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A mock Scientific American spread on the pathology of ocular toxoplasmosis, an infection and inflammation of the eye caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma

gondii. While many cases are resulting from congenital exposure, this spread focuses on the acquired route of infection. T. gondii enters neurosensory cells to reproduce, and destroys them upon release. Through this, it causes a focal necrosis in the retina. It is capable of forming dormant cysts within infected cells, causing re-activation years later. 

Client: Profs. Shelley Wall and Dave Mazierski
Media: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator

Format: Magazine spread

Audience: Educated lay audience

Date: December 2019

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The objective was to create a 2-page editorial spread explaining the progression of a disease to an educated layperson audience. Given this audience, the viewer's knowledge must be built up from a foundational level. There must be clarity in the depiction of structure and function, as well as the ways in which they change throughout the disease process. At the same time, style and aesthetic are also priorities, to garner engagement.

I chose the topic of ocular toxoplasmosis because it is not often talked about - I wanted to visualize something that has not been explained in a highly visual way before.



First I reviewed the literature to understand the disease and how it is visually described. In addition to review articles, I looked for papers with histology micrographs, fundal photographs, and descriptions of diseased tissue. I also read texts to better understand the normal anatomy. I then wrote a report of each step of the disease process as a blueprint of the story.



I visualized this information in two tissue studies: The first is the tissue landscape, an immersive view of the healthy tissue architecture. The second is the tissue cubes, a classic way to communicate pathological changes in tissue. These studies were important explorations of how I could depict this tissue and disease convincingly and accurately. 


In the second study, the scale of the tissue cubes made it impossible to cover the full lesion, so the extent of infection had to be communicated as a schematic rather than something scale-accurate. The cell architecture of the eye is compact, so it was a challenge to manage the level of detail and put the main changes in focus. I did this by emphasizing the sense of order and organization in the first cube. The chaotic and dynamic necrotic tissue stands out in contrast.

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I started to ideate about the layout and how I would want this story to flow across the pages. I wanted to use 3 different scales: the cellular/subcellular scale, the tissue scale, and the organ scale. I also wanted to include the life cycle of the parasite since it's important to its dormancy.


My intention is that the viewer would first understand the parasite and its source, follow it into the eye, and learn about how it damages an individual cell and propagates. Next, they would see the resulting disease at the tissue level as this propagation continues. There is a corresponding organ-level depiction for each stage of the lesion, which is what a doctor sees to diagnose the disease. I used the page split as the rough divider between the two phases of this story, and blocked off each sub-section of this story with distinct visuals. For aesthetics and immersion, I was able to integrate a background environment of retinal cells into the piece.

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I explored color variations and further envisioned what the final product would look like. The retina's color was fixed as bright red/orange, so the rest of the colors needed to work around that. At the same time, the cells in the immersive background needed to correspond to the ones in the tissue cubes. This presented a challenge in creating a harmonic palette, where I needed to avoid having too many contrasting hues. In the end I decided on the 3rd option, but with less yellow tones - It was analogous, and the colours blend well and present a pleasing variation in temperature. At the same time, the background colours would not distract from the foreground elements.



All that was left was to render the elements, to use colours in detail. I used a rendering style that combined a schematic look with a more realistic one, to unify the representations at different scales. I added a teal/blue tone to shadows, and rendered images in the same file to keep the colours cohesive.

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