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When science meets art: Get to know Hang Yu Lin, Biomedical Illustrator

Hang Yu Lin

Creating art was always a hobby in high school for Hang Yu Lin, who was on a path to pursue a career in health sciences at the time. In her senior year, she discovered the biomedical visualization field and the Master of Science in Biomedical Communication (MScBMC) program at the University of Toronto. The program was the perfect intersection of her two passions — science and art. Recently, Hang completed her MScBMC studies, which culminated in her master’s research project — a 3D animation explaining the use of focused ultrasound and microbubbles to transiently increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which she created under the advisement of a committee of professors including Dr. Isabelle Aubert, Senior Scientist at SRI and Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

Below, view the video and learn more about Hang, her process and the advice she has for others looking to pursue a career in the field.

Can you describe your master’s research project?

My Master’s Research Project (MRP) is a 3D animation explaining the use of focused ultrasound and microbubbles to transiently increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, allowing drug delivery to the brain. The video’s objectives are to introduce the audience to the scientific context around the research, to provide an overview of the procedure, and to explain the mechanism of its effect. 

Why did you want to focus your research project on MRI-guided focused ultrasound and the use of microbubbles to overcome the blood-brain barrier?

I had worked for Dr. Aubert’s lab before as a biomedical illustrator, so I was familiar with this topic. I found it interesting and believed in its potential to improve the future of brain disease treatments. Although I had created illustrations on the BBB-disruption mechanism, I thought that the science had complexities that could benefit from 3D visualization and a longer narrative format. For example, there are multiple spatial and temporal scales involved in explaining the mechanism. To understand how it works, you have to understand what’s happening on all of these scales and how they relate to each other. It would be easier to grasp immediately when seeing a clear video of what’s happening as it is being explained.

What is the process for developing an animated narrative like this?

The first step is to write a script that has a good narrative flow across all the points we want to convey. Then I create the storyboard, a series of sketches planning out the visuals that would accompany each line of the script. For this project, we also created an animatic – a rough 2D-animated version of the storyboard – which gives a better sense of pacing and the speed of actions. There is a lot of iteration during these phases, and it’s where most of the big decisions must be made. After everything is approved, I start the production phase, where I create 3D models, animate them, add textures/lights, render the images, and edit together the final 3D animation along with the final voice-over. There’s still room for revisions at this point, but they must be limited in scope.

I’d like to thank my project supervisor Marc Dryer, and my 2nd MRP committee member Nick Woolridge, for giving me lots of support and feedback during the production process. Marc also taught the pre-production, 3D animation, and 2D animation courses for our program which gave me the fundamentals to create something like this. Special thanks also go to Dr. Aubert of course, who was a very committed and supportive content advisor, and very responsive to any questions I had or feedback I was looking for.

Why did you want to pursue a career in biomedical illustration?

It’s a great intersection of my two passions. I get to learn about the interesting science being researched, to contribute to the dissemination of that knowledge, and to exercise my creativity and grow as an artist. For me, it’s a great niche that combines many of the things I enjoy doing.

Do you have any advice for students looking to go into this field?

I would encourage students to look for opportunities to try doing illustration/design work for others – this could be creating illustrations for a professor’s lab, or designing posters for a student group, something relatively small in scope. I say this because a lot of students interested in the field have art as a personal hobby, and it can feel different to do ‘practical’ work for a client, so you should see if it’s something you also enjoy.

The artwork we create is also digital, so my advice is to grow these skills and learn some relevant software. The coursework in these master’s programs requires independent learning (although you will have guidance), so it would be good to get in the habit. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are programs we used daily for 2D works, and you can use other digital painting programs like Procreate as well. There are a number of 3D programs out there – Blender in particular is completely free, and skills between these programs are transferrable. For 2D animation and video compositing, Adobe After Effects is standard. There should be free or discounted versions of these available to you if you’re a student.

Since completing her Master of Science in Biomedical Communication, Hang has been working at a Toronto advertising agency as a junior medical animator, where she continues to take complex scientific concepts and distill them into easy-to-understand works of art. Her ability to do this is both powerful and inspiring — showcasing the impact visual art can have in enhancing science communication. Congratulations to Hang on completing her master’s degree!

About the author

Samantha Sexton

Samantha is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

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