Learn medical animation: XVIVO

Michael Astrachan, President and Creative Director, XVIVO LLC

XVIVO art and animation

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How did you get started in medical animation?

While I was in school at UConn I started airbrushing t-shirts and started selling them at craft shows and then at malls. All the time I continued to study and did the airbrushing and t-shirts for ten years. I also sold at fairs, like the North Haven (Agricultural) Fair. After ten years, I was totally burned out from being on my feet all the time and from the fumes. So, about 15 years ago, I started pursuing computer animation, which was a young field at the time.

To find clients, I began calling video production studios and small agencies. I became friends with a lot of people I was working with and for some unknown reason I started to get a lot of medical clients. So with medical, I just followed it and taught myself and consulted with others to learn what I needed to know. While doing all that, I also continued my art training.

What differentiates you and your company?

One thing that differentiated me was that I didn’t have a fear of failure or of trying new things. I always believed I’d figure out what I needed to know. It’s one of the things I think can be a big problem for people, which is that they look at something new and think, “I don’t know how to do that,” and then won’t push themselves to learn. Then they blame the rest of the world for not being able to get ahead with what they want to do, but if they open their minds they might find that there is an opportunity that they are missing.

When I started in animation, I was married, had a child, and had to learn a whole new career. To succeed, I knew I had to make myself visible and indispensable – whether I was working for myself or for someone else. The first job I had, I started out as an intern and did just this, I worked weekends help to get the company awarded some jobs and I was quickly hired and went on to become lead animator. As always I pushed myself to do new things and improve my work.

Now, with my company, XVIVO, we continue that tradition by looking for ways to make our process more efficient. After projects we do postmortems to see what we could have done better. We constantly review, reexamine and evolve our processes.

Are there opportunities you’d suggest to people entering the field?

Medical animation is a growing field and great for those who are good artists and have an interest in science. You need good composition, editing and design skills as well as good training in traditional art and painting. I think that having a solid foundation in art is good for anything visual – illustration, working with images, website design, etc.

People interested in pursuing this field can look for specialized graduate programs, and there are some undergrad programs out there as well.

What networking tips would you recommend to find opportunities in medical animation?

Networking is so important. The Association of Medical Illustrators, is a great resource for those wanting to learn about the field. It’s the place where you can meet others who are doing similar work and it is a great resource. To find business, you’d want to look at medical ad agencies, video production agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. Interning is a good way to go, but know it can take a couple years to break in.

My advice to people pursuing the arts is to work hard, stay focused, look for new opportunities and don’t get discouraged. Don’t be afraid to approach people and sell yourself. Making connections is what it’s all about.

Michael Astrachan has been involved in the visual arts for over twenty-five years and is one of the founders of XVIVO LLC, a leader in the field of scientific animation.  As president and head of the creative team at XVIVO, Michael brings to animation a sophisticated knowledge of artistic naturalism, grounded in strong technique. Michael draws upon his extensive fine arts background and leads his team to develop visually compelling animations of scientific content. XVIVO was recently selected by The International Academy of Visual Arts to receive a 2012 Communicator Award. XVIVO clients have included Amgen, Bayer, Disney, GlaxoSmithKline, Harvard, HBO, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, NOVA, PBS, Smithsonian, TEDMED, and Yale University.

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