Many of the medical animation studios are located here in the United States. That’s because demand for medical animation is higher here than anywhere else in the world. We can thank the big pharmaceutical companies and their deep pockets for that.
But today Street Anatomy goes across the pond to the UK to interview the owner and founder of the lead medical animation studio, Medi-Mation. I first heard of Medi-Mation after reading that they were chosen for the monumental task of re-doing Dorling Kindersley’s famous Human Body Book using 3D illustration. The book is gorgeous, well designed and gives a fantastic overview of the structure, function and disorders of the human body. Read about the process of creating the 900+ illustrations and animations here at Digital Arts.
In this interview Rajeev answers my questions about his business, how it came to be, the state of the medical animation industry, and gives tips to those interested in becoming medical animators.
Medi-Mation essential info
Owner: Rajeev Doshi
Specialties: Medical animation and illustration
Location: London, UK
Can you give a brief synopsis of your background prior to Medi-Mation?
I completed a PhD in Cancer Gene Therapy before I realized that I would only ever be a mediocre scientist. A friend of mine had just opened an animation school in New York (www.3Dmirage.com) so he agreed to train me if I gave him a hand with the running of the business. Thus ensued an intensive 3 months whilst I filled my brain with all things 3D it was almost like a 3 month cramming session!
Anyway, I returned to the UK and eventually found a position to set up the 3D animation department for a medical agency. I subsequently ran that for 6 years before getting itchy feet, leaving to set-up Medi-Mation in April 2006.
You can read a potted history of the early days at Science Magazine Careers
How long have you had your business?
Just over 1 year
How many employees do you have?
3 including myself
What type of computer programs and equipment does your company use?
All powerful PCs (Dual core, 500Mb graphics cards, 22 monitors!)
Software wise we use 3D Studio Max, Brazil for rendering, Combustion and After Effects for compositing.
Do you incorporate real human data sets (e.g. MRI and CT scans) when building 3D models?
Our core anatomy model sets are based on those from Zygote (www.3Dscience.com) and which we’ve upgraded in-house. They developed some of the original models using real human data sets I believe. However one very interesting technology is a plugin for Lightwave called Volumedic it allows proper 3D manipulation of real human data sets and which we have played with, the possibilities are huge for this!
How do you market yourself in Europe? Do you find that you have to compete with overseas companies in the US and elsewhere?
A lot of it is word of mouth and good old Google. We compete A LOT with companies overseas and to be honest its not usually an issue, good work is good work after all!
What do you think about the current state of the industry and more specifically, how is the medical illustration/animation industry in the UK?
The industry is going through a boom period, studios are being set-up all the time to capitalize on this explosion in requirement, however it must be said very few are actually producing really high quality work. The industry in the UK is no-where near as well developed as the US but we are catching up. With pharma products though, budgets often originate in the US so 3D work is usually commissioned there. In the UK there are more opportunities in other sectors allied to the medical and scientific fields.
Is the issue of outsourcing a threat to medical animation in the UK?
Well since its not a developed market here yet I don’t perceive it to be a threat. Certainly countries such as India have identified the medical animation field to be a big area for future expansion and many studios offer it as part of their portfolio (but again the quality level is usually not what would be acceptable in the West).
What motivated you to start your own medical animation company and what initial challenges did you face?
It was really the need to want to expand into more areas such as broadcast production and other interesting areas that led me to leave my position. They had a different outlook on where the industry was heading ultimately I’ve been proved correct!
The initial challenges were the same as any company starting out, clients, clients, and clients! Getting our work out there and making sure we could be in the running to pitch for exciting projects were critical to ensuring Medi-Mation survived the first year. It did so with flying colours I hasten to add! The Human Body project for Dorling Kindersley is currently their No. 1 selling reference title.
What are some of the ups and downs of having a medical animation business?
Being in a niche has its own pros and cons, it does limit the projects you can pitch for and in a situation where only a small number of proposed projects go ahead, it always helps to have the fattest potential pipeline. Staying within a niche means your pipeline is never quite as fat! The pros are you work in an area where visually you can be quite creative. Often medical animations can be quite educational and a little boring to be honest. We love the fact that we can apply more modern visual FX practices to the work we do and produce things that are more dynamic.
You learned 3D Studio Max in 3 months, which is quite amazing. What advice would you give students learning 3D Studio Max for the first time?
Nothing better than actually going somewhere to learn it rather than using books (or even the internet). It’s not always feasible for people (because of money, time, location) but that would be the ideal way to learn any 3D package. Send your work to studios who you like and see if you can get critique from them.
A question that many medical illustration/animation students are asking these days is what do you look for when hiring employees?
It’s really about having the ‘eye’ for knowing what looks good and what looks right. It’s not something that can be taught I believe. Apart from that in particular we look for people who know PFlow and procedural texturing. Experience of compositing is also important since there is really no way to produce the highest quality work without having compositing these days. It’s really amazing what can be done to improve the look of shots in post-production.
And finally, do you have any exciting upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Exciting projects are always coming up, but we can’t talk about them! Think medical animations in a planetarium for instance.
Dr. Rajeev Doshi through motivation, persistence, and a passion for medical animation went from laboratory work to professional medical animation within a year. He is an inspiration to all medical illustrators and animators hoping to make break into the field.
For more information on Medi-Mation
Web site: http://www.medi-mation.com