Reader Profile - Daniel Topping, MD

Name: Daniel Topping, MD

Camera: Sony HDR-FX7

Computer: Intel-based workstation

Edition Platform: Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum

Support Gear: Tripod, black felt, black backdrops, soft box halogen lighting and spotlighting with incandescents.

I am trained as a family medicine doctor, and gross anatomy has been my true love since the first day of medical school. I left the clinical practice of medicine to pursue a career in academics in 2008, only to return to teach this wondrous discipline. I now have the distinct privilege of working with medical students, and this has been the best job I ever have had.

Anatomy is a visual science. I spend my work day showing structures – nerves, blood vessels, organs – on a screen in the lecture hall. I show shapes, colors, relations to other things and I talk about their function and significance. Major challenges facing teachers are how to engage students and bring the material to life, in a way that is easily understood.

In one exercise, I needed to show the miniscule structures contained within the eye socket. It was difficult to show each individual student, so I came up with the idea of setting a camera on a tripod to display the subject on a large monitor in high definition. It worked fantastically. The students enjoyed the experience and benefitted from this approach. There were 27 other similar activities to be recorded, and I was up to the challenge.

My department had purchased a suitable HD video camera for my use. I prepared for this project by purchasing lighting equipment, tripods, backdrops, power supplies, fuses and video tape. I bought a clapper board – the same kind used on real Hollywood productions! I needed a crew and two superstar students stepped up to assist me in the production.

The question remained – how does one light a cadaver to bring it back to life in the eyes of the viewer? I experimented with lighting placement. I evaluated halogen versus incandescent light sources. We had to create just the right amount of shadows to bring out depth, but not so as to obscure the details of body cavities and deeper structures. I imported footage into the editing software, tweaked color saturation, brightness, contrast, and manipulated other variables. Long days of work went into preparation of the set and lighting; the crew dealt with my obsessions and compulsions in an amazing display of patience.

I trained my professor colleagues (the talent) how to work with the camera – what to wear, when to start, how to be mindful of what the camera saw. Angles and scenes were planned. Cadavers, organs, and models were paraded endlessly onto a black, felt background. I wanted the specimens to float out of nowhere, so as to minimize distraction. The illusion was successful.

I have completed the project. After two months of hard work in the laboratory, we managed to capture more than 12 hours of footage. I packaged it up and made it available for my students to view as a supplement to their regular classroom resources. The 28 separate videos have been well received and they asked for more of the same. I have recorded the chest, abdomen and pelvis; the next project is to create a series on the musculoskeletal system (arms and legs.)

Why do I film the dead? The human body, whether breathing or not, is a beautiful thing. I have an overwhelming desire to share this perspective with others. I can animate the dead with video and take my viewers on a moving journey through the layers of tissue that we all have in common by the use of cadavers and this incredible technology.

I continue my quest to improve my skills as a videographer and I continue to. I learn ways to show the human form. I hope that people will look at my work and learn something, or just appreciate it for its artistic quality and understand what I strive to express.

Daniel Topping, MD – Finding the Beauty

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