February 2, 2023

Radiology’s Brent Savoie turns radiological imagery into lavish dreamscapes

A world that blends the intricacies of marine life and human form: neuroanatomy that looks like coral, the body reimagined as a jellyfish, or an “X-ray aquarium.”

 When many people settle down for the night, they turn to classic comforts to help unwind after a long day: they stream a few episodes of their favorite show, read a book, or work on a crossword puzzle. Brent Savoie, MD, JD, says that his wife’s go-to relaxation ritual involves a game of Sudoku, the logic-based number placement puzzle.

But Savoie’s nightly routine is a bit different. The associate professor of Clinical Radiology and Radiological Sciences often finds himself working away at one of his ever-evolving digital art pieces.

The works — radiology-inspired collages created through AI and digital art tools — often emerge as lavish dreamscapes where anatomical imagery is presented by an abstract swirl of color, geometric design and deep-sea ecosystems.

Brent Savoie

Lately, Savoie’s imagination has created a world that blends the intricacies of marine life and human form: neuroanatomy that looks like coral, the body reimagined as a jellyfish, or an “X-ray aquarium.”

The art pieces are rendered through a combination of media: his own photography, imagery created by artificial intelligence engines, and programs like Adobe Photoshop and Procreate. For some AI-induced works, like his underwater scenes, the work could undergo 10 renditions of algorithmic redesign. It can be quite an elaborate process to get to a semblance of a final product, but Savoie enjoys it even if he’s barely shared his work with the public.

“I kind of just do it for myself,” Savoie says with a laugh. “It’s funny. I’ve always been a shy artist.”

Medicine, art, and a combination of both

Throughout his life, Savoie has maintained an interest in the arts, which has developed alongside his career in medicine. His passion first grew in high school, particularly while drawing, painting and creating multimedia pieces. Savoie’s talent showed so much promise that one of his teachers even suggested he pursue it in college. Daunted by the idea of taking art history classes, he opted to keep his passion as a hobby.

Once he began his education in medicine, he became fascinated with the world of photography. Then, later as an intern and resident, he submerged himself in the world of digital art on his iPad.

In the time since, his interest in visual elements and composition has evolved, integrating his photography with iconic public imagery and his own style, often translating as an intersection of silhouettes and color palettes with a hint of pop art.

Savoie frequently takes photos with the sole intention of repurposing them in his artwork. He’s snapped shots in the widest variety of places: while waiting for a ski lift, at the Ryman Auditorium, and even at cathedral ruins in Guatemala.

The reading room of the imagination

However, Savoie’s latest works fit into a new theme: portraying radiological imagery in unconventional circumstances, such as underwater or in the world of botany. It has proved to be a challenging yet rewarding task. His inspiration began in the Radiology reading room.

“You’re looking at these structures for so long,” Savoie explains. “Radiologists’ lives and work are highly visual, so I think there’s a disproportionate number of people who have an interest in photography and art. I think for lots of people, the difficulty is in translating.”

Savoie says he has an artistic vision but has to navigate the limitations imposed on the artwork he wants to create. That’s where AI came into play. For example, when he decided that he wanted to integrate chest X-rays into artwork, Savoie knew he could not ethically use a patient’s scan. He was forced to use limited publicly available images for his art—until he realized that AI generators could provide a synthetic version, which he could then paint over and edit digitally.

“You can do some pretty cool things with it,” he says. “[AI] gives you this bridge between what you’re thinking and the actual image. With this, your imagination is your limit. You’re not constrained by the fact that your hand might be a little shaky or you don’t have the right brush.”

But, he says, AI is only a tool, not a replacement for artists themselves. “What it doesn’t completely do is translate the artist’s vision into reality. But it’s a good tool to help you get there.”