“The subject matter is usually provided by the client,” Kasnot said. “For example, if I’m working for a magazine or medical journal, they usually send a manuscript of the lead story, and ask me to read it and come up with a couple of concepts for the cover.” After discussing ideas and concepts with the art director, he creates a sketch and e-mails it in. Once he gets the go-ahead, then the real work starts.
Print can be more difficult. “Drug mechanisms of action can be multitiered,” he said. “My job becomes harder if I have to actually try to illustrate that concept in a static image, essentially a snapshot. Animation can be a little easier because you can reveal the mechanisms over time. While animation is technically difficult to do, you can’t beat it for storytelling.”
For pharmaceutical companies, he uses his scientific background to help understand what a drug does in the body and then come up with a concept to describe it. Kasnot tries to keep his illustrations as close as possible to real life. “But in many cases, even the scientists at the pharmaceutical companies don’t know what some of this stuff really looks like,” he said.
Some of the more commonplace pharmaceuticals can be represented fairly accurately. A website called the Protein Data Bank contains a catalog of millions of proteins that shows known chemical formulas translated into 3-D objects. Kasnot can download a file for hemoglobin, for example, and import it into his Maya software.
“It makes my life a lot easier if the drug is one that has been around a while and researchers have imaged it,” he said. “I just finished a project for Bristol Myers Squibb about garenoxicin, a brand new antibiotic which is the first desfloroquinolone [des-f(6): where the fluorine group is removed from one of the carbon rings]. It’s easy to find a standard quinolone molecule in the protein databank, but to find one that’s desflourinated is a little more difficult. A lot of stuff can be found if you know where to look, but there needs to be some artistic license involved no matter how accurate the reference.”
Artistic license also applies to problems of scale. Portraying a virus next to a bacterium, for example, is like putting a pea next to a basketball. “Sometimes you have to fudge in terms of scale in order to elucidate things correctly,” Kasnot said. “But physicians and people who are knowledgeable in the field understand that there’s some artistic license involved in pretty much everything. It’s just a given.”
Images for biotechnology companies are easier to illustrate. They typically portray implanted devices such as stents in arteries or artisen lenses in eyes. “We generally know what every organ in the human body looks like, especially since the Visible Human dataset was developed,” he said. “Devices that are going through arteries, or things like pacemakers and lasers, can be imaged pretty accurately. What’s tricky is when you get down into smaller and smaller submicroscopic areas. That’s where more artistic license becomes necessary.”