Author Archives: Claire Shapleigh, Biomedical Visualization

About Claire Shapleigh, Biomedical Visualization

Hi, my name is Claire and I'm in my second year of the Biomedical Visualization MS program at UIC. It's a combination of art and science, and it's pretty fun. So far I've dissected a human body and learned how to draw in 2D using a computer AND my hand, and I'm about to learn how to 3D model. Holler at me if you have any questions about the program!

Interwebs: we meet again.

I am taking an independent study to redesign my website, WHICH, after taking graphic design and almost completing this masters of biomedical visualization, is looking pretty pitiful right now. Web design was the first class we took, and it was my first time being introduced to writing code, and ya know? the first time for anything can always be a flop. In fact, I have hidden it from people so that no one can ever see it again.

So here are some potential layouts for my redesign. I like having a lot of white space and I like simplicity. These are just rough ideas of course. If you feel strongly about any of them, please comment.

#1. homepage: the blue area would be a cellular landscape, which I have yet to create. But you get the idea.

#2. on this homepage, you could drag and move each category with your mouse, like an interactive sort of thing. then you click on each category to see my portfolio.

still idea #2: if you click on a category, a portfolio slideshow pops up like this. Click the arrow to see the next image.

#3: homepage. It's more of a cute, cartoony feel. The categories would have labels that pop up as you hover over them. Then you click to see the portfolio.

Still brainstorming, but those are my ideas!

(NOT anatomical) Cars!

Well, it finally happened. I got my first gig as a biomedical visualizer. Wait a second, it’s not exactly for biomedical visualization. But it IS for visualization! I met a patent lawyer on the train to St. Louis last summer, and gave him my contact info. And he found me on linked in, and wanted me to do a patent drawing! I’m well on my way to becoming a… patent illustrator? I don’t know, it sounds really cool… but let’s not get crazy here. I didn’t even get paid for this. It’s to “see if I’d be a good fit” type thing. Oh man I probably shouldn’t spent 5 hours on it… One thing is that I had to bring back my Adobe Illustrator skills… a good thing!

This guy does work with autonomous cars. They can drive themselves! Here is depiction of what I drew, but I need to keep some privacy so I left out some specifics. Pretty excited about this.

sketch of oblique view

The material of our cells

I am learning some cool things in the 3D class I’m taking this semester. If you’ve been following my journey through grad school, you’ll know that I attempted to learn the 3D modeling program “Maya” last semester. While I learned some basics, the professor’s teaching style was not conducive to someone like me who had never had 3D experience. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say that 60% of the material flew over my head… and out the window.

This semester, however, I get to re-learn the basics of 3D modeling, lighting and texturing via a prof in my department, and a new program- 3DS-Max. It’s awesome! Because I already have some background, the class has been a great way to solidify my skillz.

Yesterday we learned how to apply a texture to objects in our 3D “scene.” We applied different materials to the same shapes repeatedly. Here are the results!

the texture here makes it look like an SEM image (Scanning Electron Microscopy)

this texture I created from a tutorial to make it look like realistic red blood cells

this material I made up myself- I tried to make a cool texture and to make the blood cells look wet.

Looking forward to more modeling and texturing coming up!

Floating spinning

I came across this guy named Santtu Mustogen when I was browsing the web yesterday. He creates 3D objects and spins them around- it is artwork that cannot be found anywhere but on the internet! The INTER WEB.

here’s his website:

It just made me realize how much of what I do in this program (and how much of modern day art) can really only be seen through a computer screen. It’s crazy! Art has for so long been something tangible and view-able from all angles. I guess digital art can be seen by anyone who has a computer, so there’s a new angle that gives it a real advantage. But the aura of the artwork- the “subtly pervasive quality or atmosphere seen as emanating” from the thing (dictionary dot com)- has disappeared.

It’s still beautiful, though. Here is a video of a thumping heart that my friend Hiromi Sogo created:

and her website:

Pretty amazing.

Storyboards: The Story.

They’re ugly. They’re rough. They often don’t look at all clean or polished. In fact, you would never want anyone important to see them. But they are an essential step in the process of animation. They are storyboards!

introduction, page 1

page 2

page 3

page 4

page 5

If you’ve never done an animation, (and I fall into this category until this semester) a storyboard is the mapping out of still frame images–aka sketches–as they correspond to dialogue. Sounds easy, right? Yes, the purpose is clear. But the storyboard is the most important and most difficult step of animating. It’s where you have to THINK! Not just draw. It’s where you work out all the camera angles, the zoom ins and outs, the style, not to mention all the characters and background scenes.

I am creating a relatively simplistic animation for a doctor at UIC to teach patients about diabetes. There will be no 3D, no fly-thoughs at a molecular level, no dramatic music. It’s going to be a 2D animation about how diabetes works, which will accompany a simple narration. Way over on the opposite side of the spectrum of complexity, however, things can get difficult.

