top of page

Seeing the Invisible Injury

During my studies at the University of Toronto–Mississauga Biomedical Communications program (2009–2011) my Masters Research Project (MRP) was the development of a 3D animation depicting the pathophysiology and biomechanics of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), more commonly known as concussions.


This project involved modelling in Pixologic ZBrush and Autodesk Maya, rendering in Maya with mental ray, and compositing in Adobe After Effects.

Project Committee

Nicholas Woolridge, BFA, BScBMC, MScBMC, MSc, CMI

Visualization content advisor

Director & Associate Professor, Biomedical Communications

Department of Biology

University of Toronto Mississauga

Doug Richards, MD, DipSportMed

Pathology content advisor

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Physical Education and Health

Medical Director, David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic

University of Toronto


Anne Agur, BScOT, MSc, PhD

Anatomical content advisor

Professor, Institute of Medical Science (IMS)

Department of Surgery, Division of Anatomy

Graduate Department Rehabilitation Sciences (GDRS)

University of Toronto

Project Description

Athletes engaged in high-impact sports are at high risk of incurring a type of brain injury known as concussion. To communicate the mechanisms underlying sports-related concussions, we have created a high-end 3D animation in Autodesk Maya, focusing on the biomechanics and pathophysiology of the condition.




In collegiate sports, mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs) may constitute the most common form of injury. Many retired professional athletes in high-impact sports such as hockey and football have gone public about their health problems suspected to be connected with concussions that took place during their careers. Providing visual evidence of the rationale behind return-to-play guidelines may help to increase adherence and awareness.



1. Communicate a compelling interpretation of the physical response of brain tissue to high acceleration and deceleration forces.

2. Depict the currently proposed mechanism of diffuse axonal injuries as a cellular-level component of injury.

3. Communicate microtubule breakage in axons.




An evidence-based visualization depicting deformation of human brain tissue and axonal injuries possibly connected with mTBIs can assist both players and coaches in understanding the importance of preventative strategies, proper injury management and strict adherance to return-to-play guidelines. This visualization could also potentially be of use to bioengineers and sports medicine professionals conducting research into the epidemiology of mTBI.

This animation was completed over the course of a year and involved well over 600 hours of production time.

Future directions


The research surrounding traumatic head injuries is rich for opportunities to visualize. Some potential future visualizations could be:


• Short- and long-term clinical manifestations

• Consequences of cumulative sub-concussive hits

• Indirect impacts that transfer rotational acceleration

• Role of tau and beta-amyloid proteins

• Related biochemical pathways

• Associated mitochondrial dysfunction



This project would not be possible were it not for the expertise and patience of my professors at BMC, especially Nick Woolridge, Marc Dryer, and Michael Corrin.


Special thanks to the presenters at the 6th Annual Injury Biomechanics Symposium in Columbus, Ohio USA.


Invaluable assistance was provided by neurosurgeons at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, ON Canada.



For a comprehensive list of of all references used in this project, CLICK HERE. This bibliography includes sources in the areas of concussion assessment, clinical outcomes, biomechanics of injury, and pathophysiology. I have also included references for visual strategies to enhance learning.

bottom of page