- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

A family business can evolve in many ways. Take the case of the Viner brothers. Dr. Russell Viner had a vested in-

terest in children's health education through his work as a pediatrician and consultant in adolescent medicine at the Great Ormond Street and University College hospitals in London.

His older brother, Mike, worked as a lawyer and animator, and two other brothers, Geoff and Stephen, held managerial and accounting positions.

The four brothers wanted to work together on a project that would use their individual talents and decided that forming an animation company was the best way to realize their dream. Liquid Animation was formed in early 2000.

One of the brothers' first family collaborations is a Web site dedicated to giving children a place to find authoritative information about their bodies.


Site address: www.youthhealth.com


Liquid Animation originates from Brisbane in Queensland, Australia.

Creator quotable:

"While there's a lot of information on the Web about children's health, it's all directed at parents and health professionals, not children. YouthHealth.com is about fun, exploration and knowledge in equal parts. By connecting with children via animations, YouthHealth.com encourages them to develop a comfortable relationship with their bodies," Dr. Viner says.

"Kids are savvy, and they refuse to settle for anything less than high-quality, funny cartoons. This is why we set out to make the animations on YouthHealth.com first-rate. The result is a site which encourages young people to learn by combining their creative responses with the acquisition of knowledge."

Word from the Webwise:

YouthHealth.com combines well-designed, interactive cartoon segments with quizzes, games, anatomy illustrations and audio to give children the chance to explore health and fitness information in an engaging environment.

Geared toward 7- to 13-year-olds, the site features a group of young characters and a mentor who introduce topics ranging from acne to constipation to HIV in an easy-to-understand format.

A visitor's journey begins through an opening screen that introduces the Doc, Sari, Emma, Hu and the Chicken as they explore the mouth of their friend Lenny. Clicking on the characters makes each one move and reveals the site's main sections, including "Inner Explorers," "Activity Street," "Health Beats," "Voice Box" and "Parents."

I quickly became familiar with the gang when I stopped by "Inner Explorers" to go on a "Fantastic Voyage" adventure. Everyone including the Chicken jumped into a customized vehicle, then was miniaturized with Doc's patented "Shrink-O-Matic" device and was swallowed like a capsule by Lenny.

Through 16 animated segments, (new cartoons are added each month) children visit various parts of Lenny's inner plumbing, including his tongue, his alveoli, his left lung and the rude bacteria brothers staphylococcus and streptococcus.

Visitors do not just sit back and watch the four-minute animated segments. They are prompted to answer questions and take a quick quiz, all the while learning such tidbits as these: The epiglottis stops food from going down to the voice box and lungs; the inside of a tooth contains a soft substance called dentin; and white rings of cartilage line our airways to make sure they stay open for breathing.

Another major section, "Health Beat," offers 18 minimodules within the submenus "Body Parts," "Keeping Healthy," "Conditions," "Growing and Developing," "Aches & Pains" and "First Aid." Each acts as an interactive tutorial.

For example, stop by "Respiratory System" under "Body Parts" to learn that children take about 13 million breaths a year and to understand what body parts help us breathe, how oxygen gets into the blood and how we respirate. The area even has a gross-out section called "Yucky Bits" that answers questions such as, "Why is snot green?"

Ease of use:

The animation works quickly enough that even on dial-up connections, every surfer should enjoy the YouthHealth.com experience. Designers recommend using the latest browser version available as well as Macromedia's Flash 4 plug-in.

Don't miss:

I love a challenging game, and the ones provided under "Activity Street" fit the bill. In "Attack of the Killer Blood Cells," visitors driving Doc's vehicle must avoid staph, strep and virus globules careening toward them while maneuvering to capture red blood cells. This is a fast-moving, challenging game.

Family activity:

The best bet can be found in the "Activity Street" art studio, which features downloadable line-art pictures for the entire clan to color.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The Viner brothers are in the Web business to make some money, and parents will be clobbered with the chance to buy some of the site's content on a CD-ROM or subscribe to the monthly digest Child Health Monitor. These advertising diversions should not detract from Dr. Viner's informative site, however.

Parents also should be reminded that YouthHealth.com delves into some sensitive topics such as menstruation, the origin of babies and HIV, so they should be close at hand in case their children need more information.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Verify advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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