The Anatomy of Horror: A Love Story

  Well, in the blink of an eye, my second semester as a graduate student has come to a close!  All things considered, I would say it was a resounding success.  I was able to pace myself a bit better this second time around and keep procrastination to a minimum.  To summarize the semester, here is what I presented in front of the BVIS Department (duplicated as faithfully as possible), which briefly summarizes some of the childhood interests that led me to become a student in Biomedical Visualization.  So, without further ado, I present to you...

The Anatomy of Horror: A Love Story. 

When I was growing up I had a lot of lofty ideas of possible career paths that I would choose as an adult, from a cowboy to an astronaut firefighter – and to be clear, that is an astronaut who fights fires in space, not two separate professions.  I have always been a huge fan of movies, and still am to this day.  And like many children growing up watching movies, a lot of what I found interesting came out of the movies that I watched.  My interest started with action movies, but quickly spread to science fiction and horror.  Lucky for me, I have great parents who thought that it was appropriate for an impressionable youth, such as myself, to have movie role models such as these:


Role Models


So, thank you mom and dad.

Now what I’m about to say may seem like a stretch, but watching horror movies eventually led to a profound appreciation of science and anatomy.  How is this possible, you might ask?  Well, I challenge anyone to watch any 5 zombie movies without coming away with a cursory knowledge of skeletal anatomy - It’s unavoidable.  As a child, any time I saw a zombie rip someone apart, I would pause the movie, grab an anatomy atlas, and advance through the scene shot by shot, fact-checking to see if they got the anatomy right.


A clear theme emerges


These types of movies were the “stepping stones” that ultimately evolved into a more scholarly and sophisticated interest in science and anatomy.  Other early nudges in this direction came from my high school anatomy class, where I got to see a polycystic kidney – one of the most disgusting and fascinating things I’ve ever seen – and later that same year when I saw the Body Worlds exhibit at LACMA.

But how, you might ask, does one shed a juvenile interest in slasher films in order to create prosthetic devices and informative visualizations used for patient education?  The answer is simple: You don’t!  And I hope that my work will prove just how important horror films have been in getting me to where I am today, and how they have informed many aspects of the work I have created during my time in the Biomedical Visualization Program.

My first semester in the BVIS program consisted almost entirely of two-dimensional forms of visualization.  This semester, however, has focused on three-dimensional art forms exclusively.  I took the 3D Trinity: Computer Visualization, Haptics and Augmented Reality, and Anaplastology.  Each course offered a new realm of possibilities for what could be created in 3D, and  resulted in learning very different and unique sets of skills.  Here are the last few projects I have finished since my last post.

For my final Computer Visualization project, I got to make a Polycystic Liver!


cysts cysts cysts


This was a fun one.  We used chryosection data from the Visible Human Male project (from the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago) and compiled the data into Mimics, a program that converts CT data and, in this case, consecutive JPEG "slices", and renders them into a 3D object.  We then imported that data into 3Ds Max and retopologized the model to smooth it out and make it more managable to work with.  The retopped model was then imported into MudBox where it was painted and sculpted. It was imported into Max AGAIN and lighting was added to bring out all the juicy, shiny cysts.  And, finally, the rendered Max files were composited in Photoshop to make the cysts, for lack of a better word, "pop."

For Haptics and Augmented Reality, I put together a small video compilation of some of the projects we completed.


For the first project, we had to recreate the solar system as an exercise to learn C++ and code hierarchy.  For the second project, we learned how to create haptic mesh objects and how to apply haptic effects to each one (slippery surface, sticky surface...).  For the third project, we had to create Jenga programmatically and be able to interact with it using the haptic device.  There are also 3 interactive buttons in the scene: reset, destroy, and easy.  The last project was still in progress when I put the video together, but we made a carnival shooting range game.  The haptic cursor is a gun and when you press the button a cork attached to a chain pops out and knocks over the glass bottles.  When I presented this last project in class, I was able to retrofit a plastic cap gun to fit over the haptic device, using a bit of string, a paperclip, and a li'l ingenuity (MacGyver style).  That way, when you pull the trigger of the plastic gun, it presses the button on the haptic device.  It actually made it a lot easier to aim, and it made it feel more realistic.

Last but not least, I finished my ocular for Anaplastology:


It knows your secrets


Once again, just like the auricular prosthesis I completed earlier in the semester, I got to get my hands dirty and use actual, tangible materials and tools ("instruments" if you're in a clinic)!  We started out by painting the lens and fitting it with a clear corneal button, then got it all lined up using a wax sclera "blank." Then we made a two part mold, cast the sclera in white acrylic, ground it down,  and added color and vasculature (strands of thread). Finally, a layer of clear acrylic was added, polished, and buffed to create the end result.

And there you have it.  A quick tour of the Spring semester.  Now to sit back, relax, and put in as many hours into video games as humanly possible before the summer semester starts... Stay tuned!