Heart issue

Heart 4.0

Dr. Georg Slavka is a general practitioner as well as laboratory medical specialist and senior physician specialized in leukemia diagnostics at Wilhelminenspital in Vienna, Austria. Dr. Slavka‘s heart models and animations are internationally unique and recognized. PUMPS met the heart artist to find out why, for what and since when his heart beats for the heart.

At the age of 12, I first began to study the topic of 3-dimensional computer modeling. My mother was a doctor and my father was a graduate engineer in the telecom industry. Thus, the basis for my passion was seemingly inherited. I have been a computer geek since I was a kid, learned the current programming languages very quickly, and loved drawing. Back then my father brought home the latest 3D software he needed for his own work. It was still the era of MS-DOS and Windows 3.0, and I still remember it very well: the manual consisted of around 600 pages, which I read in a short time. Since I have always been eager to learn and listen to my mother with interest when she told about the clinic, I became, of course, interested in objects that I could create on the computer. At that time, the heart was already my object of desire because it represents an enormous challenge in terms of structure, composition and even the surface on its own.

© Dr. Georg Slavka

The surface of the heart is very complex compared to other organs such as the liver, spleen or kidney. Due to its extensive anatomy, a model of the heart requires an extremely large number of polygons, those square basic structures on which any 3-dimensional model in the field of virtual and augmented reality is based. The structure of the heart is very complex since the surface texture is not as homogeneous as compared to most other organs. The texture of a liver, lung or kidney is comparable to an orange as these organs all have a more uniform, smooth surface.


My very first personal projects with 3D applications were initially less complex. Back then I started with a 3-dimensional replica of my study, extending the model to the entire apartment and later to parts of the street where we lived. I lost myself in the 3-dimensional new world. The area was still very new and unexplored because at that time programs such as Photoshop with all its current functions were dreams of the future. However, I have always wanted to be able to realistically model and reproduce the heart in all its complex anatomy. I undertook each attempt with different, initially simple models and textures. Back then, of course, that was on the one hand professionally but also technically possible only in a very limited way.

© Dr. Georg Slavka

My mother recommended that I should study medicine because she knew what made my heart beat then. Very early on I started to focus on the topic heart. My passion for 3D animation had spread very quickly in the
circles of my colleagues and so I was able to assist very early in surgical procedures and was able to try to animate them on the computer later. Even my instructors had a great interest in the complex and very vivid renderings of surgical techniques and anatomical models such as those of the human heart. Many evenings I spent working on these many small details of the human heart. Very quickly, however, I reached the limits of the existing software and decided to buy another, special software for an even more realistic development. This extra software allowed me to work like a sculptor. You start with an initially very simply designed 3D model and with the help of a graphics tablet and a special pen you form step by step an ever more exact model, in which you engrave fine details with varying degrees of pressure.

© Dr. Georg Slavka

Without a corresponding photo-realistic texture, however, every 3D model will appear "naked", colorless and rather artificial. Only when you combine photos of a real heart into a "panorama photo" and put it around the model it suddenly becomes "livelier". This "texture wrapping" serves the purpose to "wrap" the heart - a decisive step for the further development of the model.


The great challenge of working on the human heart and later animating the heartbeat is similar to that of painters or draftsmen creating a photorealistic portrait. This fusion of technical skill and artistic identification turns the former model or portrait which is rather a clumsy image of reality into a homogeneous whole. The reflection and material properties also play a crucial role here. These are decisive components that the other graphic designers tend to ignore in their representations of tissue because they cannot incorporate this symbiosis of technical and content- related medical skills into the object.


To be continued in the magazine...

© Dr. Georg Slavka

The technical heart

The human heart works according to the displacement principle, while the classical pump is a hydraulic machine. Nevertheless, the technical and biological pumps are similar in many ways. The essential part of the technical design of a pump is the rotating shaft line driven by a motor with the impeller because this is the only way to generate the function of pumping in the first place. Despite its importance, the pump on its own cannot move anything. It depends on - biologically speaking - the veins. In the case of the technical pump, this is the cable routing. The substances to be transported ranging from water to pulp, the vital blood, are supplied to the pump and distributed. Here, the butterfly valves play an essential role. Like their biological counterpart - the heart valves - they prevent the return of the water or other substances from the pressure line so that the pump does not work the wrong way around. When the pump operates they are open, otherwise closed. This closing operation is to be done carefully. A rapid closing of the valves should be avoided as the resulting pressure shock can lead to server damages in the plant - a „heart attack“ if you like. In contrast to the human heart, this defect can be fixed by a corresponding service on the pump. In order to keep your biological pump in good condition, a healthy and balanced diet, regular exercise and much else is generally recommended. The same applies to the technical sibling. Excellently designed pumps use the supplied energy, the nutrients, as well as available resources in the best possible way to achieve their stipulated efficiencies. For this, the tissue - that is, the material - must fit. Depending on which substances and how they are transported, certain factors in the choice of materials need to be met. Likewise, the use rather the operation of the pump plays a role. The more continuous the operation the longer the pump lives. A strongly alternating operation such as frequent switching off and on is comparable to a switching back and forth between rest pulse and peak performance and is in the long term not beneficial to the life of both pumps.

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