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What do you think about the addition of animations to powerpoint presentations? I'm not talking about the generic animations that can be added to powerpoint slides, but the use of animated films to illustrate a concept (I'm in biology by the way).

Despite going into the sciences, I've always had a love for the visual arts, and have been teaching myself animation for the past little while. I think it can be used as a great way of communicating scientific concepts, and will also likely make me stand out in a room full of graduate students. However, I'm not sure if this could possibly back-fire and make me seem less serious about the science? The type of animation I plan on making would hopefully be on par with ones made by professional medical animators.

I'm also a little unsure of the intellectual property aspects of this process. I have made short animations for my presentations before, and although people were quite impressed, my old supervisor seem to think that she (along with everyone else in the lab) could simply start to use my animation in their presentations. I didn't have a problem with this arrangement since it was my first animation, and I definitely was not expecting to be paid for it. However, as I'm starting graduate school and entering a different lab, I would be a little hesitant to agree if it were to happen again, now with animations I've spent a considerable amount of time working on (especially if I will not be the first one presenting it since I'm a new student). I'm currently thinking about showing an animation I made to a PI that I hope to work with in the end (made specifically to illustrate her research). Although I want to impress this person who I think is a great scientist, I also don't want to be taken "advantage" of... Would it be unrealistic to be paid for some of my work during graduate school?

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    You have two different questions here: one on the use of animations in scholarly presentations, the other on the IP issues associated with them. I'd ask you to ask the second question (the last paragraph, basically) to a separate question. This will make things easier for everyone. – aeismail May 9 '15 at 18:48
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    If you do as @aeismail suggests, please leave a comment on my answer, so that I can be notified to extract the relevant part as an answer to the new question. – Nate Eldredge May 9 '15 at 18:57
  • I have made and used animations for presentations. People were impressed. I encouraged my colleagues to reuse the animations. – Anonymous Physicist May 10 '15 at 0:53
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Nate and cbeleites have handled well the finer points of the advisability of making the animations. I would encourage you to go ahead with them, but there are a large number of detail-dependent considerations that need to be made. I want to weigh in on the intellectual-property aspect of your question.

Would it be unrealistic to be paid for some of my [animation] work during graduate school?

In a word, yes. You are already being paid to produce research and its corresponding dissemination materials. Asking your group to pay extra for a specific class of dissemination material will strike people as odd and probably as very selfish. I think it is unlikely that anyone will agree to this and you risk alienating your group and the rest of the community.

In addition to this, I do not think you should attempt to limit the spread of your animations. Instead, get ahead of the market, and engineer a situation where (i) people will want to share and use your animations, and (ii) people using your animations will bring credit to you and your group. More specifically:

  • Make sure all your animations identify you as the author, and your university and research group. Make this visible enough that viewers will see it and have enough time to register it, but discreet enough that users of your animations will not be tempted to remove it or skip over it.

  • Keep your animations publicly available in a visible and discoverable place online. This can be a YouTube channel, GitHub repository, university webpage, something else, or some combination of the above. Make it easy for people to find the animations from you, instead of getting nth-hand copies from someone in their lab.

    This online space can then grow to include, say, your research papers, potentially turning some of your animations traffic into interested readers of your publications. This gives you as direct a benefit to your career from your animations as you can really hope for.

  • Provide clear licensing details for your animations, which could be CC-BY or CC-BY-ND. Make this clear but concise and easy to follow. It is up to you to gauge your audience, but I would claim that people are much more likely to use your content in ways that you would like if you (1) actively give them permission to use it, and (2) clearly state the ways you would and would not like your content to be used. If you provide your animations under CC-BY and state as the attribution requirement that people provide a link to your repository, you are creating a contract of sorts between you and those users, which adds a barrier on their side of the channel (they need to actively breach the contract to misuse the content).

    Moreover, if you do this early then you can get ahead of the game and set clear rules for how you want your own research group to treat the animations. Make it easy for people, and particularly for your own group, to know how to credit you, and they are very likely to do it.

