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Virtual Worlds Case Study:

Second Health

The Second Health Project was unusual in that it was not explicitly focused on building a presence in the virtual world of Second Life, but rather on using that world to tell a visual story about a unique vision for the near-term future in real life. Along the way, this remarkable effort pushed the limits of avatar creation, animations, machinima, clothing design, modeling — and even traditional building.

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The explicit outcomes of the project were three videos, each portraying the way a medical situation would be handled under a wholly new system of healthcare — one based on the central idea of wellness as opposed to illness. To produce these videos required a team of practicing medical doctors and other health professionals, videographers, writers and scripters, architects, animators, modelers, designers, and builders, both in the US and in the UK, all working together to create these snippets of a possible future for healthcare in the United Kingdom. Staff at the medical school at Imperial College in London crafted the vision behind the project, and the National Physical Lab (NPL) in the UK was contracted as project manager.

NMC Virtual Worlds’ role on this unique team was to create all of the sets and their content, as well as all the animations, clothing, and avatars used by the actors. The design challenge was unique as well — to build not for Second Life, but to use Second Life to build sets for video production — to help create a world that would be seen primarily not in Second Life, but on television and in video.

To that end, an entire hospital was built in Second Life that filled an entire sim. It was fully equipped, and included every manner of bed, gurney, and tool used by medical staff, including sophisticated diagnostic equipment from digital sonography to CAT scans and MRI suites; fully-equipped examination rooms, offices, and operating theaters; and suites for anesthesia, arthroscopic surgery, trauma, and cardiac catheterization.

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In addition, full scale exterior scenes of London were created on special sound stages in the sky, making special use of the 3D environment to trick the eye with perspective, as well as residential neighborhoods, ambulances, office buildings, and even the offices of the National Health Service.

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The design challenges in this project were multifold, not the least of which was the absolute precision with which the medical equipment had to be modeled to allow for close up photography. All the images on diagnostic equipment, on computer screens, on monitoring equipment, and even such things as sharps containers and gauze wrappers had to be medically accurate and finely detailed.

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Animations were created to simulate heart attacks, limps, and the ways in which care givers would interact with their patients. All the uniforms used by these care givers had to be precise, and instantly recognizable by residents in the UK. Of particular importance was to represent life in a contemporary city in the UK, and avatars had to be created to represent all manner of people, large and small, fit and not-so-fit, and representing a wide range of ethnic groups and races in both their form and clothing.

The unique Community Hospital build for the project has been preserved, and is fully equipped with the hundreds of objects that were all hand crafted explicitly for this project.

The hospital continues to be used for medical and other training, and can be viewed on Second Health, one of the Scilands (Science and Technology in Second Life) islands.

Visit Second Health