AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Claire Cooper

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Read Claire’s paper via THIS LINK

What first interested you in medical visualization?

It took me a while to realise that a career in medical and scientific illustration was possible – it isn’t exactly a career you grow up wanting to follow from a young age! I always loved biology – especially the anatomical side of it – but ended up pursing my other interest in art at undergraduate level.

It was only a couple of years ago I became familiar with medical art due to a discussion that arose during a tutorial with my undergraduate tutor in my final year. It was suggested I look in to CAHID (Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification) to gather research on my project at the time. It was then that I read about the forensic and medical art courses the University of Dundee offered. I was extremely interested in the modules and opportunities offered by the MSc in Medical Art, and it felt like the perfect combination of my favourite subjects.

Throughout the duration of the course I became increasingly captivated in the creation of comprehensive visual teaching resources as a way of communicating complex medical and anatomical scenarios through illustration, and although I was helping indirectly, I loved that I was still very much contributing to the healthcare industry.

 

Tell us a bit about your background and education.

In 2015 I graduated with a BA (Honours) in Contemporary Art Practice from Grays School of Art where I specialised in photography. Upon graduating, I returned to the art school for a year as the Photography Graduate in Residence where I helped students with their practice and assisted staff with the delivery of workshops, critiques and lectures. I decided to pursue higher education further and accepted my offer from the University of Dundee to study for my MSc in Medical Art in 2016. On completion of this course, I was fortunate to have been offered an internship at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where I worked as a Medical Illustrator for two months.


Tell us about your internship and the type of work that you did.

The opportunity to work as the only in-house Medical Illustrator at Addenbrooke’s Hospital enabled me to continue to create visual teaching content for use in patient information, medical education and research. Based in the Media Studio, I regularly assisted the Graphic Design Team with their poster printing service, in addition to printing high quality photos for display for the Clinical Photography department.

Alongside these duties I was responsible for my own personal assignments , working collaboratively with various healthcare specialists to produce informative and engaging resources for use throughout the hospital.

Brain medical illustration by Claire Cooper

These varied in medium and design and ranged from infographic posters for the Care Quality Commission (CQC) showing improvements and declines of hospital services between 2016 and 2017, to digital illustrations of the brain – inferior, lateral and medial views alongside a depiction of the nerve and vascular structures surrounding the jugular bulb (a complex area rarely depicted through illustration).

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My favourite project however, concerned a series of 3D digital interactive models, 3D prints and 3D digital illustrations to portray the three main stages of renal cancer. This project allowed me to use a variety of software and learn about the process of 3D printing. In addition, all elements of this project were well received by the client – a urology consultant based at Addenbrookes Hospital – and are now in use throughout the urology clinicals to help patients visually understand the extent of their newly diagnosed conditions.

Working within a hospital also offered the opportunity to observe a number of surgical procedures including a partial nephrectomy (renal cancer removal) and numerous hip arthroscopies.


Do you have any tips for other students looking to land a similar internship?

I would urge students to really put time and effort in to their CV and tailoring their cover letters to suit the positions they are applying for in order to show their interest and enthusiasm for the roles. Choose companies that would suit, but also challenge, your skillset as you are likely to get more out of the experience rather than just sticking to what you already know.

Social media pages, like Instagram and Facebook, are great for promoting your work quickly and easily. However, I would also suggest having a website to showcase your work in a more professional manner.


What tools or software do you use in your work? 

I definitely have a strict process for every project I undertake and this usually begins with thorough research followed by rough graphite sketches. For digital illustrations I primarily stick to Adobe Photoshop, sometimes dabbling in to Adobe Illustrator. For any 3D work I use Pixologic ZBrush and upload my models to a multimedia platform called Sketchfab in order to make all models interactive and publicly accessible. My references come from a variety of sources, mainly anatomy textbooks. All computer based work is created with the help of my Wacom Intuos tablet.

 

Tell us about the project “The optic pathway: the development of an eLearning animation

The learning of gross anatomy has always fascinated me. Coming from a strong artistic background however, it was often difficult to grasp a sound understanding of certain topics – in particular the complexity of the central nervous system. I felt that focusing my final MSc project on an area I found difficult could potentially help those who felt the same, especially if I was able to successfully portray this area in a more visual and simplistic light.

On discussion with Dr. Evie Rooke – a Neurology Registrar at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee – it was confirmed that the University of Dundee School of Medicine neurology block was seriously lacking in original audio-visual creative teaching content compared to other specialties.

A number of topics were discussed and the project was narrowed down to focus on the optic pathway – an area Dr. Rooke found students repeatedly struggling to visualise. It was decided that a short animation would be the most suitable approach for portraying this area, firstly detailing the features of the pathway itself before highlighting the clinical relevance regarding visual impairments and defects.

Did you learn any new skills during the project?

The final project of my MSc was self-directed and required the learning of a completely new skill set. Not only was the learning curve for Autodesk Maya incredibly steep during a short period of time, but the pre and post production phases required a completely different approach to anything I had previously worked on. I therefore had to thoroughly research the animation workflow beforehand which brought to light a number of mini projects to complete in order to successfully execute the larger task at hand. This included storyboarding, scripting, rendering and compositing to name a few. Moreover, I had to learn Adobe After Effects, Adobe Audition and how to use the sound studio facilities at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Alongside the creative skills, a sound understanding of project management was developed and allowed me to strengthen my abilities concerning organisation, time management and meeting deadlines, in addition to effectively working with clients and adhering to brief guidelines at all times.

 

What was most rewarding about the project?

It’s always great receiving positive feedback and knowing that your work can be used to assist in the understanding of complex areas within the healthcare industry. The process of creating the animation from start to finish was very rewarding considering I had never used the animation workflow before or the majority of the software.

Just being able to grasp the whole concept of the optic pathway and being able to pronounce some of the terminology was an achievement!

 

Is there another project you would like the opportunity to undertake?

Having already undertaken a couple of neurology related projects, I feel it would be good to continue with that theme. I love creating artwork concerning gross anatomy and learning about the clinical relevance of different organs and body systems. Highlighting this through 3D modelling and improving my digital sculpting skills is something I wish to continue to develop. My Wacom tablet accompanied by Adobe Photoshop is my go-to pairing for producing digital illustrations and I’m always looking to improve my ability to create realistic depictions.

Learn more about Claire here:

Portfolio: https://coopermedicalart.wixsite.com/coopermedicalart

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claire-cooper/

Email: cc94@hotmail.co.uk

 

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