The animation wil explain how glucose and insulin work in the body, and what is going on in the bodies of those with diabetes. To portray the complex interplay between glucose and insulin using cartoons to a population of adults with sometimes a sixth-grade literacy level is… tough. Anatomical context, clarity and simplicity are important elements to such an animation. I’ll be leaving out a lot of information, and it kills me.

But who cares about the science behind the disease, when it doesn’t help anything? It’s true, not everyone needs to know. BUT, to take an hourly medicine for the rest of your life, you need motivation. And part of that motivation might come from knowing what will happen, at a molecular level, if you don’t take your insulin.

Can’t wait to keep working on this. It’s fun!

Molecular Inspiration

Here is a TED talk by Drew Berry, an innovative and talented medical visualizer in the field. In it he refers to David Goodsell, who is one of my faves because he does 2D watercolors at a molecular level. He goes on to show his own work of 3D animations of the mechanisms of DNA. So cool, and worth a watch!

A Llama Inspiration

Greeting cards are the outlet to my random bouts of creativity, especially around the Christmas season. To make a greeting card oneself is to express emotion towards someone you love in a simple image and few words. It is usually much appreciated in this day of Hallmark and e-cards. All you need is a piece of paper, a pen and some markers or watercolors! And an idea of course.

Sometimes when I don’t have a good idea, I simply draw the first thing that comes to mind.

the first thing that came to mind

And then you go from there. I have yet to color it in and write the thank-you note, which might go something like this:

“There once was a llama named Hank

who didn’t know who to thank.

He turned around and around,

till he finally found,

you were staring him in the face point-blank.

Thank you Aunt ____ for your awesome gift of _____!!! I’ve already worn it/used it/eaten many times!!!



More on South America: Hot Dogs

As far as I can tell, South America is the continent of dogs. I noticed the dogginess of Peru immediately when I arrived in the country.

Peruvian National Hairless dog

People love their dogs down there! In Peru, most of the domestic dogs have outfits. My sister, while living there for six months, noticed this fact. See pictures below, which she took at a Peruvian dog show.

Dog Show!

Dogs seem to be pretty happy in South America-

But I have never seen so many stray dogs as I did in Peru and Chile. These strays roam the streets in gangs or on their own, just trying to make a living.

stray dog playing in the waves

During the day a lot of them are sleeping, crumpled up in a pile of fur, ignoring the flies around them. It is often sad to see them, and in certain cities like Santiago, Chile, the people of the city feed the dogs and take care of them. In other cities, like in Valparaiso, the dogs are more or less left to fend for themselves. I talked to one tourist who was followed by two dogs, which then became three dogs, then four, then five! Finally someone yelled out from a high window to the dogs, telling them to leave him alone. He was thankful!

When roaming around the cities of South America, it was fun to find all the dogs- like in a real-life Where’s Waldo.

dog on a roof!

Peeping dog.

Doggie in the window!


Spray Paint Revival

If I were a color, I would live on a wall in South America.

South American walls

While most of South America is full of vibrant colors, I would specifically settle down on a wall in Valparaiso, Chile, a coastal port city near Santiago.

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso, Chile

The difference between Valparaiso and most big cities is that the historic, beat up town is being revived through graffiti.  How contradictory.

But artists travel thousands of miles to find a blank wall in this town of hills, boats and colorful houses.  Tourists come to see the murals and graffiti that cover the entire city.  The graffiti is different here than in Chicago and many US cities; it is not a manifestation of territorial disputes or gang play.  Instead, it is a fanciful art, an expression of creativity that has no frame.



My sister and I met a graffiti artist from Ireland who had been walking around Valparaiso for five days.  He himself did not create a piece while he was there, but only observed and admired the works of others.  Interestingly, he is also a student in urban planning.  In his modern-day mind, the advancement of cities and the art of graffiti can tango; he does not see graffiti as an indication of a downtrodden recent past, but as a tool for a hopeful future.  A blooming flower in a crack of concrete, if you will.


my personal favorite- the elephant and its digestive tract

I appreciated this new perspective on an old, underground art form.


DNA Skittles

I have created a monster in the form of DNA CANDY! What I have created in this 3D virtual world is something I want to eat, but will never be able to touch. Did I mean to make my DNA look like candy? Yes. I was inspired by bright, delicious colors and candy-like texture. (which in these pictures looks a little glassy too). I might change the textures to look more “realistic” in the future, but I like what I have at this point. Take a look!

chemistry up close

floating chromosome- condensed DNA wrapped around histones

A nucleosome consisting of DNA and histone- the structural proteins around which DNA is wound

nucleosomes zoomed out

from another angle

dna up close!

You can see the little chemical groups (the orange and red groups) that attach to the histone’s tail and cause the DNA to unwind- this leads to the transcription of the DNA and then production of proteins. Voila!

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