NIAID Now | March 28, 2018
At NIAID, slowing and preventing antimicrobial resistance is serious business. NIH MedlinePlus has produced a video about antimicrobial resistance research, featuring anthropomorphic bacteria with villainous sneers. The video will accompany the spring issue of the NIH MedlinePlus magazine. NIAID Now spoke with the video’s animator, Jeff Day, M.D., about what it takes to make antimicrobial resistance accessible to a broad audience.
Would you please introduce yourself?
I’m Jeff Day, an Informatics Fellow at the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications at the National Library of Medicine.
You have a medical degree. How did you go from being a doctor to making these videos?
I went to med school but always had dreams of doing art. During my pediatrics residency, I realized I was best suited at communicating science and medicine, rather than actually practicing clinical medicine. I stepped away and developed programs and talks at a natural history museum for a few years before discovering medical illustration. I went back into training for medical illustration at Johns Hopkins University and finally felt like I had found my place in life, combining my medical background, visual art, and science communication skills.
I came to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) hoping to improve government outreach in health and medicine. I’ve been working with MedlinePlus and NIH MedlinePlus magazine, and over the last year have focused on online video. Online video is growing exponentially on social media, and I’m a big fan of explainer videos produced by TED-Ed, Skunk Bear (NPR), and SciShow amongst others.
To create one of these videos, you start with a script. When you’re drafting the script, do you have visuals in mind from the start?
As I’m writing, I try to use wording that is strongly visual and has good potential for facilitating images. Sometimes I will sketch as I write to hash out ideas. Additionally, to fulfill audio description needs in accessibility, I am mindful to provide all the important information in the narration, without relying on just the images. It’s a challenge sometimes, but it’s important to make the information accessible to as many people as possible.
How did you decide which aspects of the bacteria to highlight in their designs?
I’m a cartoonist by nature, and I like infusing characters and objects with personality. My style comes through in some of the facial expressions and movements. But we also had a great college intern, Priscilla Seah, work with us over the summer. We worked together to design some antimicrobial resistance infographics and a card game. I used some of her initial design work to come up with the overall look for the bacteria.
What is your favorite bacterium from the video?
Gonorrhea, because my co-fellow who sits next to me snickers every time it is mentioned. Very mature, right? We did a lot of takes with our voice-actor where she had to say “gonorrhea,” and my co-fellow snickered every time. Gonorrhea was also fun to design, trying to figure out the look of the diplococcus and how to animate it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.