 
The style designs were created using Adobe Illustrator. 

Sketched Storyboards and Animatic Video 

Sketched storyboards_Envision science animation The behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change
A storyboard was sketched out based on the script. 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_Envision science animation The behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change
Once the sketched storyboards were signed off, the storyboards were illustrated in the style design. 
The illustrations were created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe After Effects to compose scenes. 
Some revisions were made before moving onto the next production phase. 


Animation_after_effects_Envision science animation The behavioural responses of reef fish to environmental change
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.  


Rachel is using her animated video to successfully explain and engage people in her research.
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.

What the client said

Mair produced an amazing animation for my PhD research. The communication was excellent throughout the process, and the one on one conversations and sharing of ideas made for a really professional, enjoyable experience.

Rachel Gunn, Coral reef and behavioural ecology PhD researcher, Envision