How to Create Medical Animation Videos (in 8 Steps)


Medical animation videos can be a vital part of private medical practice, hospital training, or student teaching. Since medical animations often depict actions that happen at the microscopic level and beneath the skin, animators have to create medical videos that can clearly explain how unseen medical procedures are performed.

create-medical-animation-1

Medical animation videos are created by choosing software to create the animation, storyboarding, 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering the video, and then bringing everything together in a final composition during video editing. Medical animation videos are useful for depicting complicated medical procedures.

Learning how to create medical animation videos can necessitate a high learning curve, but the final product can go a long way towards legitimizing a medical practice or teaching medical students how to operate. Keep reading to learn more about how to create medical animation videos that will knock the socks off the audience in your next presentation.

Choosing Software for Creating Medical Animation Videos

The first step to creating medical animation videos is to choose which software you’re going to create the videos in. Most medical animators create videos on a combination of different programs, but some major programs come complete with rendering engines and composition tools that allow animators to create an animation in one software from conception.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular programs used to create medical animation videos:

Blender

Blender is an animation software that is favored by many animators because of its complex texturing ability and its suite of effects that make medical animations look both visually interesting and professionally rendered. Blender contains the following animation features:

  • UV mapping: UV mapping is the process of unwrapping UVs and placing a 2D texture around a 3D object. This can help medical animators install textures on top of models to simulate a wide variety of tissues and medical objects.
  • 3D modeling: In medical animation, 3D modeling is the process of translating a 2D medical illustration into a three-dimensional object. For animations depicting complex medical procedures such as surgeries, 3D modeling is vital for an accurate representation.
  • Fluid simulation: Fluid simulation is important in medical animation videos, especially in those videos that depict the movement of blood or other bodily fluids. Real fluid movement in animation can help the composition translate visually as a liquid environment. Fluid simulation also has the advantage of being visually impressive in a 3D animation for marketing purposes.
  • Sculpting: Strong sculpting tools in Blender allow medical animators to create detailed, anatomically correct structures that add credibility and professional polish to their videos.
  • Match moving: Match moving is an animation process that medical animators can use to superimpose animated sequences on top of live-action footage in such a way that they are matched motion for motion. This can help animators create realistic animations. Match moving can be important in medical animations that seek to reproduce a surgical procedure.
  • Particle simulation: Particle simulation is an important part of medical animation videos for depicting such medical scenarios such as blood flow, virus dispersal, and others. Dynamic movement in medical animations helps keep the audience engaged and can make the video more interesting for even medical laymen to watch.

Another major advantage of Blender software is that this software is open source and free. If you’re just getting started in the process of learning how to create medical animation videos, Blender is a good program to dip your toes on.

Maya

Maya is somewhat similar to Blender, however it is a more extensive paid program with more features. One major benefit of Maya that users love is the program’s customizable interface. Because it has so many different tools and abilities as a software, this program is popular in Hollywood for creating CGI effects in some of the world’s most popular blockbuster films.

This program also prevents medical animators from having to create their own character rig for animations from scratch, instead presenting the user with a premade rig that is skinned and weighted, making it ready-to-go for animation. This can greatly streamline the workflow from pre-production into the 3D animation phase and rendering part of the animation process.

Here are some of the other features of Maya that make it useful for medical animators:

  • Dynamic effects
  • 3D animation tools
  • Pipeline integration
  • Rendering
  • Shading
  • Motion graphics
  • 3D modeling

One unique aspect of Maya is that it has bullet physics tools that can be used for animating medical procedures related to gun injury triage and emergency medicine. This can be very useful for depicting the internal pathing of bullets to show the audience how this damage can then be fixed.

3Ds Max

3Ds Max is a 3D modeling and rendering software that is offered through AutoDesk. While this software has many of the same 3D rendering and modeling tools as other software programs, 3Ds Max stands out for its optimization of animation workflows and special rendering features such as the following:

  • Blended box map
  • Procedural edge modeling
  • Editors for materials, color, and textures
  • Automated modeling operations

With a mixture of general and advanced animation tools, 3Ds Max is a good foundational software to build medical animation videos on.

Modo

Modo is a brush-based 3D sculpting software that has a variety of artistic tools that allow animators to sketch rough concepts of their animation elements before rendering them in full detail. This allows animators to get an idea of the volume of the element in the frame and how it weighs in comparison to negative space as well as other elements in the shot.

Here are some of the other features that Modo is known for:

  • Nodal/layer-based shading systems
  • Photorealistic, high speed, high-resolution rendering
  • Texture review during the baking process to allow changes before the final render
  • Flexible rigging system for 3D animation sequences
  • Rule-based, directable particle system

With a suite of applications that make it effective as an animator’s primary toolset, Modo is another animation software that is capable of delivering complex and detailed animation tools for medical animators to create their videos.

