DREW BERRY - Scientific animator

Drew Berry portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salary range

AUD$50,000 p.a. plus

My advice for students

“Play around and find out exactly what you love to do, and do a lot of it.”

What I studied

Bachelor of Science (Honours) University of Melbourne
Masters of Science (Cell biology), University of Melbourne

My life

Drew Berry is unique.

He works as the animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne and as far as he is aware, no-one else in the world is making scientifically accurate animations of complex biological molecules and reactions like he is.

“There are other companies in the field that take a similar approach, and make representations of scientific processes, but they usually work from text books and are not experts. My approach is different because I am using real science in my animations - I am visualising actual things that are happening in real cells.”

Upon leaving school, Drew had to make a choice between graphic design or science. He chose science, and gained a Masters in cell biology before deciding that bench research was not for him:

“I really like the thinking involved in science, but it was doing the science that I found hard work.”

Drew briefly flirted with graphic design in an advertising agency but missed science - and then he found a way to combine the two.

“I started working in the photography section of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and was making people's posters for conferences. I found that I was getting the work done by lunchtime and so started making animations of how the malaria parasite infects human cells and really enjoyed it.”

Drew had to create his own opportunities and pitched these animations to the Institute as a way for it to fulfil its desire to help educate the public about medical research. Since then, Drew's work has been used in many different contexts, not least in the opening ceremony of the 19th International Congress of Genetics in 2003, attended by eight Nobel laureates, and which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Using the same software that creates Hollywood animated feature films, incredibly each animation takes him just three weeks to create.

“The first week is spent researching and reading through journals; the second week is spent working out how to get the software to do what I want, and the third is for actually building the animation.”

Drew has never studied computing. “I was always a nerd, playing around with computers. I started easy, teaching myself everything I needed to know.” But, he knows that his strong science background is essential for his ability to take complex ideas and visualise them. He also feels that his work is important.

“I find the mental concepts of science mind-blowing. Scientists are constantly making new discoveries, but a lot of the ways they are presented have a lot of jargon. An image, on the other hand, is something people can get right away - even a six year-old can understand.”

Recently the ABC's science program Catalyst profiled Drew and he discussed making the animations for the television series DNA - these are the same detailed animations featured throughout DNA Interactive and Biotechnology Online. You can also see more of Drew's animations at WEHI-TV.