Every Year, 13,000 People Die of AIDS in America. Fewer than 1,000 Die in Europe. What Gives?

Hopefully the title of this animation sounds familiar!

Yep, so I made a little explainer video based on that article I wrote for the New Republic last May. Apologies for, well, basically everything. The pipsqueak voiceover, the muddled visuals, the inconsistent 3D, they’re the best I could do.

I don’t know why I love making these so much. The process is so slow, the rewards so incremental, compared to writing. Presenting information visually is in some ways easier and in some ways harder than writing it, but I have so much less practice! I’ve been telling people stuff my whole life. Showing them, I’ve been at it less than a year.

There’s no physics inside a computer. Objects don’t have weight, they don’t know the others are there. An object can be in one place, then 1/24th of a second later (or 1/30th or 1/60th or 1/1000th, it’s up to me!) a completely different one, in a different color, with a different shape. When Hiccup rides Toothless in the How to Train Your Dragon Movies, they’re not really touching, not in any recognizable physical sense, the animators have just placed them, lit them, put effects on them, that trick us into thinking they are.

What I like about this is that it’s exactly the same as every other art form. George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men aren’t any realer than Hiccup and Toothless. Lennie can be tall and fat on one page, then, on the next, bright purple, female, with tentacles and the flu. Writing, painting, animating, whatever, they’re all equally unlimited. The hard part in animation is making objects look like they have weight, mass, purpose. The hard part in writing is the same: We have to care where these objects are placed, where they go, how they bump into each other.

I’m sounding grandiose now. I don’t mean to compare myself to real animators, real writers. Everything I’ve done has been riding on the dragon (sorry) of reality, a story that’s already happened, the relationships between the objects established, arranged to be retold. All I’m saying is, when you think of the sheer fucking blankness of a unwritten novel, an undrawn animation, it’s amazing people can make us feel anything bumping these silly little objects, characters, into each other.

Anyway, shut up, Mike, it’s just a stupid little animation. I hope people enjoy this! It’s an issue I became totally obsessed with when I was writing my story, and it deserves to have more, smarter people obsessed with it. I tried really hard to treat this video, these unbearable statistics, with the respect they deserve. There’s a tendency for these animations to appear cute and light, and I’m genuinely sorry if any of this comes off as inconsiderate.

I want to especially thank Forrest Gray, who let me use his beautiful song ‘Sunset’ for the music bed. Also Dan Deacon, who in addition to being broadly awesome, releases the stems of his songs on Soundcloud under Creative Commons so people like me can use them. Thanks guys!

And of course, a huge (re-)thanks to all the brilliant and kind epidemiologists who let me interview them for my story.


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6 responses to “Every Year, 13,000 People Die of AIDS in America. Fewer than 1,000 Die in Europe. What Gives?

  1. There’s so much I like about this. Your animation is brilliant. Graphs are easier to understand than numbers, and animating the graphs makes it almost impossible not to see the data. You pack a lot of information into six minutes of video, and it’s edited cleanly. Your connection between animators and writers is a thoughtful one. You’re both. Well done.

  2. I love this: I’ve been telling people stuff my whole life. Showing them, I’ve been at it less than a year.

    It is true in education as well. We can no longer expect students to gain knowledge just through text, just through lecture. We need to create media, use all of our technologies to “show” kids information. And we need to provide them with opportunities to have our students “show” us what they know. We can no longer ask our students to be consumers of knowledge, they need to create as well.

    So well done Mike. It is thoughtful, informative, with just the right touch of humor. ie Reagan, and keeping the graph up of the shift in who is dieing of AIDS in America.

  3. Nice video! I haven’t looked too critically at the statistics, but one thing that struck me immediately: the statistic at 3:05. “The UK had only 3,400 drug users with HIV, while the US had 124,800.”

    Those are absolute numbers over vastly differing populations. To be able to fairly compare the two, you should show the number of drug users with HIV per x inhabitants, and preferably even per x heroïn users, as that is what’s relevant to the point you’re making (“the US could do a better job at preventing heroïn users from contracting HIV”).

  4. Very nice video! Well done!!