Science Research Explainer: Mesopelagic Communities around the Island of Hawaii

We worked with Beth Francis, an environmental science researcher from Bangor University, and the research group ENVISION to create an animation about Beth's research into the mesopelagic micronekton (a group of deep water organisms ranging between 2 - 20cm) and how emerging fisheries in the mesopelagic could have a number of detrimental effects. Not only on deep waters but on other parts of the ocean too such as coral reefs, whales, the fish humans eat and even global climate change.

This video aims to share Beth’s scientific research in an engaging and accessible format to the general public.

This is one of the five animations we created for ENVISION PhD researchers in early 2020. In autumn 2019 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.

Production Process

Style Design 

A style frame was designed to give an idea of how the final animation would look. A painterly, textured, ethereal style was used to try and portray the beauty and wonder of the marine ecosystems around the Island of Hawaii. The style designs were created using Procreate on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil then finished in Adobe Photoshop. 
Style Design

Sketched Storyboards and Animatic Video 

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. 
Sketched Storyboards and Animatic Video

Illustration of Animation Assets

Once the sketched storyboards were signed off, the storyboards were illustrated in the style design. The illustrations were digitally painted in Adobe Photoshop by hand with a Wacom Cintiq pen display which enables pressure sensitive drawing directly onto the screen. Some revisions were made before moving onto the next production phase. 
Illustrating animation assets in Photoshop


The animation phase started by preparing all the illustrations for animation. This involved separating images out onto layers and resizing some. The Photoshop illustration files were imported into Adobe After Effects then brought to life! Some of the marine creatures were rigged using the plugin Duik. A professional voice over artist recorded the script then the audio track was mixed and edited so it could be animated in time to. 
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Beth is using her animated video at conferences and online to engage people in her research, but also for her wider research group, at University open days and other events. The animation was released publicly on Twitter and received positive feedback and engagement. In April 2020, the animation was listed in the Sci-On Film Festival Official Selection.

Sci-On Film Festival Official Selection 2020