The History of Medical Animation and Its Evolution

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Seeing and understanding our anatomy with a unique and enhanced perspective often leaves us in awe.

One fine innovation that gives us this vivid picture of our anatomy is medical animation.

Though medical animation has been a remarkable development in science and research, it is worth knowing that it was not always around (for most of our history).

And, medical video production took place in recent decades.

As fascinating as the technology is proving to be, it also has an even more exciting history.

Today, this blog will discover the roots of the field of medical animation.

To make it easier for you to navigate through the blog, we’ve organized the history in a timeline structure.

Each stage highlights a groundbreaking invention and the innovator of the time, and how their works contributed to the evolution of medical animation we have today.

Excited to discover?

Let’s dive right in!

1543 – Book on Human Anatomy

Medical animation was not a thing in the olden days. However, the stepping stone was laid back in the sixteenth century in the form of a book launch.

It was the Flemish anatomist and author, Andreas Vesalius, who wrote and compiled a comprehensive volume on anatomy.

And, provided us with ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’. It turned out to be the most influential book on human anatomy. That’s not all.

There is a group of scholars who even want you to refer to Andreas Vesalius as the founder of human anatomy.

His comprehensive study and knowledge base (compiled in a book) have been the driving force behind the progress of medical animations.

Though the animation thing started after the 1960s, this book, being released in 1543, offers groundbreaking insight into human anatomy.

That eventually became the guide for illustrators (of later times) to understand and paint outstanding pictures of our anatomy.

1911 – Max Brodel creates medical illustrations

Max Brodel is another big name in the evolution of medical animation. 1911 is probably the real highlight of Max Brodel’s career.

Close to most scholars and illustration artists, he is the father of modern medical illustrations.

In his early time, Max Brodel made illustrations for Harvey Cushing. And, he also made illustrations for renowned clinicians of the time. That’s not all.

He’s also known for inventing a unique illustration technique. It was named ‘carbon dust’.

And, he was appointed as the lead for the Arts Department of Applied Medicine at John Hopkins School of Medicine.

He created medical illustrations, which later become the blueprint for illustration artists working in the medical industry worldwide.

His contribution was groundbreaking and became the guide for evolution in medical animation. Courtesy of his works, today that department at John Hopkins School of Medicine continues to train illustrators. Again, that’s not all.

Brodal is also known to have influenced some of the finest artists in the field. These artists were;

  • James F. Didusch
  • Dorcas Hager Padget
  • Wilard C. Shepard

It would be hard to believe that such a huge name in medical illustrations did not have any formal training in medicine.

However, he is well-credited for his work in pathology, surgery, and anatomy.  To date, artists and students in medicine wonder at the ability of Brodal to synthesize art and medicine.

1932 – ‘Medical animation’ is a term

Interestingly, 1932 is still early for computer graphics. Know that the term medical animation was coined even before we had any computer-generated graphics.

It was coined by Clarke and Hoshall. And, made its first appearance in the Journal of Biology Photography.

Clarke and Hoshall used the term to refer to two-dimensional motion pictures. The term was used to categorize similar film production for medical students.

1940 – Pauline Lariviere uses colors for human anatomy

Again, innovation happened with a distinctive approach and creative thinking. Pauline Lariviere was born in 1906. Her contribution became the guide for the artists of the future.

She is known for her distinctive approach to art and science. Unlike traditional illustrators, she isolated each anatomical process for detailed and more focused study.

And, to light up the learning experience, she used colors to make the anatomy appear more vibrant.

Her style and distinctive approach were revolutionary.

She not only made this dull subject easier to comprehend and more aesthetically appealing, but her works also point to the idea that isolating anatomical aspects could ease the job of achieving accuracy for illustrators.

Since the style is timeless, it’s being used by medical illustrators today till today.

1960 – Birth of Computer-generated graphics

This period marks the invaluable contribution made by William Fetter. He is also the person who coined the term ‘computer graphics.’

While serving as the Art Director at Boeing for the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Department, he stepped into innovating with CAD. He came up with a collection of ideas for 3D drawings.

Fetter was perhaps the first guy who explored the possibility of using the perspective of the human figure to create the computer animation.

It will not be wrong to call him a pioneer in the medical animation industry. He made the first human figure 3D model for a computer. His works paved the way for our modern 3D medical animation.

1963 – First-ever computer animation

1963 is the year of the first-ever computer animation. Edward E. Zajac created a computer animation at Bell Telephone Labs.

The video had a length of 1 minute and  25 seconds. In the video, Zajac illustrated how a satellite might travel in space.

1975 – Start of 3D medical animations

The events we mentioned above were key to the progress of medical animation, yet, it was in the year 1975 that we first witnessed the birth of computer-generated medical animation.

It was the first time that the use of 3D computer graphics was made for medical purposes. The work was truly a pioneer in the medical animation industry.

And, perhaps led to the growth of 3D animation services for health purposes.

You can find the reference in the journal of Science. The authors of the paper described the use of medical animation and its potential application. That may aid you to visualize complex macromolecules.

Present – Medical animation infuses creativity

Medical animation trends have evolved courtesy of the widespread use of illustration techniques and our improved understanding of the human anatomy.

The use of 3d illustrations for healthcare campaigns is another noticeable innovation with a medical animation. Healthcare companies have gained some notable benefits from the potential uses of medical animation.

  • They not only find it easier to explain products to investors (by helping them visualize the solution) but are able to build their confidence and trust.
  • Surgical processes explained with a 3D illustration are easy to absorb for patients and students.
  • Illustrations used for the medical purpose can also aid forensics teams in gathering evidence. That’s not all.

With the evolution of technology, healthcare researchers are able to gain greater medical accuracy in medical animation.

In fact, we now have more dedicated studios working in the health niche. Experts at a top medical animation studio believe that video production for health education would only grow in the years to come.

In the future, we can expect more creative animations that would ease patient-doctor communication. Not only will you be able to see and understand your anatomy better, but will have more sound knowledge to care for yourself.

Final thoughts

Let’s wrap it up. Above we discussed the long history of medical animation and how it came to be what we currently have at our disposal from a medical animation company.

Though the video production part can be time-consuming or perhaps costly, it would always be worth the overarching benefit of gaining the trust of patients in healthcare procedures.

Not only can you raise greater health awareness on social media, but there are multiple medical animation benefits that would only ease the job of doctors, educators, and more importantly, researchers.