AMI 2017: Batting a Thousand in Austin, TX
by Sam Bond

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The AMI 2017 Conference took place at the University of Texas, Austin. Program design by Wenjing Wu.

The 72nd annual meeting of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) took place in Austin, Texas at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in late July, 2017. Guests, students, new professional members, and long-standing members gathered together to celebrate the rich talent of the AMI community and the thrilling directions of both traditional and digital medical/scientific visual communication. Between the fascinating, beautifully delivered keynote speech and the unique, rousing lineup of talks, AMI 2017 didn’t fail to deliver in its annual promise of inspiration and excitement!

The Salon: A Feast for the Eyes

One of the best parts of the annual AMI gathering is the Salon, where medical illustrators exhibit their finest work. This year’s Salon brought together not only AMI professional and student members, but also guests from the University of Texas, Austin and the Dell Medical Center. Everyone who toured the 2017 Salon was in for a stunning variety of media, including 2D and 3D digital works, virtual reality demos, animations, and fascinating, fun video games in both student and professional categories.

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25-Year member Peg Gerrity tries recent graduate Tiffany Raber’s award-winning virtual reality piece, ColorVisionVR. Photo © Ted Kucklick.

The Salon is a showcase for the unique skillset of visual communication and scientific accuracy, which is the hallmark of every medical illustrator. The brilliant entries this year were an inspiration, and the AMI is proud to share most of them in the AMI Online Salon at Enjoy viewing the very best in scientific and medical visuals!

Networking and Exploration

First timers and long-term members alike learned something new this year, and there were many opportunities to network. The annual Roundtable sessions gave members a chance to get to know and network with colleagues in small groups and share their own history with the field. Half-day and full-day workshops allowed members to earn continuing education credits while exploring new technologies like Pixologic ZBrush, or traditional techniques like plein air painting. In the Techniques Showcase, attendees were able to sample a variety of topics at their own pace, such as the planning of virtual reality projects, fast-paced and gorgeous Photoshop sketching, and 3D rendering techniques using technologies like Keyshot and Redshift. As part of the AMI’s mentoring program, New Professional Members and their Mentors met at the Mentor Mixer for a high-energy evening of conversation, networking, and exchanging coveted medical illustration trading cards! Select trading cards are also produced as a set of beautiful playing cards, which are sold as a fundraiser.

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Members Brandon Holt and Jennifer Fairman at the Mentor Mixer, collecting all the medical illustration trading cards they can. Photo © Ted Kucklick.

The AMI HUB: A Fantastic Member Benefit

The newest addition to the AMI community was introduced in Austin: the AMI Members HUB! This robust, online community platform serves as a single sign-in website to fulfill many member needs such as group forums, a valuable library of business resources, educational webinars/tutorials, committee discussions, notes, meeting information, and renewing membership. AMI members now have a single place to collaborate, share, learn, have fun, and explore ideas. Daniel Müller, head of the web committee, demonstrated this new platform at Techniques Showcase.

Satisfying and Surprising: the Talks of AMI 2017

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Terryl Whitlatch shared a peek at her inspiring workspace teeming with creatures and figurines. Photo © Ted Kucklick.

From start to end, the talks at the 2017 conference captivated and inspired the attendees. AMI President Wendy Hiller Gee opened the conference speaking powerfully on the advocacy role of medical illustrators in creating visual tools for patient education. Keynote speaker Terryl Whitlatch of Imagination International Incorporated, principal creature designer on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and major designer for Disney’s Brother Bear, shared her breathtaking artwork of imaginary creatures and real animals. She described her methods for drawing and understanding animal anatomy as the basis for designing believable fantasy creatures. She described her enviable and prolific career in creature and concept design for major motion pictures, and wowed the audience with her wide variety of artistic styles and anatomical precision.

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Bat conservationist Merlin Tuttle. Photo © Merlin Tuttle.

With such a fantastic start for the day, the next speaker did not disappoint. Merlin Tuttle, giving the Brödel Memorial Lecture, described his career in bat conservation as leading to a deep respect for an endangered and wildly important species. His success in working for bat conservation and his highly effective strategy of “win friends instead of battles” brought the audience to a standing ovation.

The first day was rounded out by sessions on two very different but tremendously important topics. Andrew Berger gave an excellent overview of tips for members on protection against copyright infringement and the steps to take when faced with those issues. Dr. Kecia Thomas helped bring to light the importance of diversity and inclusion as goals for our organization and profession, what that means, and how and why to make real progress.

Dr. Kecia Thomas: “Work to de-center the cultural default. Work to be color brave rather than color blind.”

Each session during AMI 2017 engaged curiosity and interest. Audiences reflected on the power of teaching drawing to doctors, and learned from experiences in mobile healthcare app design. This year’s brand new 5-minute Lightning Talks kept everyone on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what was next. These talks throughout the week ranged from traditional illustration topics such as the use of arrows or the discipline of keeping a daily sketchbook, to the excitement and inspiration of developing virtual reality and educational games.

The unique skills of AMI members were reflected in the breadth and depth of the meeting’s content and the work displayed in the Salon – fascinating, ingenious, beautiful, and inspiring.

Recognizing Excellence: AMI 2017 Awards

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Students proudly showing off their Vesalius Scholarships. Photo © Ted Kucklick.

The annual awards banquet gives the AMI community a chance to honor members for exceptional Salon entries as well as accomplishments in AMI service, scholarly articles, student scholarship awards, and lifetime achievement.

The AMI Literary Award was presented to Amy Sojka and her research committee for her excellent contribution to the Journal of Biocommunication titled “The Science Behind G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) and Their Accurate Visual Representation in Scientific Research.”


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Sue Seif (middle) and previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners. Photo © Ted Kucklick.

The AMI Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to none other than the wonderful Sue Seif. This prestigious award was presented by Steve Harrison in a race car driver’s suit, much to Sue’s surprise! He gave a whimsical speech full of fondness, a history of Sue’s amazing career, and an account of her many contributions to the Association. Congratulations to Sue – it is a well-deserved award!

Thank you!

AMI 2017 was a great success because of the hard work of many volunteers, especially the Austin planning committee. Thank you to everyone on the long list of volunteers who worked hard to create a wonderful experience for all of us! The membership of the AMI, filled with unique personalities, skills, and generosity, helps to make every meeting a fantastic opportunity for learning and networking.

We owe huge thanks to our sponsors for their generosity:

Silver Sponsors: iSO-FORM (Digital Salon), Barrow Neurological Institute (Awards Banquet), Maxon Cinema 4D (Social Hub)

Bronze Sponsors: AXS Studio, Imagination International Incorporated, INVIVO, Serbin Communications, Vessel Studios

Event Sponsors: Artery Studios Inc, MediVisuals, S&A Medical Graphics, ZBrush, Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschtritt LLP, Wacom

Many thanks to Ted Kucklick for his beautiful photography of the conference.

Looking forward to AMI 2018: Newton, MA

Check for information about the 2018 AMI meeting in Newton, MA, which is just outside the vibrant city of Boston. You’ll also find a wealth of information on the AMI website about medical illustration, how to become one, hire one, or to enjoy members’ artwork. We hope to see you next year in Newton!