Creating Technical Medical Illustrations at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine

We sat down virtually with Ali Ennis, a medical illustrator in Educational Resources at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine to chat about some complex and interactive Hype animations they shared with us. The work they do is extremely high fidelity, interactive, and filled with information:

Ali’s team creates interactive animations to augment and improve the vast library of textbooks her team distributes for free on the Apple Books Store for the College of Veterinary Medicine students. Interactives range from the flow of oxygen through the respiratory system to detailed 3D animations of bones and joints. By writing and designing their own interactive textbooks in-house, they can easily update, distribute, and control their curriculum.

Daniel Morgan @ Tumult: It was great to see the animations you shared with us — The common theme for your animations seems to be approaching a medical concept from multiple angles ‘states’. What has it been like creating technical and medical animations with Hype?

Ali Ennis: It has been so fun creating animations using Hype. It is so easy to use, which allows us to quickly add interactivity to any animation or illustration. The field of medical illustration is all about conveying and teaching scientific information and concepts in a way that is clear and engaging. This requires a lot of creative problem solving, and Hype has been a very helpful tool for us to use to solve learning problems. Standard linear animations are sometimes limited in how much viewers will actually pay attention and understand a concept. Hype allows us to challenge our users to dig into a concept, and it encourages them to do something in order to see how and why things change.

A few of the interactive graphics for an internal CMS & iBooks distributed by UGA

Why did UGA choose the iBooks platform for creating this type of content? Do you have any thoughts on the transition to Pages for book production?

We chose the iBooks platform right after it was released because we wanted to create user friendly interactive books that could include different types of widgets to increase learner engagement. For testing purposes, our vet students now are required to have a Mac laptop, which means the software limitation hasn’t been an issue.
The transition to Pages is worrisome because we rely heavily on the widgets we can use to incorporate interactivity into iBooks, especially html5 content. This helps the content come alive. We’re hopeful that Pages will add this feature soon.

Three (of the 56!) digital books published by the Educational Resources Unit at UGA

We’re also definitely hoping to see full support for HTML content in Pages. Embedding web content is a huge missing piece in an otherwise complete transfer of functionality from iBooks Author. What were the biggest challenges you encountered creating medical animations for these digital books?

A big challenge was focusing on the main concepts and ensuring the most time is spent to convey them creatively and clearly. It’s easy to want to make an animation or illustration for everything, but of course, too many visuals can be distracting and can take away from what you want the students to learn.

Can you tell us a bit about the creative process for creating these animations? Did you have a different go-to tool for creating these before working in Hype?

Our projects almost always accompany text, so our goal is always to help readers visualize the content. The first step is deciding if an interactive is the best way to help students pause from reading to dive into a visual. From there, we will write out what the users will see and what type of interactivity to include. Depending on the complexity of the animation, I will start with a few sketches or a complete storyboard to map out what each interface and animation will look like. I create most of the interface elements for my Hype files in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. When a project includes 3D animation or rotating 3D models, I use Cinema 4D and Zbrush to create the models and animate them. From there, I will render a .jpg or .png sequence using Redshift and either bring those frames directly into Hype or do some editing in Adobe After Effects before importing them. We use a lot of layered frame sequences with sliders to show something rotating or changing over time.

A few sketches from Ali's process can be found below: 

Thanks Ali! Looking forward to seeing new animations coming down the line! Check out all the books published by the Educational Resources Unit at UGA here.

The tools educators like Ali depend on are going through a bit of a flux at the moment: Apple has discontinued their free tool for embedding interactive content in digital books, and its replacement (Pages) lacks support for embedding HTML content — a feature introduced a decade ago and used widely. Curriculum developers around the world depend on the ability to create textbooks that extend beyond simple image and video embeds. The ability to interact in a non-linear fashion with a piece of content puts the learner in control to explore, interact, and digest information in a way that feels more real to them. Institutions like the University of Georgia made large investments in iPads and Macs because of Apple’s unwavering support for educators and animators like Ali and the students they both serve. We hope Apple will bring the full spectrum of support they introduced a decade back into their tools.

Read more about the iBooks Author transition here.