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The Zombie Attack or How Hiring an Artist Can Save Your Life

If you’re reading this, you probably survived the latest zombie attack and undoubtedly followed the CDC protocols for dealing with the zombie apocalypse.

If you’re reading this, you probably survived the latest zombie attack. Undoubtedly you’ve followed the CDC protocols for dealing with the zombie apocalypse.

This is no joke. The CDC used a powerful imaginary scenario based on similarities between actual viral pandemics, catastrophic social breakdown and the worst “what-if” simulations they could think of.

Running simulations is exactly what storyboarders and story artists do. The drawings become simulations for how things will appear to your audience.  When ideas are drawn, not only do you get to visualize what you want to see but you can also plan to avoid what you don’t want to see in your film.

While panels are not really key frames, storyboard artists know that the board as a planning tool means that they have to convey enough detail to allow the board to be read as a “what-if” simulation. Similarly, story artists, in visualizing a script or ideas, will have to commit to details that are typically not verbalized.

For example, in order to draw “a man walks into the bar,” the boarder asks “from the left or the right, from the bottom of the screen with his back to the viewer, or from the top, facing the viewer; is his head up or down, etc.”

Back to the CDC. And back to the Zombie scenario as stand-in for the most recent health scare, Ebola. The CDC and ECDC have posted guidelines for hospitals in dealing with contagious epidemics (if local), pandemics (if worldwide).

Hospitals in large cities have infection control committees tasked with designing and implementing steps to contain the spread of the disease and treatment of patients.

I asked the doctors in my local hospital how they developed their protocol. As in most hospitals, a committee of experts who have had some experience with similar crises drafts a sample scenario. In this hospital, house-staff take the role of incoming patients. Other hospitals will actually hire actors to act out the script.

I asked the head of the infection control committee to give me a sample description of the script. She said it was all very loose because everyone already knew what was going to happen. “There are signs all over instructing people to take a mask and gloves from the boxes situated at the entrance.  People will walk in, pick up a mask and gloves, and take a seat next to the triage nursing station where they’ll be told where to wait.” 

In other words, that’s the best-case scenario.

I asked her if they thought about people entering with their heads down in pain, or too focused on getting a seat near the entrance to actually read the signs. I asked her how people pick up gloves and if they might touch other gloves in the bin. I asked her what if they sit down before putting on the gloves and mask.

In other words, I was describing a far-from-best-case scenario in a hospital trying to contain touch-transmitted contagions.

Basically, I was asking about visual specifics that storyboarders and story artists deal with when they draw in order to a) help people think through ideas, and b) come up with a credible simulation of what should and should not happen.

I then asked her if the hospital ever hired a storyboarder or story artist to help develop scripts, to help specify details in ways that talking or writing do not. She said “no.” Let’s hope the CDC does.