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Life’s symphony: a fusion of art and science to display the beauty of development

Posted by , on 26 July 2016

Mark Hintze and Diana Gradinaru introduce their collaborative animation about the wonders of developmental biology.  

How are you built?  How do you become the shape and form that you are? How are your arms the same length?  These questions and many others lead me to study for a PhD in developmental biology. Yet, during my PhD I was often explaining the fundamental ideas about developmental biology to my parents and friends. Having a huge passion for the wonder of the developing embryo, I thought it would be great if this science was more accessible to everyone.

YouTube videos from channels including minutephysics, veritasium and smarter every day do an amazing job of explaining complex phenomenon in an easy and fun format.  I thought a similar format would be a great way to showcase developmental biology and how it attempts to answer the question of how are you formed.

Kings College London runs a scheme providing a grant for a cultural collaboration with an artist to fuse science and art. I applied to this scheme and won a small grant to collaborate with an artist to create an animated video. This scheme put me in collaboration with the brilliant artist and animator Diana Gradinaru. Her amazing creativity helped push the idea from my head into the wonderful animation that you see in the video. Below the video, she tells us how she approached and applied the creative process to animating Life’s Symphony. MH


I remember being a pupil at school loving biology. We had the most wonderful collection of hand-painted large-size illustrations of plants and animals (all handsomely dissected on the page). This was in 90s post-communist Romania when illustration was a craft honed by many working-class men and women trying to do their bit for schools. There was so much clarity in the way these artists had represented the simplified world of science for the benefit of our young minds, but they equally reminded me of Victorian studies I had stumbled upon in art history books.

There was a certain effectiveness to the interactivity between the teacher coming to the front of the class explaining these wonders to us; using these studies, the microscope and the ability to render a perfect depiction of the digestive system on the black board.

I was thrilled when Mark proposed a collaboration revolving around his practice. Animation lends itself effectively to science. It is a time-based medium which can implement a range of intriguing drawing styles and can represent abstract concepts with humour and panache. It can draw the viewer in by alternating the delivery of information with moments of ease and laughter.  As I advanced through the ranks at school, the science books we had become more and more rigid and bare. If only science was rendered with more wit and charm, then people would feel less daunted by it and understand that science, far from being an enclosed subject with a clear-cut trajectory, is actually a bewildering realm, constantly evolving and permeating all aspects of our life.

The animation illustrates a journey through developmental biology. Showcasing how species have evolved to use many of the same genes in different ways and at different times to create the shapes and patterns we see in the world before us. We hope that it displays how the formation of the embryo and adult form is much like a symphony. Where many parts must play together at the right moments to create a concordance and harmony allowing development to occur. DG


Diana is an animator and illustrator at the Royal College of Art.


Mark is a postdoc in the Department of Craniofacial Development & Stem Cell Biology in King’s College London


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Categories: Education, Outreach, Science Art, Video

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