How the project began
Many things in my life led to my decision to create the DVD Atlas, but one conversation that happened in the fall of 1993 was the immediate cause of it.
I had just given a clinical correlation lecture to our first year medical students about the importance of anatomy to me as a surgeon.
One student stayed behind and said to me, "You can't imagine how helpful it would be if you could make videos as beautiful as the slides you just showed us." Overhearing her, one of our senior anatomists said to me "Bob, you've been talking about doing that for years, it's time you did it.". Suzanne L'Ecuyer was right, and so was Fritz Hilton. Within two weeks I had committed myself to making a major series of anatomical videos for students.
Though my decision was triggered by that one conversation, several things led up to it. At that time I was moving from my first career as a reconstructive microsurgeon to my second, as a clinical anatomist. For many years before that I had run the University of Louisville Medical School's microsurgery teaching laboratory, where I had learned how to make effective instructional videos. My deepening interest in anatomy had led me to become director of our school's unique Fresh
Tissue Dissection Laboratory, and it was in that setting that a chance event had led me to a way of presenting anatomy in three dimensions.
In the lab there was a surgical light fixture that had been converted to hold a TV camera. The camera was on the end of a swinging arm that hung from the ceiling by a pivot. The pivot was meant to be vertical, but it was off by a degree, so the whole fixture had an urge to swing around till it reached its low point. Whenever we used it, someone had to hold the camera still. One day in 1984 we were making a shot of a specimen that was placed directly below the pivot. The person who should have been holding the camera still let go by mistake, and it swung slowly round in an arc while the shot was being recorded. We were amazed to find that we had made a video shot of an object that appeared to be rotating. It looked perfectly three dimensional.
It was clear that video of a rotating object could be used as a powerful teaching tool, but I put the idea on the back burner for nearly ten years. During that time the prospects for a high quality anatomy video project brightened. TV cameras became lighter and better, VCR's in the home became universal, and computer-driven anatomy projects, once considered the way of the future, began to fall short of their early promise. By 1993 I was ready to take a serious interest in the rotating video idea.
By 2002, when the final tape in the series was in production, DVD was already becoming the preferred medium for delivering motion picture content. Conversion of the series to DVD format was completed in 2003.
Suzanne L'Ecuyer not only launched the DVD Atlas project with her initial suggestion, she also became my main adviser as the project took shape. Many of the features of the DVD Atlas that students now appreciate were shaped by her unique perception.