david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff

Cephalopod Love

Here’s some wicked, eight-legged love with a great message, all wrapped up in a fantastic animation. Enjoy, and pass it along (but only if the signs say so).

Dr. Sidor’s Triceratops – crowdfunding

Add crowd-funding to the many ways to participate in science, thanks to Microryza. Am curious what the scientists think about this venture, which is basically kickstarter for science funding. I’m a bit skeptical if the public will fund things that they don’t understand, but I think this could be interesting as a model for outreach projects. And for filling holes in projects like… excavating a Triceratops? Adopt a dinosaur, like you can adopt zoo animals?

Via gizmag.

walk, don’t run…


and here the same walk at 1/4 regular speed:

Updated work on the study Biomechanics of locomotion in Asian elephants by Genin, Willems, Cavagna, Lair & Heglund. I’m getting a better grip on the staggered footfall patterns and the forces which are driving them forward, visible in body lunges particularly in the treadmill versions.

Another paper of direct relevance is The movements of limb segments and joints during locomotion in African and Asian elephants by Ren, Butler, Miller, Paxton, Schwerda, Fischer and Hutchinson. That has much more detail on each individual joint.

Mike Keesey speaks dinosaurish

Mike Keesey posted (facebook) this very cool people-speak translation as an experiment in communicating specific ideas “to laypeople without using words like Aviremiges and Ornithothoraces”.

Triceratops is a stem-bird but not a birdfoot. Carnotaurus is a birdfoot but not a birdfeather. Compsognathus is a birdfeather but not a birdwing. Velociraptor is a birdwing but not a birdflier. Confuciusornis is a birdflier but not a birdbody. Enantiornis is a birdbody but not a birdtail. Ichthyornis is a birdtail but not (quite) a bird.

Pete Buchholz chimed in:

The new birds are split into the beyond birds and the crown birds. The beyond birds are made up of dove forms and swift forms. Flamingos and grebes are admirable birds and are within the pigeon forms. The crown birds are made up of the-big-pelican-group and a clade of plover shapes and the-big-sparrow-group…..​..


Terminology isn’t as conform as could be, so here a quick overview.


All of these images are lit with one distant light. The first is out-of-the-box black shadows. The second has ambient activated, with fills in light everywhere, like having a layer of white overlaying your image, pulling up the blacks but leaving the white as is. Note that these both cause very flat shadows, even on the cylindrical form of the legs, so that the volume is lost.
The bottom image is still one distant light, but now the light is bouncing one time off of the floor, off of the dinosaur itself, filling in those shadows. Way overexposed, because there’s a lot more light in the scene. Twice as much, to be exact, because the rays aren’t dying right away when the hit a surface, they’re bouncing off until they hit the second surface. Then they die. Note the gradation in the shadow and the way that the shadow bunches up in areas where surfaces are close up to each other. This is occlusion. Light doesn’t make it into nooks and cranny as often as it does onto wide open surfaces.


Here I’ve changed the color of my surface to grey and dropped the diffuse value to 80% to get more range in those values. Global illumination techniques often require very different surface shading. As you can see in the lower two images, the background – the only thing that’s been altered – also affect the lighting. Indeed, all light sources have a prominent effect, luminous surfaces as well as lights. And the more specular/reflection an item has, the more light intensity will be passed on.

Skeletal Reconstructions; discussion

Scott Hartman has launched a valuable discussion about skeletal reconstructions, to which this post is more or less an illustrated comment. So – if you haven’t already – you should check out his blog, and particularly the last posts about skeletal poses, reposes and style (parts one and two).


First off, there’s the discussion of what might be a standardized pose to replace the one claimed by Greg Paul. Above I’ve taken Scott’s Majungasaurus  and fit him to the implausible running pose. (Sorry Scott.) Everyone agrees that that’s not good. But if other theropods are shown in the extreme locomotion gait while  Majungasaurus alone is left to walk, that is information. namely, it communicates that Majungasaurus couldn’t run, ie. the walk gait was its extreme. I won’t get hung up on this, but assuming the goal of a skeletal reconstruction is to communicate maximum information, establishing an across-the-board walk pose seems to weaken this objective.