Academia is a weird place, and there are many ways to be compensated for work which are not monetary. (Think, for example, of journal editors and paper referees, who perform their jobs on a voluntary basis, in the understanding that they are service activities that actively contribute to their standing in the community, and therefore indirectly to the visibility of their research, their avenues for further collaborations, and ultimately them keeping their day jobs.) You should not expect direct financial compensation from your animations, but there is no reason why you can't market on them and use them to further your career. You just need to be somewhat more clever about it.

In this sense, the situation admits a clear analogy to the (sad) state of the music publishing industry over the past twenty years or so. People are going to pass around your animations, whether you want it or not, in much the same way that people are going to share music illegally if it is the cleanest way to obtain it. The music industry we have spends all its resources trying to clamp down on this, with little effect beyond alienating people; don't be like them. Instead, be like the music industry we wish we had: actively trying to harness the new technologies and media to generate new, fresh, legal ways to get the content, that actually make you want to use them. This is what I mean by beating the market.

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    These are great suggestions, and completely in line with what I hope to get out of making these animations! I would never actually ask someone to pay me for the animations, that would make for a very awkward conversation. I was wondering if anything would possibly be offered if I showed it to a PI, but I guess I was just day dreaming haha. You are right though that I should think about spreading the animations instead of limiting it, which could help further my career. – Cornyvita May 10 '15 at 0:31
  • This comment might be off topic, but why does the music industry not do what you suggest? They are all clever don't they? – Ooker May 10 '15 at 5:27
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    That's probably a discussion best left for some other time. – E.P. May 10 '15 at 12:43
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I'm not in the biological sciences, so take this with a grain of salt.

I'm assuming you're referring to an animation that is something analogous to a technical drawing, giving a visual illustration of a physical process or something similar. Animations can certainly be a great way to convey this kind of information, if well done and appropriate; I've seen animations that helped me visualize processes in ways that I couldn't before. I don't see why they should make you seem less professional, unless they are unprofessionally done. It's a good idea with any presentation to practice it first with a friend or colleague, and as part of this, you could ask them for feedback about the animation.

One thing to keep in mind as you go along is that if making animations is time-consuming, you have to consider whether it is the best use of your time. In research, there is always an issue of balancing your time and other resources between conducting new research, and disseminating work you have already done. Creating animations for a presentation would fall into the latter category, and so you want to ensure it doesn't take so much time that it interferes with your other projects. Helping you strike this balance should be part of your advisor's role as a mentor.

Regarding intellectual property: in general, in academic research, once you have shared your work with the world by publishing or presenting it, it no longer really belongs to you. People will share it, quote it, extend it, and generally use your ideas and work to enhance their own. That is how research progresses. You don't really get the right to stop them. (You may have this right in law, but trying to assert it would be harmful to your standing in the academic community.) What you can expect in return is credit.

So if you create an animation and share it in a way that makes it possible for others to reuse it (by distributing a movie file, posting it on YouTube, etc). you should expect that others may use it in their own lectures and presentations, attributing it to you ("Animation by Cornyvita"). To assist with this, you may want to include your name, date, and affiliation somewhere in the video. This isn't people taking advantage of you - this is you making a contribution to the academic community.

If you don't want other people to use it, don't share it in a form that makes that possible; or explicitly tell them "please do not share/reuse this". However, unless accompanied by a good reason (e.g. "this is unfinished", "it still has errors", etc), this will likely come across as selfish.

It is definitely unrealistic, and unreasonable, to expect other researchers to pay you for the right to use your animations. People don't have the funds for that, and it would be rather contrary to the spirit of academia.

