Human nature

Taking eight months, and resulting in over 900 detailed 3D illustrations plus animation, Medi-Mation has redrawn the human anatomy.

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At first glance, creating 3D medical infographics might appear slightly clinical to the average digital artist. Yet for Medi-Mation, commissioned to update Dorling KindersleyThe Human Body Book, the task challenged the team both creatively and technically.

Deploying Splutterfish Brazil and Autodesk 3DS Max, Medi-Mation updated the original imprint's painted artworks, providing a visual tour of the human body in all its biological wonder.

Following the win for the project, which included over 900 illustrations plus animations for the included DVD, the team faced the cold reality of the sheer size of the task.

"Our initial euphoria then slowly became panic when we started to realize the volume of work and detail that would be required," reveals Medi-Mation creative director Rajeev Doshi. "We decided to buy in the best commercially available human anatomy models - the Zygote Human model collections (www.3dscience.com).

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"This included skin, skeletal, muscle, and most organs systems, both male and female. However, as we started to look at the systems in more detail and after hearing some of the comments from the medical consultants, we realized that these were not going to be detailed enough for the book. 
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"So an additional level of modelling was required, especially since many of the artworks would be A3 spreads. This was in addition to all the new models that would be created for the project showing things at the sub-organ, cellular, or sub-cellular level." 
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The brief evolved creatively over the course of the project - and one of the key concerns was the level of realism presented by 3D infographics.
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"The initial response was great, but some people felt [the illustrations] looked a bit too realistic and that could be a problem for the readership," explains Doshi. 
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"Medical illustrations are probably about the most difficult type of illustration to do because although there are many absolutes, there are just as many grey areas where the variation between individuals' anatomy such as size, shape and even position meant that it was sometimes tricky to reach a compromise where everyone was happy," adds Doshi.

"The sheer complexity of the interactions between structures meant many modelling headaches. We were pretty confident of the detail and quality of the illustrations, and the fact they were being done in 3D would be enough to provide a visually engaging experience.

"The icing on the cake was a series of seven action-oriented double-page spreads. These dealt with the cardiac cycle, a neuronal impulse, conception, digestion, gas exchange in the lung, inflammation and a cell to body system artwork. In these cases we were allowed to push the book style and technical envelope a bit further by having black backgrounds and using more advanced rendering techniques," he adds.

Body language

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Technically, the project was vast. Huge data sets needed to be handled - the model on the front cover of the book weighed in at 110MB without textures, using over a million polygons and rendered at 3,400-x-4,000 pixels in Brazil.
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The team used 3DS Max

"One of the creative challenges was that we should be able to see how organs and systems go in front and behind the skeleton," says Doshi. "However, anything that went behind the skeleton couldn't be obscured but be seen under a ghosted skeleton.

"We didn't want to render everything (skeleton and system) in a single pass so that we would still have maximum flexibility in post to tweak elements."

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After trying out a few ideas, the team settled on a two-step process in Photoshop that relied on a separate B&W matte that was rendered from the main 3D model, but which defined anything over the skeleton. 
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"Using this pass we were able to use a few tricks in Photoshop to give us the effect required," says Doshi. "It was an absolute godsend in artworks like the cardiovascular, nervous, and lymphatic systems with elements snaking all around the skeleton." 
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The team was tasked with creating four animated sequences, too, with the team sketching out rough storyboards to explore camera moves. 
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"While this was happening, senior 3D artist Olaf Louwinger was doing R&D for the more complex elements of shots such as spermatozoa arriving at the egg, electrical effects for the neurons, and white blood cells squeezing out of leaky blood capillaries." 
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Once technical issues had been solved the team moved onto producing the animations for presentation to the DK team in previz format. The final stage was to implement the changes and set-up the texturing and lighting. 
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"The actual look of each scene had to follow quite closely the book spread it was representing but we were allowed to push the effects a lot more by adding depth of field, particular, atmospheric and fluid effects," adds Doshi. 
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With the project wrapped, Doshi is pleased - if exhausted - by the result: "Looking back I

"The final artwork has a touch more airbrushing than I would have liked, but it was that or my sanity!" he says.

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