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Depression illustrated: Scientist and artist create a stop-motion animation of the brain

Queen Mary University of London PhD student Daisy Thompson-Lake and artist Emma Allen have created a film which illustrates what happens in the brain during depression.

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The collaboration titled ‘Grey Matters’, aims to raise awareness by creating artistic impressions of underlying neurological processes involved in mental health disorders. ‘Adam’, the first film in the series, tackles the subject of depression. ‘Adam’ debuted at Lumiere London in January, 2018 and is now available online.  

The project took over two years of planning and fundraising, and following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the team received several grant awards including from Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement.

Bite-sized films

Ms Thompson-Lake, who is researching alcohol addiction at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said: “In science there is a tendency to share findings primarily among other scientists and medical professionals. While this is important, there is a real disconnect between the work being done in the scientific arena, and these findings reaching the general public in a way that is meaningful to them. This is why we wanted to create these ‘bite-sized’ films.”

The film has been created using face paint and stop-motion animation. To create ‘Adam’, Ms Allen took more than 2000 photographs over six days for the animation, painstakingly repainting the model’s face each time. She said: “It’s been my most challenging work so far, to translate the complex neuroscience and the sensitive subject matter in both a visually compelling and informative way.”

The darker side

The film opens with Adam’s shadow, representing his depression, growing. This darker side is whispering to him, taking over, and the viewer sees negative thoughts causing Adam emotional pain.

In the final scene, a lotus flower grows upwards and blossoms on his forehead representing the saying: “Just like the lotus we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world.”

The duo met ten years ago when Ms Thompson-Lake volunteered at Ms Allen’s charity project in Sri Lanka. The collaboration of Grey Matters began after Ms Thompson-Lake saw Ms Allen’s film ‘Ruby’ in 2014, and suggested using the same technique to illustrate the brain’s role in mental health disorders, such as depression and addiction.

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