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  • Thanks for the thorough response! I agree that research should always come first, and optimizing presentations is not the best use of my working time. However, creating animations is more of a hobby to me than anything else, and would be something I do during my free time, not in the lab (hence my working on it in the summer). – Cornyvita May 9 '15 at 18:47
  • And yes, the animation would be to illustrate a biological process that I'm currently working on, similar to this video here: youtube.com/watch?v=J-efcOrBU1U, although maybe not quite that professional – Cornyvita May 9 '15 at 18:48
  • @Cornyvita: That looks reasonable to me, other than the cheesy music. Be advised that "free time" becomes rather a fuzzy concept in grad school - you could be working on your research at almost any time on any day, so it is harder to decide what time is "free". In particular, you will likely be expected to work on your research year-round, including summers and academic breaks, so don't assume that summers will continue to be "free time". (You can still take vacations, but probably not the whole summer.) – Nate Eldredge May 9 '15 at 18:54
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    Here's a key point: illustrating your work with animations is an extremely powerful way to help your audience understand dynamical processes. I strongly encourage it. But stepping aside and having your audience watch e.g. a 5 minute video while you stand silent is a bit off-putting in a scientific talk. What you want to do instead is to narrate your animations. Stay engaged and stay excited as you present via animation, and people will appreciate the effort you've put into the presentation and the sophistication of your animation abilities. – Corvus May 10 '15 at 7:08
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    @Corvus: Yes, I will definitely narrate my animations. I'm hoping to use them in place of an introductory slide in the presentation to explain the foundational concept. They would be relatively short, maybe around 1-1.5 minutes (even a short animation takes a considerable amount of time to make), so just about the same length as most people spend on one slide – Cornyvita May 10 '15 at 14:01
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What do you think about the addition of animations to powerpoint presentations? [...] the use of animated films to illustrate a concept (I'm in biology by the way).

There are lots of situations where animation can help much better than verbal descriptions only to show what happens. I'm chemist, so I immediately think of an animation showing (bio)chemical reaction mechanisms.
I'va been using animations of data point clouds of time series measurements: animations work most intuitively if the explained mechanism works actually in a time domain.

On the other hand, I usually avoid animation movies in a presentation. Having a number of slides that evolve and can be played almost like a movie by going fast through the slides allows better control of where to stop in order to give explanations and also of the time taken for the whole animation: this gives degrees of freedom that help to stretch/squeeze the presentation in order to finish on time.

Bottomline: I'd recommend to think hard whether a good (static or evolving) illustration isn't more suitable for the oral presentation than a movie-like animation. But I somehow assume that you like to do one almost as much as the other.

seem less serious about the science

This won't be an issue if there's good scientific content in the animation. Particularly if meant for an oral presentation, it should be very much to the point and it should have a clear "added value" over a verbal description with the aid of a few static illustrations.


Now about the intellectual property part of the question. Obviously, this depends on your legislation (and on your actual situation).

my old supervisor seem to think that she (along with everyone else in the lab) could simply start to use my animation in their presentations

Situations exist (in my legislation: Germany) where the supervisor does have the right to do this: e.g. if you produced the animation as part of a paid full-time employment contract. In your legislation, it may even be legal to ask the student to sign over the copyright for all they produce during their thesis to the university (in Germany it is not).

On the other hand: in 3 out of 4 institues where I have been I was responsible for my presentations. If a PI wanted to use one of my slides they asked me (and I was of course happy to allow use), but there was no default unasked use. Insitute no. 4 has slides given to the suüervisors/director by default - but in practice they anyways ask for a slide being prepared for them for a particular purpose when they need something.

In any case, anyone showing your animation needs to attribute you as the author.


There is nothing wrong with asking to be paid for producing animations. But you should expect that it doesn't work out. Technically it could be done with a student employment contract which would mean that the animation is then a work made for hire (and the employer gets the copyright including the right to tell you to not have a "cornyvita's animation" line in the movie). I'd think it likely that money is scarce, though: PI usually won't have money to hire you for producing animations. Tons of other things are more urgently needed.

I therefore recommend that you make up your mind why you want to do the animations (hobby or paid work). And, if you produce them in what "currency" you'd like to be paid: citations? being known? money (hint: there may be faster and easier ways to get this. Being a professional illustrator is not generally known as the fast track to become a millionaire...)?

But: Don't underestimate the value of being known as the author of those really great scientific animations. This can translate to employment later. While super-fancy presentations won't get you hired if you suck scientifically, being a good scientist and being known to deliver good presentations is a hard to beat combination. Note that the presentations are the icing on the scientific cake: don't neglect your science for the animations. Also, this means that preferrably you are showing your animations on conferences. Second best option (in addition?): your PI attributes you explicitly as the author ("This is illustrated by cornyvita's great presentation here" ) rather than just among all those names on the acknowledgements slide at the end. Just like the PI can distinguish other important contributions "cornyvita isolated the protein, and ..." costs only few milliseconds compared to "we isolated the protein, ...)

