Armed with two science degrees and a training in the use of advanced microscopes, Drew Berry isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill animator. The creator of the bio-inspired animations on Biophilia spends his days painstakingly poring over scientific papers before putting virtual pen to paper and recreating the vast worlds that exist within our bodies – microbes fighting infections, parasites replicating, proteins dividing… Dazed called him up to chat double helixes, digital creativity and Icelandic DNA…
Dazed & Confused: You generally work from scientific papers and journals, but Biophilia is a little different. What was the brief from Björk?
Drew Berry: There was one song in particular that she sort of had marked for me, which was about her ancestry, her DNA and her thread of connection with her past. She had some ideas about how she wanted, like, beads on a string, or a long chain that links her with her ancestors, but when I heard the song I took my own interpretation of it.
D&C: Did you discover that there is anything unique about Icelandic DNA?
Drew Berry: Well Björk did – she went to National Geographic and they did an analysis of her DNA and found all sorts of connections across Europe. But I didn’t really respond to that because I see a unity of all humans. In fact, of all living things on our planet – every living thing is all tied to DNA – so I skipped that and just wanted to look at a spiritual, ghost-like experience.
D&C: Were you a fan of Björk before?
Drew Berry: Oh yeah. I mean, I had a crush on her when she was in The Sugarcubes! It goes back to being the age of 14, so this project is a total treat. And I’m just having a lot of fun: that’s the main goal for me – just to let loose and have fun and, as Björk described it, ‘go Jimi Hendrix on biomedical science’.
D&C: How has your field changed? Would it be much easier for kids to break into the field now?
Drew Berry: Yeah, it’s changed hugely – your typical standard Mac is basically capable of anything you want it to do. When I started out, the software was extraordinarily expensive… I mean, I had a $50,000 computer in the early days and $20-30,000 worth of software, and it still took me a year to complete a project!
D&C: Do you think this has changed the way science works?
Drew Berry: Scientists have always used art – I mean, Galileo used the telescope to look at the moon and then painted watercolours of what it looked like. It’s more that it’s so accessible to everybody now. What I’m doing is really nothing new – it’s just that the technology enables us to look down at what’s happening at a molecular scale. Computer graphics now are so sophisticated. It’s mind-boggling.
Björk: “Drew is someone who has made scientifically correct animation of DNA… on this project, he has crossed the line beautifully into the artistic realm where he has animated gorgeous DNA but added some poetic licence... he truly has brought magic to our insides, and shows us that we don’t have to look far for the miracle of nature, it is right inside us!”
Text Chris Hatherill