Interactive Art: Understanding Opioid Addiction’s Effect on the Body
Industry: Magazine Publisher (science editorial)
Design Director: Erin Otwell
Art: Scratchboard (chalkboard) style illustration, animation, and interactive graphic
Subject: Opioid Addition Effect on the Body
Opioids Art Goal and Challenges
Across the United States, opioid addiction is devastating to individuals and their communities. Science News magazine invited me to work with them, to illustrate opioid drugs’ impact across the body. Their goal was to reveal the underlying biological repercussions of opioid addiction with approachable interactive art.
Years before, I worked with Science News on a scratchboard style illustration—hand-drawn line drawing on a black background—to highlight the vagus nerve. The chalk-style body art is still one of my personal favorites in my portfolio, and gets more requests for re-use than any other image. It became the starting point for this project’s style. Design Director Erin Otwell-and-team suggested taking the digital art even further, to create an animated graphic story. The graphic would reveal and highlight the many different parts of the body damaged by opioids, in an interactive format.
An Introduction to the Biology of Opioids Addiction
Despite the widespread overuse of opioids—like morphine, fentanyl, and morphine—it can be easy to forget that addiction is a complex disease. As the drugs bind to the pleasure centers in the brain, they are simultaneously causing problems across the body. Breathing slows and becomes more shallow, to the point that breathing stops, or there isn’t enough oxygen for the body. The body’s carbon dioxide emergency alarm is silenced by binding opioids, causing more respiratory distress. Furthermore, the heart and digestive system, are damaged.
Opioids Art Process and Creation
With Science News’ vision, I had a clear goal in mind for the style, and I knew the breadth of the content needed. So to begin, I sketched the key details to confirm that we had all of the components correct. Once the sketch was approved for overall composition and scientific detail, I started on a new variety of art. Different than my normal process, I created the art in a ‘vector format’ rather than my normal drawn photoshop art. With vector art, their web-designer could create an SVG interactive animation. An SVG animation is a lightweight animation, much like a GIF, that can be coded to change based on user input like clicks.
Although I still hand-drew the lines, I captured the lines in Adobe Illustrator. I retained a hand-drawn feel using pressure-sensitive strokes, but the vector art would be lightweight for websites and apps. Although not applicable to this project, it also means that the art is scalable, and can be as large or small as desired. I drew each major body system affected by opioids—heart, kidney, digestion, lungs, heart, and brain—on a separate layer. This way, each body system could be turned on or off as you move through the story. I sent the layered (with well-named layers!) to the designer, so they could sync it with their text to make a truly interactive story.
Creating supplementary Graphics and Editorial Opioids Overdose Animation
Next, to communicate the fear and severity of the opioids epidemic, I created this stark GIF style animation for the story introduction. We decided to keep it really simple, and focus on a lone hand dropping a needle. Because really, that’s one of the harshest realities to addiction—the isolation that it brings.
So, I utilized Maxon’s Cinema 4D (C4D) to stage and animate the needle rolling away. I output the animation with C4D’s sketch-and-toon drawn animation style, which got me close… The output art wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, so I imported the sequence into photoshop and hand-drew the hatch styling shading frame by frame. The result was a little jumpy, but also suited the jittery reality of an overdose.
Finally, I created a simple cellular graphic to show the function of anti-opioid drugs like naloxone, or Narcan. Anti-opiates bind to receptors on the cell surface so that the drugs can’t. This can quickly restore breathing and reverse the dire effects.
Final Art and Achievements
The finished artwork told the opioids story in both their print magazine, and as a multi-step interactive article on their website and digital media. The Science News team, including Nicolle, was honored with the 2018 award for:
Winner, Ozzie Award for Visual Digital Storytelling: Opioids Kill, Laura Sanders, Nicolle Rager Fuller, Cori Vanchieri, Kate Travis, Erin Otwell, Chang Won Chang & Alison Buki
For Drug Addiction Help Resources and Research, see publichealth.org