Making Abstract Concrete
Post written for Communication Design Studio, Fall 2017 | Stacie Rohrbach | Carnegie Mellon School of Design. This article is a documentation of in-class activities, assignments, and reflections.
09.26 Visualizing things that are difficult | Introduction
For our second project, we will visualize things that are abstract, invisible, complex or are difficult to understand. We will also look at things that span over a long time which makes it difficult to process them.
For this project, our task is to address the challenge of making something abstract concrete.
My topic is Influenza. I have to explain what it is and how it works via a 2–3 min long explanatory video.
Few questions to consider while researching for content on the topic:
- What is it?
- How does it work?
- Why is it important?
- Note some of the components of the story, specific steps, attributes
09.28 Reading: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud
- Closure: The phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole. Non-incidentals are important.
- Difference between the comic styles of East (Japanese) and West.
Types of transitions between frames
- Moment-to-moment: Very small changes
- Action-to action: Swinging to swinging
- Subject-to subject: People in a conversation
- Scene-to-scene: House to school
- Aspect-to-aspect: Viewpoint and mood
- Non-sequitur: no connection
09.28 Visualizing things that are difficult | Keep in Mind
- Narrative, narrator
- Voice over
- Actors– Shape, characters
- Additive and Subtractive: What is included is as important as what is excluded.
- Situations where the abstract forms can communicate better over literal forms.
09.28 Visualizing things that are difficult | Actors
- The Flu Virus
- skin, mouth, nose
- Human Beings, lungs, nose, throat
- Host cells
- antiseptic soap, masks, flu shots/vaccines
- Human Beings
- Proteins, RNA, Nucleus??
In groups, we helped each other visualize some actors that were more difficult to sketch over others. Chen, Melody and Laura helped me visualize diabetes, Pandemic and diarrhea.
09.28 Visualizing things that are difficult | Things to do
- Define key steps/components in story
- Build a comprehensive set of actors
- Visualize all important relationships (revisit Moyer)
- Gather visualizations that serve as inspiration for style and voice
09.28 Visualizing things that are difficult | Key Steps
FLU - Influenza Virus- What is it?
How it actually functions/spreads? Cystic Cycle — The most important part of the video should be this.
Myths — How relevant would this be?
But why know all of this? Economic effects– Should I start with this?
The Outbreaks, Pandemic — Do I need to follow with info on vaccines??
10.03 Visualizing things that are difficult | Timeline visualization
We mapped out the frames for our video in class today. This was particularly helpful in understanding which parts should be emphasized over others. Visualizing the sequence of my scenes made me think of the narratives and play with the transition between various frames to build a better flow to my movie.
I observed that for my topic, ‘Just show it’ and ‘process’ are the two most important relationships between the actors. For my transitions, at this stage, I can visualize a lot of ‘moment-to-moment’ and ‘action-to-action’ transitions in between the frames.
I still feel a little conflicted over what should be a suitable starting to the video. At this moment, I am contemplating in between starting with ‘why is it important’ and ‘a generic introduction to Influenza’. There are certain scenes that need to go to and fro in the video to bring the information together in a more cohesive. I will need to visualize these scenes in greater detail before I start digitalizing my storyboard.
The process of how Influenza virus takes over the host cells in our body and spreads the infection is the part that needs the most attention and detail. There are a loads of biological terms involved in the process and I need to decide if these should play a role in the video or should I use simpler, generic forms to explain the process.
For now, I‘ve assigned a smaller role to the symptoms and preventions in the video. Ideally, I’d like to detail them but for now, the process is the most important thing that I need to detail out.
The next thing to consider is the visual style of my actors. Influenza is difficult to visualize. Humanizing and adding personality to its character would make it more relatable. These are other small elements that could create a huge impact on the video and something that I should be mindful about.
10.05 Visualizing things that are difficult | Script v1.0
Achoo! We’ve all had the flu at some point. It is one of the most common infectious diseases. Let’s take a look at how Influenza spreads year after year.
Influenza, commonly called the ‘Flu’, is caused by a virus.
A virus is a very small thing, so small that it is invisible to the naked eye and can be seen only under an electron microscope.
There are three types of Influenza Viruses. Type A, B and C. Type A is the most common and infectious of the three.
Type A virus is made up of bits of genetic material, a protective membrane and two types of spikes projecting from the surface. H spikes function like a key and N spikes function like a pair of scissors. These spikes are very important and we will talk some more about them later in the video.
Influenza primarily spreads through exposure to respiratory droplets expelled from infectious individuals.
When an infected person coughs, talks, or sneezes, droplets carrying the influenza virus lands in the mouth or nose of people nearby and then via the throat, it gets inhaled into the lungs.
when the virus comes into contact with your body cells. The H spike functions like a key in a lock and binds to a receptor molecule on a healthy cell membrane allowing the virus to enter the cell.
Once inside, it travels further to the cell nucleus. The virus takes over the nucleus which is the control center of a cell. It reprograms the energy and materials in the nucleus to make thousands of copies of itself. The cell now becomes a virus producing factory.
