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Medical Science Educator Volume 22 : No. 4 - articles  

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Creation of an Interactive Learning Module of 3D Virtual Osteological Structures
Jonathan J. Wisco, Sam Payne & M. Elena Stark
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1732 USA





Osteology and arthrology are foundational to musculoskeletal medicine. Access to real or replica osteological specimens for educational use is limited to legacy collections or by purchasing from authorized dealers. In either case, the maintenance or purchasing of real or replica osteological material, respectively, is costly and difficult to accomplish for a large class of students.

We acknowledge that there is no substitute for students’ experience with real or replica bones and joints. However, the availability of supplementary virtual osteological specimens allows students to interact with available specimens kinesthetically in laboratory, then virtually while studying elsewhere.1-3 To this end, we have developed 3D virtual osteological models of isolated and articulated bones and presented these models in an Adobe Flash format that allows students to interact with labels for morphological landmarks (Figure 1). Similar work has been done using the QuickTime Virtual Reality (VR) format and commercial products are available through Primal Pictures, Ltd. ( and Elsevier, Inc.4,5 (

The objective for each of our osteology modules is for students to learn important osteological landmarks pertinent for articulations and neurovascular structures. In future versions, we will add muscular attachments and functional arthrology.

Anatomy faculty worked with a 3D animator to create a novel digital mesh of every bone using Autodesk Maya. Texture files, with bump and color layers, for each mesh were created in Adobe Photoshop and linked in Maya. Lighting was added to create shading and contrast effects. The digital bones were assembled into the full skeleton: spine and intervertebral disks were created first, followed by the skull, thoracic cage, pelvis, upper and lower limbs. Using Maya, digital cameras were added and then animated to create rotation videos and static images. Images were rendered from Maya in different layers and then composited in Adobe After Effects. Static images and videos were imported into Adobe Flash where interactive labels were added. The final product was published on our school’s ANGEL website and is available to users at the following URL: medyear1/Anatomy/osteology.

The 3D skeleton serves as a foundational animation for digital instruction of osteological structures and landmarks. This digital tool could be a viable substitute for osteological specimens where access to them is difficult.

The authors would like to thank Alan Estridge for his technical expertise with the skull model prototype, and Shelley Metten, Ph.D. for sharing our vision of creating a 3D animated body.

Anatomy, osteology, clinical resource, Adobe Flash animation


  1. Cohen M, da Costa Astur D, Kaleka CC, Arliani GG, Cohen C, Jalikjian W, Golano P. Introducing 3-Dimensional Stereoscopic Imaging to the Study of Musculoskeletal Anatomy. Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery. 2011;27(4):593-596.
  2. Nguyen N, Wilson TD. A head in virtual reality: development of a dynamic head and neck model. Anatomical Sciences Education. 2009;2(6):294-301.
  3. Codd AM, Choudhury B. Virtual reality anatomy: Is it comparable with traditional methods in the teaching of human forearm musculoskeletal anatomy? Anatomical Sciences Education. 2011;4(3):119-125.
  4. Trelease R. QuickTime VR anatomy specimens and models. VRAnatomy.
  5. Ahern J. Virtual skeleton.

Copyright 1993-2012 IAMSE

Keywords:  Anatomy, osteology, clinical resource, Adobe Flash animation

Published Page Numbers:  208-209

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