For nearly twenty years, Cameron Slayden has owned and operated Microverse Studios, a scientific animation company that specializes in producing short films for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Visit the website. The studio’s work is phenomenal. It’s both gorgeous and, according to Slayden, exceedingly scientifically accurate (although it’s about such complicated topics that I wouldn’t know).
In addition to directing the visuals his company produces, Slayden has taken on a new role: assistant professor at biomedical visualization graduate programs in two universities. At both University of Illinois Chicago and Augusta University, he teaches the next generation of scientific animators. For each of these programs, he drives students to develop a strong aesthetic sense, understand how to efficiently and effectively use the tools of the trade, and to acquire all of the filmmaking skills that will make them successful in the field of biomedical animation.
Here’s the thing: Slayden’s company isn’t that big. It’s not like he’s training all of these students to come work for him. That means that a lot of them will go on to have careers working for Slayden’s competition or creating their own competing studios.
So why is he doing all this?
Says Slayden,”There are two reasons. First, I’m paying it forward. When I started out, I had the science degree and excellent draftsmanship skills, but I had no understanding of 3D animation or filmmaking. I had to develop all of those abilities the hard way, and I might not have succeeded if I hadn’t had a few mentors that really knew their stuff and wanted to see me succeed.
The second reason is that, while I know these students will likely work elsewhere, I want them to know what it’s like to work with me on a professional level. What I do at these schools isn’t that far off from what I do at Microverse Studios: coaxing the very best out of animators. Some of these students are going to turn into absolute rockstars in the industry, and I’d like them to remember me fondly when they consider whether to respond to a Microverse Studios job opening. That will ensure that Microverse Studios is able to work with the very best talent in the industry and continue to maintain our place at the top.”
So by improving the pool of animators, Slayden is potentially improving his ability to scale up in the future. Microverse Studios has been doing very well, even amid the economic downturn. Staff has increased an average of 20% year over year since 2019, and they continuously win awards for their work.
It’s not just Microverse Studios, either. The medical animation field is exploding right now. New studios are popping up every day that specialize in scientific videos, and at wildly different price points.
Slayden goes on, “The quality of a studio is about more than just the skill of its animators. It’s the studio’s corporate culture, the types of clients they pursue, the workload they put on individual artists, and of course the creative oversight. A glut of skilled animators isn’t going to change the market share of individual studios. What it might do, however, is make sure that everyone stays on their toes and strives to do their best in order to keep their own competitive edge.”
With higher-skilled workers entering the industry, the overall level of quality available to customers will also potentially be higher. Slayden’s thoughts about this are sanguine: “It’s not a zero-sum game. Their success doesn’t mean my failure. The reason that there are so many studios is that there are so many new discoveries and advancements that need to be communicated. The demand is increasing, and so the supply is increasing. New biotechnologies need funding, and animation makes communications exponentially easier, which in turn makes getting funding easier. By training the next generation of medical animators to be the best they can be, I feel like I’m making my own tiny contribution to science’s improvement of the human condition.”
So he’s an idealist that wants the best for his students, for his company, and for the world. If there were a way to get the Amazons, Facebooks and Googles of the world to think the same way, that would be a great step toward a better future.