Medical illustration has a long and impressive history. Modern medical illustration has been improved enormously by digital technologies. Animation, 3D and Rendering technologies are allowing artists to depict medical procedures, model molecular activities, and visualize the human body’s functions in fascinating new ways. Drop by the Association for Medical Illustrators and view some of the work on display there and you’ll see what I mean.
Those that practice medical illustration as a profession have an amazing ability to combine a passion for science and art at the same time. This is an unusual combination and not everyone can master the two. One illustrator who has not only built a career in medical illustration, she excels at it.
Veronica Falconieri Hays is a certified medical illustrator based in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of Smith College (Magna Cum Laude) and earned her M.A. at the highly competitive John Hopkins School of Medicine. She has created her own company, Falconieri Visuals, and has won several awards for her outstanding accomplishments as a medical illustrator and artist.
Recently, she made a great presentation at Maxon’s NAB 2020 conference. She went “behind the scenes” on how she used Cinema 4D to create two cellular visualization projects for major medical magazines.
We are grateful to Veronica for taking the time to talk with us about her background, her working process and plans for the future.
Interview with Veronica Falconieri Hays
Renderosity Magazine: How did medical illustration catch your interest and why did you pursue it as a career?
Veronica Falconieri Hays: I was always interested in science and art, but early on worried that I would have to pick just one to focus on. However, through a stroke of luck, I learned of medical illustration in high school. My aunt and uncle, who are lawyers, had met medical illustrators working in the medical-legal field and happened to mention their existence at a family gathering. As soon as I heard about medical illustration, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Training to be a medical illustrator appears to be highly competitive and challenging. What did you take away from your learning experience?
A lot of basic skills and the realization that to be a medical illustrator is to always be learning new things - whether it’s science or art.
What led you to form your own company?
I had stopped growing and learning new things at my previous position and wanted to work on more diverse projects. Falconieri Visuals has allowed me to do both.
Why did you choose Maxon’s Cinema 4D to be in your toolset? What other tools do you use?
Cinema4D is used by many of my colleagues in the medical illustration and animation field, so there’s a robust peer support network for figuring out the oddly specific modeling and animation challenges that we face. I’ve always found it very intuitive to use and really like the volume modeling toolsets.
I also use the embedded Python Molecular Viewer (ePMV) plugin for importing 3D molecular data, Redshift for GPU rendering, ZBrush for some modeling, and the various Adobe programs for bringing it all together in 2D.
What is the typical workflow on a commission or project? Do you specialize in a certain type of illustration or animation?
I specialize in molecular and cellular illustration and animation, so looking at things on a very small scale. Every project starts with research - I keep a few favorite textbooks on cell and molecular biology, histology, and anatomy on hand and use online databases like PubMed and the Protein Data Bank (PDB) to fill in more specifics. For animation, I break the project into storyboards, assets and style frames, draft animation, and final animation.
The client will have a chance to review at each step and make adjustments. Illustration is similar - sketch, first draft, and final draft. Sometimes with more conceptual projects, I’ll do two rounds of sketches - several concept sketches to test out different ideas, and a second to tighten in on the chosen approach.
What kind of research do you do for a job?
It depends on how detailed the visualization is, and how much information the client has given me. A lot of times though my clients don’t have answers to “what does that look like, exactly?”. It’s not a question they typically have an answer for. So most of my research is reviewing a range of references - microscopy, schematics, molecular data, scientific papers - to answer that question.
Has the increased popularity of AR and VR having an impact on your profession?
Yes definitely. Some medical illustrators work within the medical simulation field, so AR and VR have been making waves there for a while. However as AR and VR become more generally accessible, more clients are considering if and how their stories can be translated to that medium.
How have you been coping with the pandemic? Have you had any COVID illustrations jobs?
I’m very fortunate that the pandemic hasn’t affected my day-to-day life very much. I find myself vicariously worrying for those who are less fortunate, and missing in-person interaction with friends and family.
I have had a few COVID-19 related jobs, but not as many as you might think. Fortunately, other kinds of science and research are still ongoing too.
What are your future plans for your work?
To always keep growing and learning new things, scientifically and artistically. We’ll see where that takes me.