Model me this:

I know I keep talking about 3D modeling, and I hope you don’t think it’s BORING- but let me try to make it a little interesting. Also, it’s pretty much the future of medical illustration, so I’m going to keep talking about it! Wah!

My first big project was due on Monday. The assignment: choose a medical instrument, really anything you want (our prof gave us a big box of instruments) and create a 3D model of it. To give you an idea of what this entails, let me break down how to model something on a compooter:

1) pick an object to model. Maybe it’s something that already exists, maybe it’s something imaginary, maybe anatomy (like your own face), maybe it’s the boyfriend of your dreams. Pick something that’s slightly interesting to you because you will be working with this object for a long, long time. I picked an endotracheal tube because they save people’s lives by letting them BREATHE.

a real life endotracheal tube

2) Use a 3D modeling program (in my case, 3DS Max) to “model” the instrument.  This means to create the basic shape of everything- all the individual pieces of the thing. In my case, I had the main tube, the bubble of air at the end of the tube, the mouthpiece, and the tailpiece where  you inject air into the air bubble at the end of the tube.

If you were making a model of your own face, you’d make a basic sphere as your head and then add modifiers on the sphere to look like the shape of your head. Then you would model the nose, eyes, mouth, ears and hair separately, then attach them to the head. You can do all of this in one 3D workspace. Here’s my basic model of the tube:

3) Put some materials on that thing! What does the model above look like to you? maybe you know what it is by the basic shape (if you have used one of these puppies before) but you don’t get a full idea of its functionality without the correct “materials” assigned to it. For example, with the face you’re modeling- you don’t want it to look plastic. You want it to look like it has skin and hair, so make some materials that look like skin and hair.

This process is a matter of experimentation. There is something called the “material editor” in 3DS Max where you can literally build a material based on its color, opacity, shinyness, transparency, translucency, texture, etc. You can build a material from scratch, or use preset materials like “rough plastic” or “chrome” that people have created and put into materials libraries available to 3DS Max users.

I had a lot of plastic material for my object. Here’s an example of an experimentation with a plastic material:

Used a clear plastic for the bubble, and added the material of a crinkled paper bag on top of that to make it look wrinkled.

I used this picture of dust to make some of my materials look rough, by plugging it into a "bump map", which takes information from a picture and applies it to a surface to make it look like a 3d texture.

4) LIGHTING! What is a world without light? You have to add lights to your scene to emphasize certain traits about your model. For example, plastic has a lot of highlights, so I wanted the lights in my scene to reflect sharply on the object. For your face model, you don’t want your nose to look too shiny (unless it’s being used in an ad for Biore) This is something that you can change in the properties of the light, or in the material of the object itself. Here is a snapshot of me experimenting with light to make the tailpiece look slightly shiny and glossy:

The light is a little too strong in the background- it looks like a spotlight is shining back there.


5) And voila! you must render the final scene. To do this, you have to set up a camera (sometimes as easy as clicking “command + C” to create a camera in the scene) You can play with focus, perspective and depth of field, just like you can with a real-world camera. You must make sure to set up the scene so the model isn’t floating in air. Give it a setting by making a ground plane, and applying a texture to it (in my case, surgical cloth). Then you click render. Rendering the final scene takes time because the computer has to process all the data for lighting, materials, modeling, etc. BRING A BOOK!

Here are my final renders. I did two because I changed some things for the second one. I kind of like them for different reasons, so if I ever fix this I’ll use what I like in both to make a new render.

endotracheal tube #1

Endotracheal tube #2

So I hope you understand the process of 3D modeling a little better. Anyone can do it! I hope to see your modeled faces soon.

Picutre of author

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!

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