Human Electron Microscopy

Electron microscope photography is awesome. If you’ve ever seen snowflakes using this technique, they look drastically different than how we’re used to seeing them under a visible light microscope. Electrons can resolve smaller objects than photons of light, but in the process the image that we get looks slightly different than what we’re used to seeing. I’m a Visual Effects Artist, and many times for shots involving small stuff, like DNA or brain cells, I’ve had to create this look. Purely on a visual, unscientific level, there are two main properties of electron microscopy that I’ve noticed. The first is adding brightness based on the facing angle of the geometry, so that a forward facing surface will be dark, and the more glancing the angle gets the lighter it will become (example). I’ve also noticed an ambient occluding property present, which basically means that when you have two objects close to each other, they both subtract light from each other (example).

I was thinking of the ways that light and electron photography are different, and I started to wonder what a human would look like if you could shrink them and stick em’ in an electron microscope. I suppose you could build a giant microscope, but if the firing of electrons at their body didn’t kill them, coating them with gold or silver and putting them in a pure vacuum environment might do the trick. So what I did was I got a really high resolution actual 3d scan of a person from Ten 24 Scan Store, tweaked its surface properties and rendered it using a 3d program called Maya, and placed the resulting images into real electron microscope photographs that I got from FEI. It’s an excellent way to show how different this technique is from what we are used to seeing, and to imagine what the tiny things that are scanned would look like if visible light could resolve them. So here he is, a tiny, tiny man (click for full resolution).

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4 thoughts on “Human Electron Microscopy

  1. hey michael. i love this post. i wanted to create a picture that imitates this look for a long time. now i’m motivated again to try it myself (with the help of a friend, cause my render skills are not good enough). there is one fantastic work out there already using this. it’s made by stefan sagmeister. i can’t find high-res pics, but it’s really well done:


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