By Carrie Bengston

OK, so you’ve got the flu. Who hasn’t this time of year? When you’re not feeling sad and sorry, do you ever wonder what’s happening inside your lymph nodes? Or how your antibodies attack flu viruses?

If only we could shrink and take a journey through the human body to see it all up close. Moviemakers did in 1966 with the sci-fi classic, Fantastic Voyage. Thanks to today’s science animators and state of the art computer graphics, we can take a fantastic voyage too.

Fantastic Voyage (fantastic outfits!)

CSIRO Science Leader Dr Sean O’Donoghue says that the same computer animation tools used for Tangled, Toy Story and Despicable Me can create videos that educate us about science. They accurately and dynamically show us complex biological processes that are way too small for the eye to see. And the videos are a lot more interesting than plain-old text book diagrams.

Sean, a specialist in biodata visualisation, isn’t the only one inspired by science animation. Singer Bjork commissioned Australian molecular animator Drew Berry to make a music video for her song ‘Hollow’ from her album Biophilia. The video zooms us through skin tissue, floats us through a cell’s cytoplasm, and gets us scarily close to chromosomes  – all set to Bjork’s enigmatic music.

Luckily for fantastic voyagers, a successful Inspiring Australia grant will allow more animators to be trained to illustrate other hidden biological processes.  The project , ‘VIZBI+ Visualising the Future of Biomedicine’, will be led by Sean O’Donoghue (CSIRO, Garvan Institute of Medical Research), Drew Berry at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and Dr Kate Patterson (Garvan Institute of Medical Research).

VIZBI+ is a publicly-accessible extension of a series of international gatherings for biological visualisation experts. VIZBI+ will springboard from existing award-winning content and methods created by maestros Drew Berry and Etsuko Uno of WEHI who’ll train three new animators, one at each institution.

A five minute animation, using real data and based on real research, can take up to a year to produce. Once created they’ll be presented at outreach events at WEHI, Garvan and CSIRO. But the audiences for these stunning animations will be bigger than that thanks to broadcasting sites like YouTube and iTunes. Watch out for them on TV and educational websites too.

“Our plan is to take Drew Berry’s approach, scale it up and use CSIRO’s infrastructure to deliver content nationally and beyond,” says Sean.

Media: Sean O’Donoghue, 0417 272 668,