A Freaky Visual Journey Through a Human Skull, One MRI 'Slice' at a Time


After a series of medical tests, Christopher Powers, a software engineer and filmmaker, decided to transform the resulting series of 2-D and 3-D scans of his body into an experimental film -- an eerie anatomical self-portrait. "I envision Slice as the first in a series of films assembled from the ever-increasing digital database of 'me'," he explains in an interview below, where he describes how he created the video. With the rise of digital imaging in medical technology, artists of all stripes have found inspiration in the data, experimenting with music, games, and even talking about love.

The Atlantic: What are these scans of, exactly?

Christopher Powers: These are 2-D and 3-D MRI and MRA scans taken of my head and chest. The chest scans were taken to look for a possible aortic dissection or aneurysm. The head scans were taken two years later to look for evidence of a brain aneurysm or arterial narrowing. All test results were normal.

What inspired you to do the video and how did you put it together?

I am a software engineer, but my core passion has always been filmmaking. My inspiration for Slice was driven by these two aspects of my personality: the engineer and the artist.

After the MRIs were taken, I asked for a copy of the images, and the hospital was happy to oblige. Having worked for several years as a biomedical engineer, I had a solid understanding of the technology and of the anatomy. What really intrigued me was whether I could somehow manipulate the scan data and, well, just have fun with it.

I found an open source image processing package with which I could navigate, visualize and manipulate the images. After many hours of experimentation, I finally had enough 2-D and 3-D clips to work with. I used Final Cut Pro to assemble the clips and combine them with the creepy soundtrack.

Initially, I did not have a singular concept of what Slice would be, it just sort of fell together as I tried various combinations of imagery and sound. Eventually it took on a disturbing, almost demonic tone, so I just went with that.

Like most people, I've always regarded the inner workings of my body as some sort of mysterious, vague abstraction. These MRIs were truly a gift, because they replaced the abstraction with a very tangible, detailed understanding. I imagine that people would treat their bodies with more respect if they were introduced to their internal selves at an early age, you know, "Timmy, say hello to your liver."

What's next for you?

I'm working on scripts for three short films that I will direct. In the meantime, I will continue to work in the local film industry and crank out the occasional art film just for fun. And, of course, I still have my day job as a software engineer.

I envision Slice as the first in a series of films assembled from the ever-increasing digital database of "me." As routine medical diagnostics become more sophisticated, the mountain of digital data will continue to accumulate, so I will have plenty of raw material to work with. For example, I just recently acquired a 3-D x-ray scan of my skull from my dentist. Next week, I visit the eye doctor for my annual exam ...

For more work by Christopher Powers, visit his Vimeo channel

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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