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Term of the Week: Animation

What is it?

A moving image that provides visual explanation of a topic or concept that is difficult to explain with words.

Why is it important?

Animation helps people understand concepts that are difficult to explain with words or static images. It reduces complexity for non-expert audiences and shows how single objects or systems move and change.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Today, people often expect technical content to contain more than just words. Animation provides images and a visual flow that can increase communication efficiency and help satisfy that expectation.

Animation was originally developed for the entertainment industry, but its scope also includes scientific and technological communication. Animation can be used to convey information rapidly or to support learning in a wide variety of domains, including mechanics, medicine, biology, climate change, and computer science.

Animation is widely used in everything from popular science TV programs to museum presentations to high level visual applications such as flight simulators. It can also be used as part of a conference slideshow or in the body of an online document.

Animation can show objects and situations that would be impossible to observe in reality. Examples include: microscopic parts (very small size scale), climate evolution over many years (very large time scale), hidden objects (internal parts of a machine), and fluids analysis.

Creating scientific and technical animations requires the same skill sets as entertainment animations (from story telling to visual creation). The only difference is the size of the production team: a few experts in science and technology versus a huge entertainment studio.

Depending on the situation, the features of technical communication animation can vary considerably. Examples of the types of variation include the following:

  • Schematic or realistic
  • 2D or 3D
  • Linear or interactive
  • With or without sound
  • Based on preset images or calculated continuously in real time

Common formats include: animated gif, flash (swf), HTML5, and video formats such as .avi or .mov. Each format, embedded or not, requires its own player.

About Bruno Wagner

Photo of Bruno Wagner

Born in 1955, Bruno Wagner has a degree in mechanical engineering. He worked in sales and marketing with SKF/S2M company in the field of mechatronics to promote magnetic bearings and high speed motors. In addition, he researched how to visualize the whole range of SKF products, from giant ball bearings to micro-lubrication devices.

Term: Animation