Animation & Inspiration

VIZBI Plus Animations Get the Details Right

The animation’s lead character is APP (amyloid precursor protein, shown in yellow/orange), which resides in the membrane of brain cells (fig. 1).  To periodically recycle and replace the membrane and its embedded proteins, leggy proteins called clathrins (in blue) assemble into a lattice on the inside of the membrane (fig. 2), chunking off a vesicle with APP proteins on the inside (fig. 3).  During recycling, several enzymes clip APP into three pieces, including a small stub (orange) that, in Alzheimer’s disease, somehow escapes recycling and accumulates outside the cell.  In high concentrations, these bits can glom together to form long fibers, which clump together in masses called plaques (fig. 4).The Australian government is betting that animations can help promote science and science literacy.  As part of VIZBI (Visualizing Biological Data) Plus, they funded three biomedical animators, including Chris Hammang, Garvan Medical Research Institute, Sydney, Australia, to each create two educational animations. The resulting films (posted at ( tell great stories, are visually compelling, and also get the details right.


That’s the tough part, says Hammang. He spent six months preparing the four-minute animation called Alzheimer’s Enigma while he worked at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization). He read scientific literature and talked to researchers in order to hone in on a consensus view of how plaques form in Alzheimer’s disease patients’ brains. He also hunted down the molecules’ component parts in the Aquaria database and then assembled them using ePMV, embedded Python molecular viewer. Finally, he used the 3-D animation software called Blender to create the film.


In the resulting animation, molecules wriggle like little critters, and enzymes snip other proteins with a light crunching sound—qualities that these still images cannot convey. (Hint: Watch the video!)

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