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Health Plan Uses Computer Breathing Simulation

Computer Science Professor’s Animation used by Health Provider

Blue Cross-Blue Shield affiliate uses breathing animation software designed by Victor Zordan

(December 21, 2005)

Victor Zordan

Victor Zordan

It’s as easy, or as complicated, as breathing. An Internet search led a Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical educator from Hawaii to the computer animation of Assistant Professor Victor Zordan at the University of California, Riverside's Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Steve McCall, a health educator with Hawaii Medical Service Association, an affiliated company of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, teaches a stress reduction class that focuses on the deep breathing techniques developed in the 1970s by Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson. McCall frequently uses the Internet to gather ideas, and possible resources.

“I’m always out there trolling for stuff that I could use as I go online,” he said. “And a Google search caught his (Zordan’s) Web site for me….” The site includes video demonstrations of computer-animated humans breathing.

Zordan said he had hoped to develop a partnership with a health care provider for some time but never expected the health care community would come to his virtual doorstep.

After a few emails back and forth, Zordan sent off a version of his software program, known as Breathe Easy, to McCall.

“Researchers have focused on modeling muscle and bone to move the body’s limbs,” Zordan said. “I think the most interesting non-rigid part of the human body is the trunk. Some things are soft, some are hard and these things slide over one another, creating rich movement.”

Breathing is among the most interesting visible movements in that region of the body, according to Zordan, who has studied a great deal of anatomy and physiology and film of human motion to develop his animation models. Anatomy texts line his faculty office, along with anatomical posters.

McCall said Zordan’s models so accurately illustrate the mechanics of deep breathing that he rewrote his curriculum to incorporate the models, which he uses in a PowerPoint presentation to his students.

Zordan uses physics and computations to develop believable motion models. He also explores novel uses for animation in three-dimensional virtual environments. Such uses include those by the medical community where he hopes, one day, animation models will be so realistic that they may illustrate how the body functions and how it reacts during procedures. This will give medical students greater depth of knowledge before they encounter their first cadavers.

Zordan, who founded the Riverside Graphics Lab, arrived at the Bourns College of Engineering at UCR in 2002, the same year he received his Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before joining UCR, he worked in the animation lab affiliated with the Graphics Visualization and Usability Center at Georgia Institute of Technology.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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