When asked what one’s favourite animation is, the answer you’ll get from most people usually falls into the realm of Disney, Pixar or some form of anime, Studio Ghibli usually coming to the forefront. Rarely does one hear the answer “Medical animation”: the use of 3D and 2D animation software to create realistic dioramas of the inner workings of the human body. The reasons for this is because medical animation just don’t get the limelight that they deserve.
When thought of, animation conjures up cartoon characters. The more detailed elements of 3D modelling for prosthetic limbs, or the application of animation towards education, don’t usually get thought of. This is predominantly down to the overwhelming presence of the games and VFX industry. In a tribute to the medical animation world, let’s take a look at some areas that have incorporated medical animations into their work.
The first area that we need to look at is medical dramas, of which there are many. The most obvious example of medical animation is in House M.D.: the series featuring a sarcastic Hugh Laurie in the titular role. Every episode featured new illnesses and diseases for the team to figure out, each accompanied with (although visually quite dated) intriguing and tone setting, medical animations. These were never the most accurate, according to professionals in the field. But there was no doubt that the incorporation of 3D techniques helped push the narrative forward.
The use of medical animation has always had a place in pop culture. in anime such as Cells at Work and Black Jack that aim to give less realistic, yet none the less, informative takes on the human body and disease. Also in films like Osmosis Jones and even stretching into the fatalities of the Mortal Kombat games. Despite their insane, over-the-top brutality, they do manage to capture elements of the inner workings of the human body, from bones shattering to organs rupturing, albeit in an extremely dramatised way.
It is from here that we can jump out of the realm of television and film and into how medical animation helps to drive forward actual medical work. It’s long been used as a study aid for surgical procedures. Over years of development, the medical aspect of modern computer animation actually makes for a large chunk of 3D related work and an essential part of animation in this world. From studies into medical procedures to how pharmaceutical products break down in the body, we can see the endless applications of the teaching tool, be it as a way to demonstrate CPR or as a method of discussing difficult topics. For as long as animation has been around, creators have striven to tell a story, to explain an idea or get across a message through three dimensional characters. How is this any different?
By actually allowing a safe learning environment to visually represent these medical aspects for novices or less experienced workers, it provides a connection between the key worker and the storyteller: something that blends and crosses over into other areas of education. Studies have taken place that show a reduction in anxiety in those who have been informed through a visual aid when they are about to have an operation. From this, we find an area that is untapped for many, a potential for doing great things. Although still an area that is overshadowed by television and film, medical animations and the larger arena of informative visual media is a crucial aspect of understanding, learning and developing. And it’s something that we should shrug off less and listen to more.