The only situation that comes to my mind where I think there could be money for producing animations in the usual university settings are projects for producing teaching material. Some projects also have a bit of a PR budget but my guess is that a single animation will easily cost the whole PR budget for a project...

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    Wow, thanks! you are absolutely right about "being a good scientist and being known to deliver good presentations is a hard to beat combination". This is probably the main reason I want to spruce up my presentations. Seeing how competitive academia has become, I wanted to give myself chance to stand out, whether it's in the communication of my research, or opening up more opportunities to network with others. Especially since I'm considering going into industry, networking and being able to sell myself will probably become very important. But of course, research always comes first :) – Cornyvita May 10 '15 at 0:09
  • Money is definitely not the reason I'm making animations, it's something I like to do for fun. If I was able to first use the animation in one of my presentations, I would have no problems with letting my PI/anyone else use it afterwards. It has already served its purpose for me, and I would be flattered that others like it enough to use it and give me credit. I guess the reason I bring up money in the question is if I was NOT able to use the animation myself first, then it kind of feels like wasted work in a sense. – Cornyvita May 10 '15 at 0:14
  • @Cornyvita: that leads to the obvious rule that you should put in the work only for animations you need (or maybe are asked for: but if someone asks for a specially made animation, the question of money [or doing it during work hours] can be discussed). Animations you need yourself have the obvious advantage that you're also an expert about the science behind the animation. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 10 '15 at 0:28
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You've got some great answers already, so here's something shorter and more general.

A well-chosen, well-executed animation (which can actually be quite simple) can really help a presentation. There are (at least) 2 caveats to this, which if you bear them in mind will help you make best use of your time and make a good impression:

  • You're not the best judge of how your animation (or even the whole presentation) comes across.

  • You'll need to rehearse the presentation more. Narrating over the animation is more akin to an actor learning lines than to normal scientific presenting. You need to get the timing spot on and be confident. If you do this at/near the beginning of you're talk you'll be well set to carry on doing it well.

Overall these mean that it's more important to get other people's input. You might want to sketch something out with a friend working on something related, then with your PI, before putting lots of time in on the animations. Then rehearse in front of the research group or perhaps some other postgrads from the department. You have some control over where your work ends up, but assuming it's good, expect to share with the rest of the research group and collaborators. Wider sharing is up to you after discussion with your PI.

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There are two types of animations present in presentations: Those that should be there and those that shouldn’t. Luckily for you, if your supervisor wants to use your animation, you can consider it to be of the first type.

The difference between the two is pretty simple. Good animations are those that illustrate scientific facts or research. Thinking of a biological example, say you’re discussing the formation of a multi-protein complex and have evidence to suggest that A meets with B first, B then phosphorylates A which leads to the association of G etc. … It’s a long story that you can present in a series of pictures or a ‘simple’ animation. Another one would be a protein crystal structure that you animate to be shown from different sides so you can discuss different things about them.

The bad ones are the ones that serve no further purpose. Although I’m a chemist, I’m on a campus full of biologists. During our last retreat, one presentation discussed something to do with bats (I think). About every second slide had an animated picture of a bat flying in and flapping around. I think even Batman appeared once. None of these bats served any purpose whatsoever in the flow of the talk. I only remember them because they were irritatingly out of place. Do not include this kind of animation in your talks.

That is not to say a flapping bat is a big taboo. Rather, if you’re discussing how bats fly when compared to insects and/or birds, an animation of a flapping bat can well serve a purpose. But if you’re discussing how Pseudomonas aeruginosa infects bats, it’s out of place.

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Unless the animation serves a specific pedagogical purpose, DON'T. It will usually be more distracting / cheesy than useful. As with website animation, less is more.

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    Thanks for the input! May I ask what field you are in? In biology, I've actually seen animations used frequently since some processes are very hard to explain otherwise, making the rest of the presentation difficult to follow. Of course, I would not overdo it, and would just have a ~1 min animation at the beginning to establish the basics. I'm wondering if this could be field specific though? – Cornyvita May 9 '15 at 18:52
  • That sounds like appropriate use. – keshlam May 9 '15 at 19:00

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