Recently in At-Bristol we’ve been running ‘Dissection Lab’; inviting visitors to think about the human body and witness interactive, hands-on dissections of various animal organs. We’ve had pig hearts, lungs, livers, and brains, and horse eyeballs. All of these organs are obtained as by-products of the meat industry, or via educational suppliers (specifically, the pig brains. Which are notoriously difficult to get hold of). Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I was desperate to capture each of these dissections on video. The shoot only took about an hour to film, thanks to the brilliantly talented Seamus Foley for his help behind the camera. Unsurprisingly, I only had one pair of hands, and those were covered in blood. So this video would not have been possible without Seamus’ help.
We were very lucky with the particular heart we had defrosted (yes, we have a freezer full of organs). Most come with a large slash down the front (this is done by the butcher to check the quality of the meat before sale). Organs hardly ever look quite the same as the neat diagrams you see in textbooks; levels of blood, fat, connective tissue, the size, and differences between individual animals make each one unique, and as a science communicator you want there to be as little confusion as possible, because otherwise an organ like the heart can just look like an unrecognisable lump of meat. Sometimes these butcher cuts can remove the whole aorta, or an atrium, or even cut through both the right and left sides, making things confusing for an audience. Thankfully, the heart for our video only had the smallest of cuts on the rear of the right ventricle, which I could connect with my first incision. Therefore from the viewer’s perspective, the only cuts visible were the ones I made, making the process easier to follow.
The biggest problem was the amount of blood in this particular heart, making it very slippery. I had tried to rinse most of it out before the shoot, but there was one big clot in the left ventricle which persisted. My favourite shot in the entire video is the one where I prise open the left side of the heart to reveal the inside in immaculate detail (at 2:07). However, the shot in the video was in fact the second take. The first take revealed a ventricle full of thick, black, clotted blood. Since this felt a little too gory for the tone of the video, and obscured most of the anatomy, I decided not to include it. However there was one shot of blood running down my arm that I added as a blooper after the credits, it was just too funny not to leave in.
Other deleted scenes included looking at the average volume of blood which passes through an adult heart, at rest, in one minute (an astonishing five litres, in case you were wondering). This was cut because it didn’t feel like it fitted in with the narrative of the video. Also, I cut scene where I injected a syringe of water into the top of the aorta to watch the semi-lunar valves in action. This only works about 50% of the time and sadly, in this instance, it didn’t. That said, I think the final video was much better off without these scenes disrupting the flow.
Overall, I’m thrilled with how the video turned out. This was the first time I’d ever presented a dissection to camera and the footage looks incredible. I’m looking forward to releasing the other dissections over the coming months. We have already filmed the lungs and brain. Next week we’re shooting the liver, and my personal favourite… the eyeball.
Hope you enjoy the video, and thanks for watching.