Here at SIMETRI, we talk a lot about the relationship between science and art. Sure, we will gladly point out the technical expertise of our diverse team of scientists and engineers, but we always like to frame those facts using the concept of artistry. We firmly believe that an artistic perspective is one of the defining factors in why our products exceed the competition in realism and effectiveness.
We know, as do our clients and customers, that our unique process produces the highest quality results. What most of you may not be aware of is exactly how this all works. How do we use art on a day-to-day basis to transcend the limitations of the Medical Simulation industry and break new scientific ground?
Today, we will answer this question and many more. To help us illustrate our point, we are going to gain some insight from SIMETRI’s special effects wizard and all-around-great guy, Barry Anderson. While Barry is always a source of interesting anecdotes, his career journey perfectly represents the notion that life-saving scientific achievements often come from unexpected places.
What does art really have to do with science?
This is a big question, and you’ll get a pretty wide range of answers depending on who you ask. Show a mathematician the work of a celebrated painter known for his imagination, and the first thing they notice might be his use of the Golden Ratio. Ask an artist about DNA, and you may find them musing on the elegant symmetry of the double helix. And don’t get either one of them started on fractals…
What does any of this have to do with SIMETRI? Why is having an artist on staff important for something as clinical as a Humeral Head IO Trainer? Why do we think about aesthetics when manufacturing a Fasciotomy Part Task Trainer?
At SIMETRI, there isn’t much of a separation between art and science. One leads directly to the other, and vice-versa. This isn’t just our experience talking—history agrees with us. The story of humanity’s past has provided countless examples to prove the interconnection of these two concepts. One could argue that this union of facts and forms is what the human experience is really all about.
For the sake of this article, let’s just look at just one Renaissance-era example that you are probably familiar with. It is famous the world over for its blending of science and art, and it also has the benefit of directly relating to our favorite subject: the human body.
You don’t have to be an art historian to have seen Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (pictured above, next to our own Barry Anderson). Without any other context, it is clear to most just by looking at it that the famous piece is a study of human proportions. We don’t have the space here to explain all of da Vinci’s contributions to art and science throughout his own lifetime, but the story behind this famous work begins over 1,500 years before Leonardo took his first breath .
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was born into the Roman Republic and died a citizen of the Roman Empire. In the time between, he made his mark on Roman society (and all of western civilization to follow) in a monumental fashion. Vitruvius was a soldier, an architect, a military engineer, a civil engineer and, luckily for us, an author. Thanks to his writings, we know where many of the fundamental concepts of architecture and proportion that we use today found their origins. One such idea, the perfect proportions for the human figure, would inspire one of the most famous works of art of all time.
A consummate engineer, Vitruvius looked at everything through the lens of mathematics and proportion. This perspective influenced his observations on just about everything; architecture, civil planning, military machinery, materials science, and quite a bit more. His keen mind couldn’t help but bring that same outlook to the natural world, and so he detailed his ideas for the perfect geometric ratio of the human form in one of the volumes of his De Architectura.
Da Vinci wasn’t the only artist to be inspired by Vitruvius, but remains to this day the most famous. No slouch on the science front himself, Leonardo used Vitruvius’s descriptions in an attempt to solve the centuries-spanning geometric problem of how to square a circle. He used his own interpretations of Vitruvius’s ideal human figure to better reconcile mathematics, the philosophy of his time, and the art of the natural world. The Renaissance legend titled his piece in homage to the Roman engineer, but the famous work of art that we all recognized today is just as much Leonardo da Vinci’s science as it is Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s.
So, here we have a work of timeless aesthetic relevance, created using scientific observations and applications of mathematics separated from each other by over 1,500 years. An engineer inspires an artist, the artist pushes forward with new scientific observations, and their work inspires countless others to reinterpret how we look at the human body.
Now, imagine if they were in the same room. Imagine if they were side by side, working together on a daily basis, and their end goal was saving as many lives as possible.
Why art is critical for Medical Training & Simulation.
While we don’t currently have any Renaissance painters or ancient Roman engineers on staff, we do our best to hire their modern equivalents. We follow in the footsteps of history’s great innovators by using every tool and perspective at our disposal to solve complex modern problems. We like to think that if Leonardo and Vitruvius were both around today, they would marvel at the calculated beauty and pragmatic function to be found in the electronic torso of our Humeral Head Intraosseous Part Task Trainers.
Sometimes a solution requires a scientific mind, sometimes it needs an artistic eye—usually it’s both. SIMETRI is built upon the foundation of brilliant artists and scientists supporting, inspiring, and elevating each other so that the products we create are as impressive as they are functional.