Because Modo focuses more on modeling and rendering than compositing, Modo is best used in combination with other animating software for a polished final result.

ZBrush

ZBrush is a finishing software that is often used in conjunction with other types of animation software to polish the final product of an animation.

  • The 3D modeling program ZBrush is based on a brush-based system similar to digital art applications. This means that for many animators who are already used to brush-based applications such as Photoshop for creating visual art, ZBrush will be an easy transition.
  • One major advantage of ZBrush for medical animators is that this program features a clay sculpting simulator. This allows animators to easily build up natural, organic 3D objects that accurately depict organic shapes and textures found in the human body. Realistic renders can be created directly in ZBrush, complete with atmospheric effects, cloth simulation, and dynamic thickness adjustment.

ZBrush is advertised as the all-in-one digital sculpting tool, and this is a fair billing. This tool a versatile tool for intricate 3D animations. It’s also got a good selection of tutorials and other learning resources available through their website, such as the following:

  • Free ZClassroom Training
  • Third-party training
  • Free documentation and technical tutorials

While ZBrush has a somewhat complicated learning curve, it makes up for this by being able to take a medical animation element from flat concept art to a 3D render. This can make it a powerful piece of software for medical animation.

Pre-Production on a Medical Animation Video

When medical animation videos are made for a client, then pre-production is the stage in creating a medical animation video where the animators and the clients are brought together so that everyone is on the same page with what needs to be depicted in the animation. Here are some of the goals of pre-production when creating a medical animation video (Source: Nanobot Medical):

  • Establish the scope and timeline of the animation project: This part of the planning phase may include estimates for necessary funding as well as a series of milestones or deadlines for the animators to meet in creating the video.

Typically, clients are either given a chance to make revisions or observations at certain stages of the animation process, or they are only given the final product once it is completed to their initial specifications, then revisions (if any) are attempted in post-production.

  • Establish the goals of the clientele: The pre-production phase of creating a medical animation video is the best point of the process to make sure that the client’s goals are clearly communicated and noted for the animators to follow.

In many cases, the pre-production meetings may be the last chance the client gets to have a direct influence on the product before the animators take over and try to make their vision a reality. Making sure that the animators understand the goals of the final product as well as how the client visualizes it is key to keeping post-production revisions to a minimum.

Storyboarding a Medical Animation Video

When creating a medical animation video, storyboarding is the step in the process where the animators plan out the design elements of the animation and how best to meet the goals laid down in pre-production. (Source: Art of the Cell)

The goals of a storyboard in creating a medical animation video are to set up an engaging story with the animation while simultaneously conveying pertinent medical information in a way that can be easily understood by both laymen and medical professionals.

Here are some of the design elements of a medical animation video:

  • Composition: The composition of an animation considers animation tracking, negative space, and a variety of other factors that impact how the animation appears both in individual parts and as a whole. (Source: Animator Island)
  • Proportions: In medical animation videos, proper proportions are crucial to anatomical accuracy and making sure that anyone viewing the video can easily discern the proportional size differences between different tissues or objects.
  • Actions: In a medical animation, the actions are the moving parts of the animation that depict a procedure or some other kind of medical event. Medical animators must ensure that any actions depicted in the animation are both smooth and seamless. The actions in a medical animation video must also follow sequentially along with the medical procedure it’s describing.
  • Color palette: In medical animation videos, many of the colors used in the animations are kept as realistic as possible while also adding enough contrast to make the different elements of the animation easy to discern from one another.

A thorough storyboarding process can help prevent major changes to the animation down the road when it is more difficult to pull off, and storyboarding is also the best step in the process to try out several different compositions to see which is the most effective.

Steps to Storyboarding a Medical Animation Video

Along with the elements that you need to look at when you’re setting up a medical animation video, you’ll also need to come up with a script. Here is the procedure of steps necessary to storyboard a medical animation video in pre-production:

  • Creating a script. The script of a medical animation video both explains what is going on in each shot of the animation and can also contain flavor text that will be included in the animation to further clarify what’s going on.
  • Sketching out the scenes. Based on the script, animators will then sketch out the scenes that will appear in the medical animation. These rough sketches are a way for animators to get a feel for the individual elements of the animation, such as color, composition, proportion, etc.
  • Reviewing the final storyboard. Once a storyboard has been completed for a medical animation video, this is the point where the storyboard is usually kicked back to the client for preliminary approval before the true production of the animation begins. This is the point where the client can make any last-minute suggestions or revisions to the planned animation sequence.

