Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

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e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 c g w 3 5 For her colleague, Dan Higgins, his interest in art guided him into this career. He was working as a graphic designer until an interest in science led him down the road to a master's degree in medical illustration. He began his new career as a medical illustrator with WebMD before he migrated to the CDC, where he has been employed for the past 18 years. "We're kind of like translators for the scientists when they're communicating with the public," says Eckert. "We take complex scientific information and turn it into visuals that people can easily understand." This could pertain to a wide range of topics at the CDC – from viruses and bacteria, to tuberculosis, AIDS, cancer, chronic health conditions, birth defects, and so much more. While the work can be geared toward the general public, the two artists also do graphics, illustrations, and animations that are intended for the scientific com- munity, including physicians and scientists on staff at the CDC for lectures, journal articles, and presentations, where they are conveying the information to fellow scientists and researchers. Just as the subject matter is diverse, so, too, are the image formats used: 3D, 3D with animation, 2D and 2D animations, illustrations, 3D printing, and more. Eckert and Higgins use Autodesk's 3ds Max as their primary 3D soware, along with Pixologic's ZBrush. They also utilize Adobe's Creative Suite as well as a number of plug-ins, including those from Red Giant (which now merged with Maxon) and Video Copilot. The artists additionally employ special- ized soware called Chimera, an extensible modeling system for the interactive visual- ization and analysis of molecular structures and related data, including density maps, trajectories, and sequence alignments, from which high-quality images and movies can be made. Chimera is developed by the Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics (RBVI) at the University of California, San Francisco. According to Eckert, she uses 3D as much as possible, which eases the workflow. "I find the process much faster, especially when small changes have to be made," she notes, whereas in the past when they were producing more hand-drawn il- lustrations, changes were time-consuming. In addition 3D, these medical illustrators have been utilizing 3D printing in their work, output on a 3D Systems' ProJet 460Plus or a FormLabs printer. Eckert recalls making a 3D printed model a year ago that was used to train physicians in countries where a specific birth defect was prevalent, to teach them how to take accurate measurements. "It's a life-size model, so they can practice measuring tech- niques, which involves a very specific pro- cess," she explains. Other 3D printed models of viruses and so forth have been used for informational and educational purposes, sometimes for a conference or lecture. "The tactile experience [from a 3D-print- ed model] really helps people learn about the structures," Eckert adds. When the work involves an animation, the artists will consult with scientists through- out the project, making sure the science is accurately depicted. Some projects take quite some time to complete. But, when COVID-19 struck so quickly, Eckert and Higgins had just one week to come up with an image for the virus. "We had to drop everything we were work- ing on to focus on this one project," says Higgins, noting that in a typical scenario, the work would have taken at least three weeks of back and forth with the scientists. "We were granted access to the scientists much faster, and they were able to guide us on which proteins we needed to include and the quantity of the protein." In this instance, it was important to grab the viewer's attention. "This was a public health emergency, and we needed them to pay attention to this topic and hopefully go to the CDC's website to learn more informa- tion," explains Eckert. In addition, the two medical illustrators were putting a face to this virus, taking something that is unfamiliar and invisible, and bringing it to life so people would realize that it is real and that it does exist. "We wanted people to take this seriously, so we created it in a certain way," adds Higgins. To this end, the artists created a gray sphere and then added bold red S-proteins – spiked proteins (which attach to a cell) that are a signature of the coronavirus and enable it to be identified and recognized. "You would see a similar shape when you look at it on the electron micrograph, though they [the virus] are always kind of fuzzy and hard to read. We're just making it more clear, because they are really, really tiny," Eckert says. The main goal in this case was commu- nication, and as such, the artists had to balance the colors so that the image was bold, vibrant, attractive, and noticeable without being too playful, so it would be taken seriously without scaring people. "We wanted people to look at the image and become interested in it," says Eckert, noting she and Higgins created a number of vari- ations of the image before settling on this very popular graphic. "We were intending it to be an education- al opportunity, and it just blew up. I never thought it was going to do that," says Eckert of the image's widespread popularity. Higgins agrees, adding, "We've seen our work out there before, but this just exploded. I even saw it on SNL, which was pretty crazy." At the CDC, medical animators use a range of DCC soware for their work.

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