Animation Brings Hollywood Technology to the Veterinary Classroom

Imagine a three-dimensional model of a horse or companion animal that allows veterinary students unprecedented access to the animals form and functions. Robert Malinowski, DVM, MA, says the concept is not such a stretch. Working with specialists at Michigan State University (MSU) to collect computed tomography (CT) and motion data, Malinowski is digitally reconstructing horses and companion animals using motion capture and animation software. And hes close to finishing an animated horse that will be used to help teach students about lameness.

"Its crossing medicine with Hollywood. It uses technology [that] you’ve seen in animated movies like Shrek," Malinowski said.

The first step is to scan patients and process the images using specialized software. Malinowski then works with veterinary specialists to select body segments for the model. Similar to the detail required for effective movie animation, animal models must be perfectly designed to ensure accurate study, Malinowski explained. For example, he is working on the reconstruction of a horses upper airway to measure airflow in the digital environment. “Airflow data was collected from live horses and imported into the program for realism,” he added.

One of the benefits to using three-dimensional models is that they provide "virtual, moveable cameras so that I can see any angle [of the animal] I want," Malinowski explained. These models allow educators to showcase specific cases of lameness or disease that might be difficult to reproduce or find in live animals. In addition to equine upper respiratory and motion capture projects, Malinowski, who received his masters degree in digital media art and technology in 2003 after earning his DVM degree in 2001, is working with specialists in the MSU Orthopedics, Physiology and Mechanical Engineering departments to develop models.

Ultimately, images will be used in digital form or “printed” in plastic by rapid prototype producers, Malinowski said. The animations will be delivered as QuickTime or Windows Media Video files and, pending financial support, the first models could be completed by the end of the year.

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