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Bringing healthcare to life through animation: the re-animation approach

Helen Mason
Consultant Occupational Therapist (HPC Registered) Director, Animation Therapy Ltd Occupational Therapist, National Deaf CAMHS Taunton (NHS)

The use of animation in health and social care can enhance the patient experience and provide innovative ways of connecting with people of all ages and levels of ability.

In 2008 Animation Therapy Ltd was awarded a £100,000 National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) innovation grant for its Animation in Therapy project due to the potential impact it could have on enhancing health services nationwide.

The project saw the development of an international website and a free technical tool kit to share tools and encourage cross pollination of skills between health professionals and world leading animators including Joan Ashworth Head of Animation at The Royal College of Art.

Following the project, which included practice-based evaluation and focused group interviews, a groundbreaking approach was developed known as the re-animation approach.

What is animation?
The term 'animation' in this context refers to the process by which objects, people or drawings are brought to life in film by creating the illusion of movement. With modern advances in digital technology, the once complicated art of creating animation has been transformed into a fun activity for the amateur hobbyist, as a leisure activity in the home and as a simple teaching tool within schools.

There are two main ways to create animation: 2D and 3D computer based animation (including computer generated images (CGI)). Stop Motion animation made with real objects, models or people.

The process used within the re-animation approach is called stop motion animation and is made by using a camera and computer software. It involves taking sequential digital photographs of an object or person, moving them slightly between each photograph. The photos are then played back quickly creating the illusion of the object coming to life. The process is now so simple that if you can understand basic cause and effect, and press a computer 'enter' button, it is possible to create gratifying moving images.

Why use animation in health and social care?
As busy practitioners it is important that we are able to connect with our service users in identifying their needs and lived experiences so that services can be shaped around what is relevant to them. Animation can provide practitioners with a different angle by which to see the world from their service users perspective. This can be invaluable in developing an in depth understanding of need.

Some key points about making and watching animation with service users in health are that:

  • The process can be framed so it is not gender, culturally or generationally specific and so can be adapted for most service users.
  • It is simple to use and inexpensive. It can be used to track service user experiences, to aid therapeutic techniques and to visually measure outcomes.
  • While picking up simple animation software and skills is easy to do, without training in how to effectively use animation in clinical work it can become time-ineffective or even counterproductive.

What is the re-animation approach?
The re-animation approach was developed by occupational therapist Helen Mason to provide tried and tested tools and a framework for busy practitioners to implement the use of animation into their work enhancing practice.

There are two main ways of using animation in health and social care:

  • By watching and reflecting.
  • By doing, creating animation in practice.

The approach has been designed to facilitate motivation with hard-to-reach clients. With flexibility to work with verbal, non-verbal and pre-verbal material, animation enables the service user to express thoughts and feelings using visual, tactile and auditory techniques.

It originated from occupational therapy (OT) practice, following clients' requests to use animation in their OT sessions. Animation as a process lends itself to grading and adaption because of its sequential nature and its qualities in enabling clients' opportunities to 'suspend time' and think while creating animation.

The techniques can be used to cut out verbal, problem-focused speech, which may be restricting the person in their therapy allowing them to show you visually their experience of he world.

Ways in which the techniques are used include:

  • Watching and reflecting on animated film specifically developed for psycho-education in health.
  • Creating animation for fun for motivation/building a therapeutic relationship or distraction.
  • Using animation as an outcome tool for tracking therapeutic progress.
  • Creating production based films to give service users a public 'voice' and build confidence, skills and self-esteem.

Techniques draw on the latest findings from occupational science, positive psychology, sensory integrative theory and neuroscience providing tools that have relevance across disci- plines.

Inspired by the Vona du Toit Model of Creative Ability (MOCA) a simple framework and quick reference guide has been developed to support practitioners in learning how to use the techniques effectively.

The re-animation approach has been successfully introduced into diverse areas of practice including:

  • Learning disabilities services.
  • Austim/Aspergers specialist services.
  • Older adults (including dementia services).
  • Youth offending.
  • Forensic psychiatry.
  • Child and adolescent services.
  • Oncology.
  • Paediatric wards.
  • Techniques are especially useful with service users who have been identified as difficult to engage or who have sensory needs.

With advances in technology providing a new wave of resources available to health professionals interested in finding motivating ways to connect with their service users, this is an exciting time to be practicing.

Animation provides an opportunity to allow service users to project into a world where anything is possible, where adults have permission to play and mistakes can be made safely.
For the therapeutically minded there are real opportunities to use elements of the animation process to bring techniques to life for your service users. Animation can assist by encouraging service user interest and motivation leading to engagement and ultimately ownership of their own work and recording of their healing journey.

In conclusion, animation can and is being used within health- care to compliment services. With practitioners reporting real shifts in the areas of service user engagement, animation offers an innovative, 21st-century tool for enhancing practice.

For more information on the re-animation approach, resources,
training programmes and outreach projects visit:
Facebook: Animation Therapy
Twitter: Animate Therapy
Re-Animation Approach courses I-Can and the Vona du Toit Model of Creative Ability (MOCA)