When the cell gets saturated, the new viruses start to dissolve the cell membrane.
The N spikes frees the virus by nipping it away from the damaged cell. Millions of viruses are released into the tissue where they infect other healthy cells.
Our symptoms are a direct cause of this damage.The symptoms usually start 1–4 days after infection. Runny or stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat are respiratory symptoms that are caused as a result of the cells infected by the virus. Other symptoms like headache, fever, chills, muscle pain, fatigue are caused due to our body’s strong immune system response to the viral invasion.
Most symptoms get better in a week though there can be complications. The highest risk of complication is amongst infants, pregnant women, adults over 65 years old and people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma and heart and lung disease.
Preventive measure like wearing a protective mask, frequently rinsing one’s hands with soap water, eating a healthy diet rich in Vitamin C, exercising and sleeping well are helpful in combating the Flu.
The most effective way to prevent Influenza is through an annual vaccination.
The flu vaccines contain dead or weakened version of several types of the virus. These viruses are just strong enough to stimulate an immune system response. Cells in our immune system make markers called antibodies (Memory T cells) which are specific to the types of strains you were exposed to. When our body is exposed to these viruses in the future, the antibodies recognize the strains and destroys them before you can develop the Flu.
But unlike other vaccines, why do we need to take the Flu shot every year and why do we fall sick even after the flu shot sometimes? Remember the H and N spikes we had mentioned in the beginning of the video?
The H and N spike on Type A virus can mutate during replication. The new daughter viruses are different from one another and from the parent virus. These mutated viruses are very good at evading antibodies and infecting people immune to previous strains.
Type A viruses circulating amongst animals populations are also capable of crossing the species barrier and infecting humans.
This constantly changing genetic diversity of the Influenza virus makes it very challenging to predict and prepare for, making the yearly flu vaccines our best bet in the fight against them.
Remember to get your Flu shot this season. Stay healthy.
10.05 Visualizing things that are difficult | Peer feedback on storyboard and script.
Script: Script is too long. Need to make the script more concise. Record to see timing. Molecular language is difficult to understand. Information is too dense. Focus less on clinical description of virus.
Visual: Mismatch between dense language and playful visuals. Make human cell more cell like. Too many different composition styles?
So far, I had been sketching for my own reference and planning. I hadn’t visualized my screens for communicating outwards which I guess was the main reason people who reviewed my story board had difficulty in comprehending some more biological portions of the narrative.
The feedback was helpful in identifying portions with extraneous details that can be left out.
10.20 Visualizing things that are difficult | Updated Story board after Peer feedback.
10.20 Visualizing things that are difficult | Visual design development
This video has been a huge learning curve for me, especially when it came to the script. I’ve reduced my script from 900 words to around 350 words and I still find it long. Recording a test audio was super helpful in gauging the complexity of sentences, the ease of following the information and the duration required for transition in-between the sentences.
Figuring smooth transitions have been my biggest challenge so far. Moreover, I am trying to pack a lot of process-based information in a small segment for which each elements needs a lot of consideration in the role it plays in a particular scene.
I feel like I have been over-ambitious with my visual representation style and could have used a simpler way of representation for the sake of efficiency.
10.26 Visualizing things that are difficult | Peer Feedback
For the peer review I showed the first two sections of my video. I have four sections in my video. ( I didn’t share the section on symptoms and the importance of yearly flu shots) I sought advice on the visual representation of the opening sequence for my video.
Pacing — Good
Transitions — Could be smoother
Visual design — Easy to follow, Colourful but useful.
Narrative — Easy to follow. Complex words need visual support as well.
Segments difficult to understand —
- How are viruses prevented from spreading — The scissors segment.
- The green dots representing virus spreading is not very evident. Virus takes over tissue is not very evident.
- Hexagon as lung tissue — not very communicative. — What could be a better representation? I am not sure
- The nucleus looked like a juicer and doesn’t translate to a copier. Probably use a scanner? — It’s a good point
- The zooming in and out makes the boundaries not very clear- Probably use text to indicate?
- Explain difference between A, B and C. (Not very relevant, Type A is of most relevance to humans and I mention that)
- Explain difference between flu and other sickness. ( It is relevant but makes the scope bigger, I am instead emphasizing on the importance of Flu shot, I didn’t share that section of my video today.)
- Labelling complex words will be helpful. Will add text to indicate.
Suggestions for the opening sequence:
- Show flu spreading to people
- Show a flu and human connection — Show a sick person coughing and zoom into the virus
- Virus in a public place for Introduction
Next steps of Action:
- Refigure the last section where the virus takes over healthy tissue.
- Explore another way of visualizing tissue and cells. A lot of the issues raised were primarily due to the representation of cells and tissues as hexagons.
- Develop the opening sequence with a more human — flu connection
- Develop the section on flu shots prevention and get feedback on it. (Important)
- Figure the sound effects and background music for the video.