Final Animation


Project Background

Biomedical Communications Research Problem

Two-dimensional schematic diagrams of T cell development in the thymus only portrays the process of development in the broadly defined histological regions, the cortex and the medulla, without addressing the specific microenvironments that are present within each region. Furthermore, these static images are inadequate in demonstrating the timely events that occur within each developmental stage. Finally, the two-dimensional nature of these images fails to reveal the significance of the three-dimensional thymic structure in facilitating development. Scanning electron microscopic micrograph images of thymocytes and cortical epithelial cells of the thymus does provide an accurate account of the three-dimensional thymic network, however it does not show the orientation of the structure with respect to the entire organ.

Currently, a great deal is known about what occurs inside of developing thymocytes themselves, however information regarding how stromal signals guide these events is limited. Nonetheless, it has been well established that migration within the thymus is linked to differentiation, such that movement of T-precursors into different regions of the thymus, functionally divided by unique microenvironments, correlates with specific developmental events. A three-dimensional visualization of the process of T cell development with respect to migration through these unique microenvironments does not exist, yet such a tool would be beneficial in visualizing development from a different perspective.

Visual Objective

The visual objective is to develop a three-dimensional animation that effectively portrays the development of T cells simultaneously at different levels: organ, cellular, and molecular. The use of a storytelling method and different rendering styles will be applied to illustrate this complex process. Molecular processes that will be focused on are positive selection and thymic export.

Target audience for this visualization are university students studying in the field.


This animation was created using Autodesk Maya for the three-dimensional components, and Adobe After Affects for compositing purposes. The main challenge of this visualization project was to come up with a visual strategy that allowed for the demonstration of T cell development through different scales, from the cellular portray of thymocyte migration, to the molecular depiction of selection.