• send an email
  • twitter
  • blog
  • linked in
  • google
  • facebook


Master's Research Project

Retinal stem cells in the adult human eye

My Master's project was in the biomedical visualization design stream, where my goal was to create a 3-5 minute long 3D animation depicting current research in retinal stem cell regeneration for a patient audience. This was a year long project that started in the spring of 2011. The 3D models were created and animated in Autodesk Maya and the scenes were compiled in Adobe After Effects. Special thank you to my committee (below) for all their contributions to the project. Update: The animation is currently being used by the Foundation Fighting Blindness as part of their educational resources for patients afflicted by Reinitis Pigmentosa.


BMC supervisor: Prof. Dave Mazierski

Content supervisor: Dr. Derek van der Kooy, Institute of Medical Science

Completion date: September 2012

Final Animation




The animation had three major story points. Beginning with the structure and function of the eye, we wanted to establish the importance of each cell in the retina and their contribution to vision. Then we explain that vision loss occurs in diseases where retinal cells degenerate. We then highlight that there are retinal stem cells in the front of the eye that may offer hope for a cure.


We explain how the stem cell population arrived there by going through the development of the eye and showing the migration of the cells during the embryonic stage. We also explain how the various components of the eye that were mentioned in the introduction were established.


Following the developmental story point, we go back to explain the location of the stem cells in the adult eye and how they are extracted in the lab. The most interesting part of the animation, and the focus of Dr. van der Kooy's research, is in the transplantation of the stem cells. The cells need to migrate and form connections in the damaged retinal environment.


Current research is using hydrogels to help deliver the stem cells for better success rates. One of the visual challenges in my animation is to depict this gel scaffolding and animate cells travelling through it. We show cells differentiating and navigating to the right positions in order to restore vision. The conclusion explains that current research is still limited to mice and that stem cell research has some limitations.


2D Animatic - January 2012


3D Animatic - April 2012

Initially, the development of the eye was included to help explain the possible origin of the stem cells. This segment of the animation (shown in grey panels) was cut in the 3D animatic stage because the complexity would be too detailed for the target audience and not necessary for the purpose of this project. Between January and April, many of the 3D assets and models were created in Maya. These models were then fine-tuned for the final animation over the summer and new scenes were added as needed.