Make no mistake—in this industry, art is critical to functionality.
The goals of medical training and simulation are pretty clear cut: Replicate a medical emergency as accurately as possible when there isn’t a life on the line, so that you are prepared to rapidly diagnose and treat your patient when there is. The level of preparedness is directly dependent upon how accurate the simulation is. When we’re talking about emergency medical training, accuracy often means how lifelike the training manikin or prosthetic body part is.
There are a number of ways that our products stand out among our competitors, but possibly the most important is just how realistic they look and feel. We blur the line between reality and simulation more and more with each new training product we develop. This attention to detail matters.
Imagine for a moment that you are administering medical treatment in an emergency situation. Really think about it. Maybe you are at the tail end of an exhausting shift in an overflowing E.R., or maybe you are out on a city street working the night shift as a local firefighter or paramedic. You might be far away from home, treating groups of victims at the site of a major disaster. You could, like so many of our clients, be treating casualties in an active combat situation.
Whatever situation you envision, one thing remains true: You won’t be treating your patient in a void. You will be under intense environmental pressure, the kind most people outside of your field will never understand. You will be surrounded by unpredictable external distractions, you may even be in active danger, and yet you will be expected to shut everything out, focus on the patient in front of you and complete the task at hand. This level of pressure is precisely what training and simulation is for.
The last thing you want to think when diagnosing your patient is, “I have no idea what I’m looking at!” The last thing you want running through your mind when treating them is, “This feels nothing like the hunk of plastic I trained on!”
An emergency situation is already filled with so many variables that cannot be foreseen or controlled, it’s critical to have realistic expectations and experience. This is achieved with training models that mimic the human body as much as science and technology allow. Redefining the limitations of modern science has given us the freedom to not only craft one-of-a-kind simulation products, but to do so using proprietary materials designed exclusively to replicate the most important elements of the flesh and tissue they represent. It’s imperative to work with products that feel and function just like the real thing—because one day soon, it will be the real thing.
Just like the Vitruvian Man, our replication of the human anatomy relies on the harmonious collaboration of an engineer’s analytical mind and an artist’s scrutinizing eye. Creating a lifelike simulation isn’t just about analyzing and applying data. To truly capture the likeness of something you need to not only understand how it works, but why it works on a sensory level.
A medical expert can tell you the purpose of skin, but it takes an artist to see the subtle shifts in color tones or the tactile complexity of its texture. The medical professional knows how synthetic skin needs to behave in a training procedure, the artist knows how it needs to look and feel. To create a near-indistinguishable replica of human skin from scratch? For that you’d need them working together, along with a team of engineers and state-of-the-art laboratory. For that, you would need SIMETRI.
Enter Barry Anderson — SIMETRI’s Director of Special Effects Engineering
If you had to choose one person who best illustrates what can be accomplished when art and science meet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Barry Anderson, SIMETRI’s Director of Special Effects Engineering. Of course, there are a multitude of important lessons to be learned from Barry and his storied career, including the fact that life-saving innovations can come from the most unexpected origins.
Barry speaks with a humble, good-humoured tone that tends to set you at ease. The resulting side effect of his affable demeanor is that he may be more than a few sentences into a personal anecdote before you realize that you are listening to the most interesting story you’ll hear this month. His career has been packed with professional twists and artistic turns, and he has approached each new adventure with an abundance of passion and a truly unique perspective. Each experience has left its mark, culminating in a wealth of insight and artistic resourcefulness.
He is one of those rare people in this world that, after speaking with him for awhile, you might find yourself wishing you had taken his career path instead—you just didn’t know it existed.
Before it was applied to helping medical professionals save lives, Barry’s keen mind and artistic talents influenced an assortment of other arenas. Coming from a background in commercial illustration, his special effects career began in the film industry. His horror genre street cred was quickly solidified with his work on George Romero’s Day of the Dead back in 1985, and he’s also credited for work on As Night Falls (2010), Hairspray (2007), Jeepers Creepers (2001), and a slew of other films.
He began adding his passion for scientific realism into his resume with televised documentary work, such as National Geographic’s The Mummy Road Show and PBS’s long-running Secrets of the Dead. Barry spent 17 years with Ripley Entertainment, Inc., serving as Art Director for a company whose brand heavily relies on aesthetic originality and capturing an audience’s attention.
Throughout all of this, he has continued to broaden his talents as an artist and focused his time and energy toward teaching the next generation of makeup and effects professionals.