Once the client (or the animator) approves the final storyboard of the medical animation, the video is ready to move into true production. At this point, the animators will likely not take on more revisions from the client until the final animated video is complete.

If the storyboarding part of the medical animation workflow is performed effectively, this is the most revision that the video will need before being polished up in post-production. (Source: Laundry Lane)

3D Modeling a Medical Animation Video

Once the basic elements of the medical animation video are laid out in the form of storyboards, the 3D modeling of the animation can begin. This is the step in the process of creating a medical animation video where the flat 2D illustrations in the storyboards are translated into 3D objects that are anatomical representations of their real-life counterparts.

3D modeling isn’t just necessary for creating realistic medical animations; it’s also an important part of creating special effects in a 3D animated sequence.

3D models are typically created by creating points in virtual space that act as a skeletal foundation for creating three-dimensional objects. Once this baseline 3D surface structure is created, 2D textures can be rendered onto the 3D model.

There are two major forms of creating 3D objects in a medical animation video: 3D modeling and 3D sculpting. 3D sculpting can be performed by digital clay manipulation into objects, but this process is usually less precise than creating the image in 3D modeling software.  If organic is what you are looking for then it works.

The Challenge of 3D Modeling

The most difficult part of 3D modeling in medical animation videos is that the success of this stage in the process is determined by visual art talent. Without a fundamental understanding of proportions, perspective, and other art concepts, it is hard to create realistic 3D models. This means that to be a good medical animator, it’s important to have a strong set of digital art skills to start with.

3D Texturing a Medical Animation

Texturing is an important step especially in medical animations because it brings realism to models and environments.  Both 2d texturing and 3d texturing may be needed for an animation.  Depending on the type of model created, texturing may be easier or harder.  For example, with polygonal models, UV unwrapping must be done first before a texture is placed on a model.  NURBS models do not require this extra step.

Texturing may involve painting a model from scratch, whether it is in layers in Photoshop or a dedicated 3D texturing application, using existing textures or parts of textures (such as photos of an object in nature) to blend or tile onto the 3d object, or using procedural materials that are part of animation software.  Procedural materials are ones that can be programmed with sliders/entered values to change their color, contrast, noise, ratios, etc.  Material types include lambert, blinn, etc.  Materials can include textures as part of them (for example use a texture for the color or opacity) and can become rather complicated shading networks themselves.

Texturing also includes specialized materials such as bump, displacement, and normal maps.  In firms with more than 1 person, there is often a person dedicated to texturing 3d objects.

Lighting a Medical Animation

By default a 3d scene is dark.  Lighting brings attention to objects where you want to place attention, and makes both the textured objects and action visible.  Depending on whether you are creating a realistic animation or a symbolic one, lighting changes respectively.  A medical animation of a surgical procedure would use realistic lighting we are used to similar to the room we are in.  An animation of an endoscope inside a body would use limited lighting accurately depicting that created by the instrument.  Lighting an animation on a microscopic level is tougher, as you cannot just copy the lighting youd find in a microscope.  You are trying to simulate looking into the body as it is naturally.

There are various ways of lighting a scene, such as directional lights, omni lights, a 3 point setup, etc.  These methods are often taken from photography and film making.  When there is lot of action involved in the animation, you have to make sure the lights keep up with your objects of interest and help focus the viewers attention where you want it.  You are in a way playing God here turning the sun on or off.

Rendering a Medical Animation Video

Once the individual elements of the animation have been built up, it’s time to render the animation. This is the process of placing each of the scenes and pieces of the animation in a series of sequential, individual frames in a 2d timeline. Rendering is also the part of the medical animation process that gives the objects in the animation their final appearance in the video.

The purpose of rendering is to create a series of animation frames that can then be put together in a motion video.

In rendering, the individual components of the animation are usually placed over a static transparent background so that they can all be layered together over a final background graphic.

Here is why rendering a medical animation video is such an important part of the process:

  • Realism: Rendering is an important part of creating realistic subjects in the animation by accurately replicating real textures and colors found in the body. While realism is pursued in many areas of animation, it is especially important in medical animation since it dictates the accuracy of the animation as a scientific tool.
  • Movement: Rendering an animation correctly causes the final animation to come across as smooth and seamless as the animation jumps from frame to frame. This can give medical animation videos a sleek, organic feel.

Once a medical animation video has been rendered, the next step is to composite the final animation together into a finished product.

Compositing a Medical Animation Video

Compositing a medical animation video is the last step in creating the video and is also considered the first stage in the post-production of the video. In compositing an animation, the individual frames of the animation as well as the 2d layers are meshed to form a cohesive whole.

