AHRC Workshop 4: Animation Key Project Themes

Dylan and Elizabeth introducing the last workshop day.

We started the day by a recap of the key themes which emerged throughout the AHRC project. Elizabeth and Dylan highlighted the need to understand children’s needs and see how unique they are. They observed that when designing video games for children, game designers tend to understand children as a young version of teenagers or adults which should not be the case. Following a brief introduction, we were lucky to have a team from Animation Therapy who came to share their practice through both talking and leading workshop with us. They brought with them some technical materials that we later used to animate some of our drawings and little models.


Helen Mason introduced her multi-disciplinary practice which encompasses both physical and mental health, paediatric and neuroscience work and also occupational therapy practice where she works in a variety of contexts (eg. hospital and prison) and trans-generationally. She founded in 2008 Animation Therapy where the company focuses on the use of animation to enhance therapeutic practice drawing on her own work and consulting with key industry and academic experts including Professor Joan Ashworth of the Royal College of Art. The company was awared by Nesta for Innovation in Mental Health and developed an innovative approach to use animation process in a range of therapeutic settings and applications.

Kawa Model. Source from here.

In her practice she observed how important is to be flexible, adjusting the activities she uses to meet the functional and emotional needs of her clients. The team always adapt according to the person/group they work with so they have to be very flexible in the techniques they use and way of working from one to another group. They use a range of therapy models and reference points in their work including the Model of Creative Ability and the Kawa model where they use the metaphore of a river to measure and visualise the progress of the people they work with.  The most important aspect of Animation Therapy’s work is using creative activity to tap into what is meaningful and purposeful for the person/people they are working with and weaving this into specifically adapted therapy tools  help people do what they want and need to do in their lives.

Pyramid of Learning (William & Shellenberger). Key reference in Helen’s practice.

During the NESTA funded project, feedback from professionals found that using animation in therapy context enabled them to understand the patients point of view better than when using traditional modes (eg. talking). Below are the key findings which arose from the project:

  • Tap into intrinsic motivation.
  • Ignite curiosity and facilitate both adult and child playfulness. For example, she noticed that parents would engage better with animation than drawing as the practice looks ‘more adult’, less childish.
  • Enable opportunities for visual storytelling (cutting out the background verbal noise which can hold people back in therapy)
  • Enable opportunities for projection and therapeutic distancing (depression/animation).
  • Build therapeutic relationships and understanding what is meaningful to that person.
  • Enable opportunities to reflect and play back (therapeutic discussion while animating in ‘suspended time’ = editing process: watch things back and listen in a different way).

Kari introducing the Zoetrope workshop.

Following the project Helen created the Re-Animation Approach™ which provides therapists and artists with a neurodevelopmental framework to compliment their work, enabling them to easily select animated tools for use in hospitals, out reach and community arts practice.

Her ground breaking courses launched from Aardman Animation Studios in 2010.  Animation Therapy Ltd also provide consultation work and clinical out reach projects working within the fields of childrens oncology, forensic psychiatry, dementia care, the homeless, child and adolescent psychiatry and paediatrics.  This year the company have supported the launch of ForMed films CIC which will continue their outreach work.

Example of previous visual story.



Workshop followed by Activity Analysis.

We got to see our story animated and then we discussed how we felt when drawing/composing on the strips. We also looked at the narrative and the potential for the activity to enable patients to project themselve and to question how they see themselves in that narrative at different stages (eg. begin, middle, end). Helen talked about scaffolfing too with the need to adapt the activity according to the patient’s progress and needs. An interesting element was the tools they provided, for example we used gel pens to draw rather than pencil (eg. assisting people who may not apply enough pressure when drawing so their work would not otherwise show up under the camera). They have to think about many areas including people’s sensory processing, gesture and position, emotional regulation, even the pencil grasp which varies from early, inefficient to functional grasps depending on the progression of the people they work with.

