From molecular data to volumetric reconstruction
Human hemoglobin, scanned at 55 angstrom resolution and enlarged 18,549,827 times its original size to 4 inches.
So, about 6 months ago, I got introduced to David Gittleman, over at the McFarlane Design Group. Now, McFarlane Design Group is world famous for making some of the best action figures and toys produced today. Todd McFarlane, himself a superhero comic book artist, entrepreneur, and author, just had his Amazing Spiderman 313 cover sell for 71K! David was interested in finding out more about converting laser scans of actors into textured models to be used in 3D animations and visual effects. I did a bit of that a few years back, and we talked about that process a bit. Curious to find out more about toy manufacturing, David and I also discussed some of the various aspects of their process.
David, like myself, is a visual effects aficionado, and I’m a born again comic book geek, so we spoke the same language when it came to the creative process, and all good things sci-fi. But mainly we discussed ways that each other’s skill sets might find common ground. It turns out we had quite a bit. In both of our production processes, we take data sets from scanned objects and use them as building blocks for our final product. In David’s case, its scanning actors and people to make toys. And for myself, I find datasets of proteins and molecules to tell 3D animated stories.
In my line of work, whenever I tell stories that take place at a molecular level, I find proteins and drugs published on the web, and turn them into actors for scientific stories. Working with molecular data is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of modern medical animations. Reconstructions from this data provides us with an observable example of an unsee-able universe recreating proteins accurate at the atomic level.
Despite completely different factions of the computer graphics industry, what became clear from my conversation with David is that both types of production processes shared something in common. We both rely on manipulating the scale of real world objects in order to create our 3D models. These guys take datasets, import them into a 3D program, and scale them DOWN to toy size. I take molecular datasets, and scale them UP in order to tell 3D animated stories.
As David and I were wrapping up, he kindly offered their printing services “if I ever wanted to print something out.” I don’t know if David knew what he was getting into, but the offer had me thinking. I wanted to convert a molecular dataset into a printable mesh. I’ve thought about this a number of different times since I started working molecular data as a medical illustrator. By far my favorite protein is Hemoglobin. Not only does it have an interesting conformational structure, it’s Heme Group contains 4 iron atoms! This is an organic protein, caring around a metal atom, using iron like a magnetic tool in order to transport oxygen throughout our bodies! All of a sudden, here’s a chance to not only use an actual 3D printer, but have the help of some of the best toy makers out there. David put me in touch with Michael Gulen, a true master of his craft. Michael and I briefly discussed the specifics, and promised I send him a model just as soon as I could prepare one.