We sat down with Barry for a bit to find out how this unique background led to his current role at SIMETRI, what place special effects and art have in the Medical Simulation universe, and what personal and professional projects he takes the most pride in.
How does a special effects artist wind up in medical training/simulation?
I began getting involved in filmwork back in the 1980s, when I moved to South Florida and studied film makeup. Things were kind of booming at that time and I got involved with a lot of film projects. Of course, I was very young, and it was a lot of fun, but I came to realize that as the industry was slowing down a bit it was not something that I was going to be able to pursue full time. Several of the movies I worked on amassed a cult following. It’s been an amazing ride.
I had always had an interest in forensics and medical science, anthropology, archaeology, that type of thing. I met some mummy experts, and I just happened to be making some really detailed fake mummies at the time. They had a TV show for National Geographic, and they asked me if I was for hire. I got to travel with these scientists, I travelled to Peru and studied real mummies with these guys. It was an incredible opportunity.
So I got involved with a number of documentaries, recreating crime scenes, working with medical examiners and the police department. I really enjoyed being around these professionals with different specialties, like blood spatter, that sort of thing. I started to steer my career away from B-movies and into television documentaries, which eventually led to using my experience for training purposes. That’s how it led me to working with the military and working with SIMETRI.
The opportunity to keep learning from all of these professionals was something that struck me of great interest, so I decided to start focusing my career in that direction.
What exactly does SIMETRI’s Director of Special Effects Engineering do?
Basically I’ve taken the special effects makeup techniques of Hollywood and use them in the medical field for training. For a long time the processes in the medical simulation field were kind of antiquated compared to what was happening in Hollywood. Ironically, a lot of the stuff that Hollywood was using started off in medical, with facial prosthetic and amputation prosthetics. When it came to moulage work the medical simulation industry was still using a lot of very old-school techniques and materials, so I wanted to use some of the more state-of-the-art stuff.
So, that’s what I began doing: taking what I learned from the past, doing prosthetics and sculpting injuries, creating things that could be glued onto an actor/patient for simulation. We started off in that direction, but as SIMETRI has been growing we’ve gotten new, complex projects through contracts with the military. We began developing and designing Task-Trainers.
My background originally was commercial art and illustration, so the design aspects start out as just ideas. An idea will come to us, or we’ll be asked specifically to try to solve a problem with a product that doesn’t exist yet. I like to think out of the box a bit, just to come up with ideas, and do my designs on paper. We have talented people here who can take those ideas and digitize them, but it all has to start with the idea. Part of what I do is pitch ideas, figure out which products might work material-wise for each project, and create a plan. Designing prototypes, things that are innovative and have not been done yet, trying to create realistic injuries and wounds that can be used for civilian or military medical use.
How do you view the relationship between the art of what you do and the science behind it?
It’s a bit funny to me. Having to merge those worlds together can be tricky at times. I’m thinking, “It’s gotta look like a body, it needs to feel like a body…” Then the engineers say, “Well, we’ve gotta fit all of this technical stuff into a really small space.”
When I see what other people do here I realize that I cannot do what they do and they cannot do what I do, but together what we can do is amazing.
One of the things about prototyping is that there is an element of discovery. You can plan out things on paper all you like, but you don’t know until you actually go through the results. Going from the beginning of an idea to something that’s a finished commercial product, maybe something that is put into the hands of the government or the military, that process may involve frustration—but there is also a reward.
You get to see something that started off as a little pencil sketch start to develop into something new. People come in with innovative ideas and say, “Hey, we can make this part on the 3-D printer, and fit this other part into here…” It’s a real team effort. There are times when I just stop and think, “Wow, I can’t believe this is what I do for a living!”
Working with engineers, doctors, combat medics—it’s quite a turnaround from working on horror movies or comedies. I truly enjoy the collaboration we have with so many talented people.
How has working with SIMETRI improved your special effects craft?
I think Materials Science would be one of those areas. We are always pushing the envelope a little bit, trying new things. So, mixing up different materials, testing them, adding things to alter the normal feel of it. Trying to create realistic fat tissue that feels like fat tissue.
They have had me around cadavers before. I prefer the rubber materials to being in the cadaver lab, but it’s important that we try to simulate realism. I have to look at disease. I have to look at injuries. It’s not a part of the job that’s enjoyable, but it is important to understand the procedure and get feedback from medical professionals. How does it feel when they cut into something? How does something peel back?
I love the experimentation of mixing up some different products, sandwiching them together with some other materials, cutting into them, then getting feedback from medical professionals.
