OPN meets Ashley Mitchell, founder of ASH3D. Ashley is a specialist in medical device animation, used as a promotional tool to show off medical devices and concept ideas. He has recently been experimenting with augmented reality, which could be an exciting tool for the future of surgery
OPN: Tell us a little about your background and education in the orthopaedic industry?
AM: I come from an art, photography and IT background. I studied multimedia in Leeds and specialised in 3D animation. I worked for Xiros Ltd, an innovative company in medical textiles, I was very much thrown in the deep end, making complex surgical technique animations. I met surgeons, learned how to communicate in the medical industry and translate thoughts into animation. Fortunately, I am good swimmer!
OPN: Could you tell us more about your work on 3D medical animations?
AM: Animation is a very useful tool in the medical industry. Explaining a surgical technique can be difficult. My work started out as a tool to raise awareness and get surgeons using the products. The animations have been so helpful that they are now used as a training tool and to show new concepts before making a device. Sometimes they will show off features and benefits, sometimes to show a surgical technique, or both. I am very passionate about quality and try to make my work look as good as I can within the time limit. Everything must be as anatomically correct as possible which is challenging, we are all slightly different inside.
I start out by storyboarding the technique and refining it with the surgeon as much as possible. Then I create an animatic which is a moving storyboard to decide timing and camera angles. Then I create the 3D models and ‘unwrap’ them, which allows me to apply textures. I animate the models, add lighting and prepare for rendering. Rendering is the process of exporting the 3D animation. Rendering is time consuming and a fine art in itself! Each frame can take anywhere between 10 seconds and two hours depending on complexity, size and quality. If there are 30 frames in one second of footage you can imagine how long it can take. I will always render the animation in low resolution first and fix problems before diving into the final piece. After the animation is rendered in sections, I will put it all together using video editing software and add the finishing touches. It is like one big puzzle, you have to enjoy problem solving and be prepared to pull some hair out, but it is very rewarding. And my hair always grows back.
OPN: How will your animations help surgeons and benefit patients?
AM: I have had great feedback from both surgeons and medical companies that use my work as a sales tool. If a company has a new device that improves on a previous device then the surgeon is going to want to use it. Animation is now the foundation of a successful sales pitch. Sales reps do not get a lot of time to talk with surgeons, but they can now show how the device is better than the competition in seconds. If a surgeon is looking to use the new device they will keep referring back to the animation for an overview and use the surgical technique manual to dig deeper. I like to make the surgical technique look smooth, quick and easy in 3D. That is not always how it goes down in real life. I am not saying that is how is goes down in real life.
Patients also greatly benefit as they are interested to know what is going to happen to them. If I was in the waiting room for surgery and the doctor showed me live footage with blood, guts and drilling, I would probably run out the door in my hospital gown. 3D animation is a much more elegant and user-friendly way of explaining.
OPN: What is the difference between virtual and augmented reality and how can augmented reality offer a greater learning experience in medical training?
AM: With virtual reality you can be in the surgery room. With augmented reality you can have the patient on your desk. Virtual reality is great for immersing yourself in a virtual world and cutting yourself off from the real one. It does make you feel quite vulnerable though. For example, surgeons are skeptical about wearing a VR headset at a trade show event. Augmented reality is already great for medical training and is only in its infancy. Already you can sit around a table and have a 3D object pop up for everyone to see, like a hologram. You can walk around the object, rotate it, have parts moving and get up close to see the details. You can also interact, for example, you could have a medical device sitting next to a bone model, click your fingers and a drill comes in to make a hole, click your fingers again and the medical device goes through the hole.
OPN: Would you say that virtual and augmented reality is driving a revolution in the field of medical education and surgery? How does the future look?
AM: I believe VR and AR will be widely used in the near future, making medical training faster and more accurate. VR will most likely be used to simulate surgical procedures and make the whole experience feel realistic which will be beneficial for training surgeons. AR will be revolutionary for product design. Nurses could use the technology to accurately find veins, AR could be used to map points on a patient’s body for surgery. I recently attended AAOS in the US, one company was using AR to view live scans of the patient’s body in 3D while operating. People all around the
round world could watch from the surgeon’s point of view live. The floodgates are opening. AR is more accessible – you can look through your phone or tablet to see 3D objects without the need for a headset. This is great for the consumer.
If 3D animation could benefit your company, email Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org or view his work at www.ash3d.com