Beautiful and dangerous: animating deadly viruses at Vivid Sydney

By Nikki Galovic

18 May 2018

2 minute read

Virus animations beamed onto buildings

The safe way to explore deadly viruses magnified to spectacular scale.

Every breath of air, every sip of water, everything we eat is awash with vast numbers of astonishingly small viruses and bacteria. When we look at these viruses and bacteria under the microscope – or with higher resolution methods, such as X-ray crystallography – we can see they have strikingly beautiful geometric forms, but some are amongst our most dangerous enemies.

This year we’re collaborating with Vivid Sydney and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to give you a close up and personal encounter with the infectious biological agents that most affect human health – magnified to spectacular scale.

Vivid detail

Each year Vivid Sydney transforms the city into a colourful canvas of light, music, and ideas in a major celebration of the creative industries. We’ll be projecting the structures of infectious viruses and bacteria that most affect human health including Ebola, Zika and Influenza, animated onto buildings in The Rocks area of the Sydney CBD. Not only will the light installation be visually stunning but it will also provide a unique and engaging glimpse into some of research we and our partners are doing to combat infection.

Answers from animations

The creators behind our art installation aren’t just focused on making a beautiful piece of art. Our display will demonstrate that by animating viruses and seeing them up close, we might shed light on how they work.

Seán O’Donoghue, our producer and scientific consultant for the Vivid Sydney light installation, is an award-winning researcher in biological data visualisation. His day job involves applying advanced data visualisation technologies to drive new discoveries in medical research. His role in our Vivid Sydney light installation has focused on making sure that the artwork is also scientifically-accurate.

“There’s a struggle to get the science right and that’s something that we’re very concerned about. We’re making sure that everything we show is based on solid experimental evidence,” Seán said.

“Everyone’s heard about the flu. Everyone’s heard about AIDS and HIV but not many people realise that we know a tremendous amount about structure of these and many other pathogens, in many cases, at atomic detail.

“This intimate view of viral and bacterial structures brings us closer than ever to understanding how they function,” he said.

When art and science collide

Our lead animator is Leonie Herson, a Sydney-based medical illustrator. She’s animated her fair share of viruses before, but Vivid Sydney is presenting a slightly different take on her usual style.

“You wouldn’t tend to associate science with super bright colours so I think to actually incorporate that into something like this is really fantastic,” Leonie said.

“We want to show that science can actually be quite engaging and beautiful, even when looking at dangerous pathogens.”

Leonie’s work is the ultimate collision of science and art. She is using computer animations and cinematography to display the inner workings of biological forms that are far too small for the human eye to see.

Magnifying pathogen structures to nearly 1 billion times their natural size, provides a rare opportunity for the Australian public to glimpse an otherwise unseen realm of science that affects us all.

We're going viral!

Join us at Vivid Sydney for a peek under the microscope at more beautiful and dangerous viruses.