Medical Animation  

"Draw what can't be seen,
watch what's never been done,
and tell thousands about it without saying a word"

-Association of Medical Illustrators


Definition of Medical Illustration

The process by which a trained professional fuses medical and bioscientific knowledge with a proficiency in visual rendering technique to produce scientifically accurate material. The result is presented in a format that is aesthetically appealing to the eye without sacrificing scientific accuracy or instructional value. -Graphic Pulse, Inc.

A Brief History of Medical Illustration

Humans have been depicting the human body through art since art began. Around 13,000 BC early man placed a hand on a wall of the Lascaux caves in the Dordogne region of what is now France and blew pigment around his hand to create a siloutette. Another painted the human figure being rushed by a bull carrying a wound with protruding intestines. From 2613 to 332 BC, the Egyptians obtained knowledge of internal anatomy while preparing the dead for mummification. They painted the human form with consistent proportions and even tools of dissection to tell stories and to document their history. Around 500 BC, The Greeks developed an accurate sense of surface anatomy and demonstrated it through their figure sculptures. By 1517, Leonardo da Vinci had dissected 30 men and women of all ages, as well as countless snakes, monkeys, birds and frogs to produce an amazing collection of sketches and notes representing the first precisely accurate medical illustrations of external and internal anatomy. In 1543,"On the Fabric of the Human Body," the most impressive 16th century volume on comparative anatomy was published. It contained a collection of prints made from woodblocks cut under the direction of the Venetian master, Titian. All it's contents were based on sketches provided by Andreas Vesalius, an Italian surgeon at the University of Padua, who gained a reputation for his entertaining public dissections of the human body. 1632, oil painting portraits were commissioned by attending surgeons during public dissections, which continued to gain popularity. "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" by Rembrandt van Rijn depicts an arm dissection of an executed criminal accompanied by portraits of several eager surgeons in full color. In the late 1800s Thomas Eakins produced realistic depictions of anatomy lessons in Philadelphia using oil paint, brushes, and knowledge from his many dissections of the human body. He taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts stressing the importance of anatomical knowledge toward the artistic depiction of the figure. He hauled dead horses in for dissection but was fired when exposing a nude model for figure study. 1894, Max Brodel, the father of modern medical illustration began working for the surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Brodel had been traditionally trained in Liepzig Germany. He had carefully observed thousands of surgeries and autopsies. Using carbon dust on chalk-coated board, Brodel produced breathtakingly realistic renderings of surgical procedures that served to teach the surgeons of the hospital exactly what to look for during a procedure without all the blood, puss, and gore that exists on a photograph.

1911, Max Brodel founded and subsequently directed the first medical illustration program in the world at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1945, The Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) was founded. By 1967, the AMI established a set of educational standards to be used toward the accreditation of graduate programs in medical illustration.


Training of the Modern Medical Illustrator

Today, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Programs in cooperation with the Accreditation Review Committee of the AMI has designated 5 graduate programs as meeting or exceeding the accreditation criteria of educational quality. The following highly competitive programs each accept between 3 and 12 students per year:


  • The University of Toronto has been recognized as having the standards of the schools accredited by the CAAHEP. It remains unaccredited simply because of it's location outside of the United States.

The majority of medical illustrators in the United States and Canada hold a master's degree in medical illustration from one of these schools. These programs include rigorous training in areas of medicine such as gross anatomy, physiology, embryology, pathology, neuroanatomy, and histology, among others. Medical illustrators also gain a prowess in various visual media from classic techniques such as pen & ink, watercolor, airbrush, and carbon dust to digital techniques in illustration, modeling, animation, and interactive media.

The Medical Illustrator's Profession

There is a wide variety of avenues that a medical illustrator can pursue professionally once training is complete. Illustration work ranges from highly realistic, anatomically precise, instructional material to imaginative, conceptual, editorial illustration. One may also produce medical 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional computer animation, interactive CD ROMs, life-like prosthetics, anatomical models, medical exhibits, medical presentations used in courtroom proceedings, medical journal graphics, pharmaceutical advertising, marketing materials for surgical instrumentation, patient education material, web sites containing health or medical content, etc. Although the training is quite specialized, the creative reach of a medical illustrator is considerably broad. Always throughout, the medical illustrator remains a highly respected thoroughly trained left-brain-right-brain professional.

Graphic Pulse, Inc.
Chicago, IL

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