Unmasking a killer: Noma Bar’s animated ad for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

Graphic artist Noma Bar’s animated film for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital uses animation to highlight its pioneering work in using immunotherapy to fight cancer.

Bar is known for using negative space to create bold and playful images which demand a second look. His two-minute film for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, which aired on regional US networks during last night’s Super Bowl, explains in simple terms how immunotherapy – using the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells and stop cancer spreading – is being used to treat melanoma as well as lung, kidney and colon cancers at NYP. A voiceover describes how cancer can often trick the body’s immune system, effectively ‘turning off’ the cells designed to fight disease – and explains how NYP has found ways to turn these cells back on, stopping the spread and recurrence of cancer in patients:

Bar created a series of visual metaphors to accompany the voiceover, drawing on familiar imagery from storybooks and computer games. The disease is presented as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a time bomb and a monster, while the body’s T Cells are presented as soldiers and umbrellas shielding from rain.

The film is the first in a series to be released highlighting medical innovations at NYP and its medical schools. “We saw a need for content to explain some of the advances being talked about in mainstream media in terms an educated lay person could understand, and in a way that would encourage engagement, as opposed to a ‘talking lab coat’ video or overly technical material,” says Stephen Feinberg, executive creative director at ad agency Seiden, which devised the campaign.

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The animation was inspired by the idea of ‘unmasking a killer’ (the film’s tagline) – “but the overall creative solution was quite open for interpretation,” says Bar. “My only boundaries were to use the red square as a graphic start and close, and also not to use weapons or negative battle symbols,” he adds.

With images changing quickly, the aim was to create simple visual metaphors which viewers could digest rapidly. “When someone comes to a gallery to see me work, he can visit as long as he wants – when this is on TV, you just get one go, therefore the images should be as clear as possible … this is what led me to known iconography,” says Bar.

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He began the process by making illustrations in his sketchbook while sitting in Highgate Woods in London:  “I start to draw … read the story and start to imagine how one thing links to the next word, taking me to different visuals. It sounds very simple, but it’s a lot of sketching and editing – figuring out the clearest way to express the text. I’m trying to tell a story with effortless transitions from one scene/message to the next,” he explains.

With seamless transitions from one image to the next, the spot commands viewers’ attention throughout – and offers a great example of how animation can help distil complex ideas into a simple, powerful message.

“The subject matter is difficult to visualise in a literal way,” adds Feinberg. “We bold needed to use analogies and metaphors to get people to understand highly technical, abstract concepts … so animation was a natural choice. The key was to find a style that was entertaining but not cartoonish—witty as opposed to slapstick. Noma Bar was an excellent fit for that.”

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Credits

Illustration and Direction – Noma Bar
Animation – Ale Pixel Studio
Production Company – Dutch Uncle, New York
Client – NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Agency – Seiden NYC
Creative Director+Art Director – Eric Houseknecht
Copywriter + ECD – Steven Feinberg
Producer – Jill Levy (Sanity Productions)
Sound – Weston Fonger (Yessian Music)
Voice Over – Brian d’Arcy James

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