Nov 10, 2015

For those of us who have marvelled at the special effects and makeup effects in such films and series as Tron: Legacy, Watchmen, The Knick, or American Horror Story: Freakshow there is now a new reason to be impressed by them. Fractured FX, the LA based company responsible for the often quite gruesome effects in these films or shows, have decided to put their talents towards another cause, as they have partnered up with the Boston Children’s Hospital to design realistic plastic patients for surgeons to practice and train on.

The partnership between Fractured FX and the Simulator Program at the Boston Children’s Hospital (SIMPeds) was announced November 9, 2015 at the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit, which was in association with the Boston Children’s Hospital.

“This is the nexus of medicine and art, surgery and cinema,” says Peter Weinstock, the Director of SIMPeds. In fact, it was Fractured FX’s work on the HBO medical drama set in the 1900s, The Knick, that prompted Weinstock to approach them for a collaboration.

Currently, there are two types of simulator models that have been presented, and which are on display at the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit. One, a young teen with freckled skin to be used for neurosurgeon training, and the second, a newborn child that will simulate an infant with a failing heart and lungs.

What sets these models apart from the ones currently on the market is the level of realism they have. That is, not only do they look like real humans on the outside with soft skin and defined featured, but they also feel real, which is perhaps the most important factor for a surgeon to be convinced by a simulation. The models designed by Fractured FX have artificial tissues that bleed and have a pulse, artificial blood vessels, and special gels that have the same consistency as brain tissues.

ETV surgery on a real patient’s brain (Left) and the Fractured FX brain (Right).

It was this significance of feel that initially posed a challenge to the special effects teams at Fractured FX. As Justin Raleigh, CEO and founder of the company, explains, “A lot of times on camera feel doesn’t matter.” In order to achieve a realistic feeling then, the designers studied the human anatomy through CT scans, and consulted with surgeons to find the right textures and materials to recreate the feel of membranes, cartilage, muscles and other parts of the human anatomy that surgeons often use as indicators and landmarks, so to speak.

Unlike using human cadavers for surgical simulations, which is often the case, the new models have an advantage because they can be reused in multiple surgeries. This was achieved by 3D printing the anatomical parts of the human body in such a way that they fit together like puzzle pieces inside the body. That is, if one part of the body is operated on, only that part will need to be replaced, and because the parts are 3D printed it is relatively easy to reproduce a new part, especially as the SIMPeds program is planning to expand its facilities within the next year to include a “maker-space” where their 3D printing model organ project will be housed.

“It’s been a really nice back and forth working with actual surgeons and getting their input and knowledge,” says Justin Raleigh of Fractured FX. “We’ve been getting a crash course in surgery, and the SIMPeds engineers have come to our studio to learn about manufacturing techniques and how we process materials and make molds. It’s been very educational in both directions.”

Examples of Fractured FX’s film work

The collaboration between the two marks the most recent partnership for SIMPeds, which has been expanding its projects for the past 12 years since the program was formed. Both SIMPeds and Fractured FX hope to provide other medical institutions with their new, realistic simulators starting next year.




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