What IS the goal?

Scott’s posts are already leading up to this conclusion, but I’ll try to state it plainly. Skeletals should fulfill their function, and as there are numerous functions for them, there should be numerous ways of doing them. The exploded view seems ideal for those presenting an analysis of the bones themselves, while a posed reconstruction would better suit someone analysing biomechanical features. Problems occur when the presentation seemingly lays claim to information that isn’t in the model, so its great to see Scott point to this so directly. Really good stuff. It feels like those 3D skeletals on low-budget TV shows… they look like bones that have just been dug up and prettied. But they’re not at all like the bones that specialists know they should. Result: disconnection.

What is my goal?

I’ve been exploring the creation of just such 3D skeletals and have a couple of observations to contribute from the point of view of a 3D animator not all too far removed (approximately 1 1/2 years) from those clueless artists from the above-mentioned TV shows that you scientists, justifiably, criticize.

I want to create interactive, 3D skeletal/life reconstructions that are interlinked to biota profiles and phylogenetic timelines so that important concepts like deep time, evolutionary relationships and ecosystems are communicated passively, like a background tapestry while people satiate their fascination for Trex. Or Kentrosaurus.

Eye candy: here’s an Archeopteryx reconstruction as a walk-cycle animation consulted by Scott himself. It blends from stylized life-reconstruction to stylized skeletal. Or more exactly, an abstracted skeletal. I’m not trying to make something that looks like bone or stone, but rather something that conveys those features that makes these bones identifiable as belonging to Archeopteryx. I know that many viewers will find it odd, but I like the fact that it looks sculptural and not at all like bone. The look of bone is easy to achieve, and uninformed viewers immediately assume it to be bone, which lends it a superficial authority. Ah, that’s a bone! It must be the bone.

In this specific context of continuously progressing scientific results, it must be a good thing to communicate that this creature must have been so – not that it was so.

The thing is, I look at the scraps and shards that capable scientists puzzle together into what most people think is directly dug up out of the ground and I recognize next to nothing. I look at interspecies diversity and am grateful that I’m not the one determining where the line between species is to be drawn. The more I learn the more I understand how much interpretation is involved in each step along the way, from lump in the ground to a bone reconstruction, a skeletal reconstruction, a life reconstruction.

Instead of being put off by this, I find myself fascinated by it, and I want other people to be fascinated by it too. That requires an understanding of the scientific process… ie. an awareness that there are many interpretive steps involved in that visual.


In the Archeopteryx animation, the spine is a volume study without individual vertebrae. In this sketch (blatantly copying – once again – Scott’s lead) I’ve depicted Silesaurus as a sketch. It’s interesting to see how reactions vary and, unfortunately, I fear that it would be taken less seriously. The scientist interested in exact numeric counts of caudal vertebrae will be disappointed, of course, but to the interested layman, it otherwise conveys a large portion of the same information correctly. Just – it looks unfinished. It surrenders authority for the author’s signature, together with the implied fallibility that goes along with having been authored. Fallibility is an assumption that leads to independent confirmation of results… a key part of the scientific process?

Scott’s discussion has prompted me to more precisely wonder what style would best suit a skeletal reconstruction for popular, interactive publications.

Red Sea part 4

love filter

cucumber yum

eagle family


fish curtain

Red Sea part 3


octopus lair

eagle ray

daily lionfish

Red Sea part 2



coral bouquet

coral home


RedSea part1

blue clam

coral kiss

jellyfish feast

pink moray

inmate fish

Being immersed in nature can’t be compressed into pixels, yet I humbly tried to capture the experience anyway. Here (above and in the coming days) are tiny, small and large inhabitants that more or less graciously put up with my paddling about in their space.