Helen explained that people will naturally lean towards certain activities and so they must adapt to the persons preferences (for example some people are nervous of drawing, may have had negative experiences from school, others may not like the feeling of molding plastercine).  Helen is a qualified sensory integration therapist and often incorporates these skills into her work when adjusting animated activities for therapeutic purpose. (See here more info for sensory integration)


Animator and ForMed Films Creative Director Emma Lazenby shown us her beautiful animation work she developed for hospital settings. Her work is a great example of applying art/design practice and processes to medical education. It aims to help people to tell their stories through animation techniques and to communicate on their experiences and perspectives. She also creates films wich show how animation can bridge between patients/doctors and explain difficult subject in a non-patronising way. Her animation offers the potential to look at difficult themes (eg. dying, death and bereavement).

Emma shown us One of a Kind (film here), a child’s guide to Radiotherapy. The film illustrates the people and machines children will meet/encounter and the kind of noises and process of radiotherapy. The film is used widely in hospital settings and has a lot of success because it gives a rather positive and reassuring view of radiotherapy from a children’s perspective. She highlighted the importance to have a team approach to work with the patients in this kind of project. She then shown a more personal work inspired by her mother who used to be a midwife. The film celebrates midwifery and childbirth and is a kind of metaphore of pregnancy: it took Emma around 9 months to create the film and she observed the similarities between the process of her work with the process of being pregnant (from conceiving to giving birth).

Screenshot from Emma’s film Mother of Many (see film here).

Helen also works as a therapist and the CEO of ForMed Films. Emma provides the professional animation for medicine and learning and Helen provides her specially designed out reach programs and therapy clinics using the Re-Animation Approach™.

Tree Fu Tom.

Helen talked about the difference between active and passive engagement in activities and how animation can assist us in bridging the gap. An example being Tree Fu Tom which uses paediatric occupational therapy moves, and martial arts choreography to encourage children to practice moves which will assist motor development: Tree Fu Tom details here.

The group trying “Tree Fu Tom” activity. Good fun!

She discussed how in workshops she will adapt activities to different levels of function using simple play and distraction at one level or more challenging skill acquisition at the other end of the spectrum. Helen showed us a film of very young children animating on a paediatric ward as part of the Welcome to Bramble Ward project, then the end film created by children from the ward for children who are due to come into hospital to tell them about the ward.  The project was funded by the RD&E Hospital, Exeter HealthCare Arts and Exeter Scrapstore. See film below.

With the second workshop we worked from clay and created short animation of our models. Again, we worked on narrative and focused on an emotion we wanted to communicate.

Xinglin working on her angry octopus.




After the workshop we concluded on the project and shared everyone’s perspectives. The main thing which seems one important aspect is the representation of Emotion and thinking about how to engage children through both visual and sensory modes. Below are other key aspects:

  • Narratives of illness. Focus on different ways of making a tough experience easier.
  • Interpreting pain levels. Developing own personal pain scales as a bridge between patient and clinicians.
  • Multi-modality
  • User experience: how information is communicated and experienced. Creating game play for children to record their experiences of hospital.
  • Representing emotion, interface or portal or object to facilitate connections between different experiences.
  • Involvement of children in design of modes and materials.

The next step is to now work with the project’s research partners to develop applications for follow-on research and funding. Following our conclusion, we took the opportunity to present our idea for the Social Science Festival on November 2nd. Please see here for info/details about the Festival and our project proposal.


We tested our project proposal and gathered feedback for our intervention on November 2nd. If we consider our installation made from three layers: a face, a story and some materials reflecting on one of the visual from Hospital Heights participants picked, here are the feedback collected:

  • Napkin project by Willis Newson + other art project in hospital
  • For the faces, possibility to include our own face, picture? Bring a printer so people can print faces.
  • Or bring some magazines for people to have models to draw faces or cut them out.
  • For the material layers: give some plasticine for people to model little 3d models.
  • Definitely use the cards or visuals from Hospital Heights to trigger participants’ memory/story. Maybe they can cut out the visual and include it within the transparent ball.

Below are some of the feedback and test collected on the day. Thanks to everyone for their great contribution! Now we will be  working on making the structure for our installation and ordering 100s of acrylic balls!

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