Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit

At a glance

Our biggest visualization so far turned huge numbers into a human story with the help of cinematic spectacle and storytelling.

A story that had to be told

It’s the biggest medical donation effort in human history. Quite possibly, the biggest health intervention of all time.

Yet few have even heard of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Or the record-breaking programme that continues to save many millions of people from suffering.

We set out to tell the story of this world-changing effort through the staggering numbers and associated data behind it.

Our visualization would be used at the NTD Summit 2017 in Geneva, hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Images of notes for 'Cascade'
Image of different sized dots for 'Cascade' Image of sketches for 'Cascade'

Huge numbers, human impact

This is a story of awesome numbers. But these numbers have an intimate effect of human lives. We needed to visualize data such as…

  • 5.2 billion individual medicines delivered across the world
  • 975 million men, women and children who had received them by 2015
  • 1,560 million people who still needed help as of that year

At this size, numbers can simply become numb. Too big to grasp. Too abstract to resonate emotionally. How could we inspire people to engage within such massive data sets?

From the start, we wanted to represent the data at the scale we felt it needed. The idea? An immersive ‘sensory data experience’ on an epic cinematic canvas.

Image of projection screens from 'Cascade'
Image of sketches for 'Cascade' Image of sketches for 'Cascade'

Big idea, bigger screen

We proposed a super-widescreen that would run across three custom-built panels, five metres high and 30 metres across (imagine a trio of London buses parked end to end).

But despite the technical ambition of this project, we started as we always do: finding the narrative in the numbers.

screen showing storyboard development of data visualizations for 'Cascade'
Data visualization from 'Cascade' showing number of treatments donated by region

Creating the narrative

Two themes emerged from the data: mind-blowing scale and delivery to remote locations around the world.

Our creative concept sought to weave together these two storylines and convey an important message to everyone viewing: we’ve achieved so much, but there’s still more we can do.

Perfectly formed geometric shapes would visualize the precision and gravity of these towering sets of data. But a free-flowing visual ‘cascade’ would drive the narrative’s inspiring emotional surge.

Animation reference of murmuration

Natural inspiration

We were inspired by the murmurations of starlings – beautiful morphing transitions to make the data points glide around the canvas like something from the natural world.


Animated gif of how particles moved in 'cascade'

Cinematic effects

To translate our data visualizations and art direction to the big screen, we enlisted the animation skills of visual-effects studio Territory (who have worked on Hollywood productions such as Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, The Martian).

Shifting and settling as the story unfolded, these data elements formed into solid shapes before dispersing again like wind-blown sand. Hard data became a flowing visual story.

image from 'Cascade' showing 10 illustrations of NTDs

Mesmerising soundscape

But we knew this couldn’t simply be a visual experience – it had to be an emotional one, too. Sound would be crucial to ensuring this.

Inspired by Hans Zimmer’s beautiful work for sci-fi film Interstellar, we commissioned composer Tim Cowie to design an original soundtrack that would emphasise the ebb and flow of the visual story.

This mesmerising soundscape – with a ‘cascade’ sound effect as its signature – added a final layer of drama to the data.

Picture of people at the NTD Summit 2017

Unveiled in Geneva

From spreadsheets to story, from paper-and-pen sketches to digital schematics… and finally to Geneva.

Unveiled in April 2017, Cascade was a truly memorable centrepiece for the Neglected Tropical Diseases summit. It’s the first project of its kind at such scale that we know of.