The process of compositing can vary greatly from project to project, with some animations requiring only minimal adjustments during the composition process and others requiring hours of tweaking for visual properties such as saturation, contrast, and depth of field. (Source: Dream Farm Studios)

Nuke

If ZBrush is a 3D sculpting software, then Nuke is a software that focuses on compositing and video editing. While Nuke isn’t a good choice for motion graphics, it’s more than suitable for complex animation sequences.

Medical animators can use Nuke to integrate both 2D and 3D images into their medical animation videos, creating a more dynamic result in the process. Like Maya, Nuke is commonly used in cinema post-production and video editing, so it’s top of the line for creating nuanced medical animations.

Tips for Creating Medical Animation Videos

Whether you’re creating medical animation videos for marketing a private practice or you’re looking into animating medical animation videos for a client, there are several tips you should keep in mind that can help you be a more successful animator when it comes to medical animations. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Create a comprehensive storyboard. Storyboarding is the best step in the process of building a medical animation video to try out several different approaches to the animation before committing any of them to modeling software. Being thorough during the conception stage of the video-making process can help prevent serious backtracking later down the road.  Medical animation is not doing cartoons- it needs to be extremely accurate.
  • Keep communications open with the client. While it’s not a good idea to give the client too much leeway when it comes to making changes in the video (some clients can take serious advantage of this), it’s good to make sure that the goals of the client are clearly understood and that their bottom line requirements for the animation are clear before production starts.
  • Try a few different software programs to learn medical animation. Blender is a great one to start learning the fundamentals of 3D modeling and rendering in a digital environment, but it’s a good idea to branch out into some paid software applications, too, just to try out some different kinds of toolsets. You might find one program much more useful than another.
  • Take in a lot of medical animations. One of the best ways to learn how to create effective medical animations is to watch them for reference to see what to do. It’s a good idea to analyze these animations as a professional animator or filmmaker would to see how composition, proportions, and other elements affect the overall look of the video.
  • Watch live action medical surgeries too. Watching live surgeries is good for getting a strong idea of how certain medical procedures are accomplished. These surgeries can also give animators inspiration for realistic color palettes, textures, and other elements.

The art of learning to digitally animate any object can be difficult, but this is especially true in medical animations where anatomical proportions and realism are the keys to a high-quality video.

The Importance of Creating Medical Animation Videos

Medical animation videos are a major advance in medical research, especially compared to earlier methods of studying the human body through X-ray records, dissection, and photographs. From making the traditional high school frog dissection obsolete to explaining complex medical procedures to first-year medical students, medical animation videos are very useful.

Many medical procedures and actions are microscopic or so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. For these operations, medical animators use their imagination and their knowledge of anatomy to render a realistic depiction of these microscopic events.

Uses of Medical Animation Videos

Here are some of the other reasons why creating medical animation videos is important in the field of medicine:

  • Medical animation videos help non-spatial thinkers visualize anatomical operations. Not everyone is capable of thinking in pictures, and medical animation videos can be a great way for those lacking imagination to “see” these medical procedures in their minds.
  • Medical animation videos are good for teaching laymen, medical students, and patients about medical procedures. Medical procedures can be confusing and frightening, especially to people who have never undergone a serious procedure before. Medical animation videos can help take a lot of the fear and mystery out of going under the knife in a clinical operation.
  • Medical animation videos are an important part of medical marketing. Both in pharmaceuticals and related medical industries, medical animation videos are frequently used to demonstrate the effectiveness of medical equipment in the field or how drugs react in the human body at a microscopic level. These videos help sell the products they’re demonstrating.

Medical animation videos aren’t easy to make, and some animators dedicate their entire careers to mastering this subject matter in animation. But the ability to create a compelling medical animation video can be a lucrative skill in the job market for those who want to work in the medical industry at some level. It’s also a good skill for those who want to specialize in this form of animation.

Below is a video depicting the steps of animation creation:

 

Whether you’re looking into medical animation videos to help legitimize your practice or you want to go into this field of animation as a niche career, medical animation videos can illustrate medical procedures in a way that previous medical illustration technologies could only dream of.

I hope this article gave you a good idea of how medical animations are created.  Click on the following link to learn if 3d animators are in demand.

 

Dr. J

Dr. J has worked in biology all his life and holds several advanced degrees and certificates in biology, anatomy, scientific illustration, 3d animation and motion graphics. He has always had an interest in teaching others the wonders of biology using the latest advances in graphics, including visualization, digital microscopy, animation, illustration, VR and interactive media.

Recent Posts

All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.