How does ECMO work?

Project Type: Video / Animation

Course: Graduate Studio 1 // Carnegie Mellon University // Fall 2013

The objective of this project was to explain an abstract or difficult-to-understand concept through a 2-3 minute video or animation. I chose to explain how ECMO works, with laypeople as my intended audience. ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a medical treatment in which an external device is used to take over the function of the heart and/or lungs. My knowledge about ECMO stems from my background in Biomedical Engineering. I created this animation from a collection of still drawings using Adobe After Effects.


1. Objective

The objective of this project was to explain an abstract or difficult-to-understand concept through a 2-3 minute video or animation. The topic I chose to explain was how ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) works. ECMO is a medical treatment in which an external device is used to take over the function of the heart and/or lungs.


2. Exploration

I chose this topic because I was already extremely familiar with ECMO from my background in Biomedical Engineering. However, I realized that my main challenge was figuring out a way to explain ECMO to a layperson in under 3 minutes. I wanted my audience to understand why you would need to use ECMO, but I didn’t want my video to appear to be giving medical device or to be advocating for a particular treatment approach.

I started by creating a storyboard which simply outlined a scientific explanation of how ECMO works. I included generic medical illustration style drawings. However, after receiving some feedback, I realized that this approach was not nearly engaging enough for an audience of laypeople. I had to figure out a way to humanize the story to make it more interesting.


3. Ideation

As a rough draft, I  I created a very rough video using a live model wearing colored fabric cutouts to represent his heart, lungs, and blood vessels. In the video, I spent a good deal of time explaining how the lungs and circulatory system worked so that the audience would understand why the device was hooked up to particular blood vessels in order to bypass the heart or lungs. However, this didn't really come across to the audience. They understood the basic idea of bypassing the heart or lungs, and weren't really interested in tracing the exact path of the blood through the entire body.


Sketches used in final animation

Sketches used in final animation

4. Refinement & Iteration

Based on the feedback I received from my rough draft, I was able to revise my script to make the content more relevant for my audience. I removed the extraneous explanations about human physiology, and added a more thorough explanation of the components of the ECMO system. I also switched from video to animation, using a series of still drawings. This approach made it easier to switch from a microscopic scale to a macroscopic scale, and allowed me to show simplified versions of the system components.


Video still from final animation

Video still from final animation

5. Final Outcome

Please view my video at the top of this page!


Copyright 2014 Shannon Impellicceiri