In the Medical Simulation industry’s past, a lot of things sort of looked like bad Halloween products. We try and focus on getting realistic 3-dimensional injuries, internal pigmentation, bruising, diseases. When a doctor tells us that it looks more accurate than anything they have seen before, you know that you’re on the right track.
Things also have to be practical. We have to be able to easily repeat the process, and I really enjoy creating those product lines.
What are a few of the SIMETRI creations you are most proud of?
SIMETRI sent me out a couple of times to do Makeup effects or Moulage work for different events, disaster drills, competitions, ect. You are out there in the field, and I’m a trained professional but a lot of times you’ll have mass casualty training where people who don’t have training in makeup effects are out there trying to do this stuff.
We developed a line of Trauma Tattoo products that are fast, and make it really easy to apply bruises or cuts or abrasions. They are something anyone can use. I used my illustration background to paint them and we transferred them to temporary tattoos.
It took a little time for people to catch onto it, but they eventually saw that these things really are practical and look great, so we’ve been steadily getting orders coming in. Sometimes the simplest ideas can have great results. When I was young you could get a temporary tattoo from a Crackerjack box. Now medical professionals are telling us that ours have been a godsend for them.
When we started out, I looked at some of the prosthetics on the market and they looked like, once again, bad Halloween products. We made new prosthetics of different variations of burns and injuries. The effort of the colorization and everything that went into it, y’know, we still get orders for those and that’s something we developed when we first opened the doors at SIMETRI.
Some of the more challenging projects are real group efforts, and I’m just one of the spokes in the wheel. We have been doing a Fasciotomy trainer, and I think everyone here has had their hands on it at some point or another as it goes through different stages. I think it’s a real feather in the cap for SIMETRI as a whole that we developed so many innovative ideas for it. It’s a complicated concept. You got so many different layers to it: fat layer, skin layer, fascia.
There are so many other projects, and they have all been challenging and rewarding.
What role do the trainees and patients play in your outlook?
When we are interacting with medical students or combat medics, that brings it all home to you. We go to the local fire departments and work with them, get their feedback on things.
I love getting the chance to work with the doctors when SIMETRI sends me out to emergency medicine competitions. It really is interesting to watch the medical professionals working on a Part Task Trainer. They will ask me to help them create a disease or injury, and they have to assess or treat the patient. We are thinking about this the whole time we are developing the product, but it doesn’t hit home until you are interacting with medical professionals who are going to take this training out into the real world and use it on a live person. Then you go, “Wow, this will hopefully save some lives!”
It is important to try to mimic reality as much as we can with artificial parts. Otherwise, medical students learn from cadavers. But that’s not a very practical thing, especially when people are out in the field with the military. They aren’t in a controlled environment a lot of times; they are in a combat situation and they need to save a life immediately.
Medical simulation is important, and I’ve had the opportunity to see that firsthand. During one medical training exercise I was sent out to, the doctor asked me to simulate an ebola patient. I could see one group of emergency workers expose themselves to the disease, and the next group attempt to diagnose them. Just a matter of weeks later, ebola did make it to the shores of America.
It is so crucial for people to use this training and these simulation drills to be prepared, and it really works. I know that we are doing something important, and that makes me feel good.
As an artist, have you completed any interesting personal projects lately?
I got the chance to do portrait sculptures for a couple. Their story is tragic but it’s important that it is remembered.
The couple—Harry and Harriette Moore—were murdered in Mims, Florida in the 1960s by the Ku Klux Klan on Christmas day. This past year, I sculpted their portraits from some old photographs, and they were made into bronze. That was an interesting project because it had real significance and meaning to it. I feel really good about that.
I try to pursue projects on my own personal time. Now I’m at an age where I’d like to do things that have some significance. What that is, who knows?
I think the main thing is trying to enjoy what you are doing.
I made an artistic bucket list, and on that list was “build a life-sized sasquatch.” Then, I get a phone call and sure enough, I get an opportunity to do it. Of course, once I said yes, I was like, “Oh my god! How am I supposed to make a life-sized, 8-foot-tall sasquatch?”
I said to Angela[SIMETRI CEO Angela Alban], “So, I’m gonna be making a sasquatch. I’ll try not to have that interfere with things, but there might be a couple times where I have to store the sasquatch here. Maybe we could stick him in a corner and no one will notice?”
I had to think it out, and luckily I pulled it off and it ended up in a museum. Write things down—short-term goals, long-term goals—if you visualize it, sometimes you can make it happen.
Barry is just one of the creative and capable minds that make up the SIMETRI team.
To see how his special effects skills bring Medical Simulation technology soaring to new heights, shop our products our now!