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DigitalFossil2012: overview Day 1

The DigitalFossil2012 was, for me, a surprise in that a large proportion of the speakers attended the full 3 days of presentations by their colleagues. The whole event can easily be described as intimate. Everyone seemed actively interested in each other’s techniques and from the enthusiasm with which these specialists exchanged their ideas and experiences, I suspect there was an element of liberation in finding themselves in a high-caliber think-tank of colleagues exploring digital capture, analysis and archival / distribution methods. It was certainly infectious for me as an outsider, and I’m grateful that the talks were universally presented in very accessible terms – I (prosumer-type computer graphics animator) was able to follow along and even be immersed in the concepts being presented, despite them involving things like micrometer multi-phase synchrotron thingies and doodads. Indeed, a good amount of the talks were overviews of techniques, two or three of historical background. Here some personal highlights, with the attempt to link to further sites from the speakers (please let me know if there are better ones):

Carolin & Joachim T Haug

Tickling incredible detail out of spineless beasties using an array of high and low tech approaches, despite ridiculous scale & material issues. I noted autoflourescence, focal sharpness stacks, photography using cross-polarized multiple light sources (among others) as well as scanned, computed and hand-modeled meshes of very interesting invertebrates. The more I explore their work, the more I encounter familiar favorites. Illustrators / animators, note the recurring theme of brilliant scientists using digital toolsets to create stunning imagery. Gulp.

Peter Falkingham, Stuart Pond, Neffra Matthews & Brent Breithaupt

The individual talks about various (and partially conflicting) approaches to photogrammetry were great. Peter Falkingham, champion of sympethetic (red: author) garage tinkling approaches, demonstrated a Kinect scanner, alternative Asus Xtion & software such as VisualSFM. Stauaart Pond talked about collecting data in the field and the advances made in speedily checking and sharing data with colleagues (as measured in minutes). Brent Breithaupt analyzed results of photgrammetry with LIDAR scanning: one is as good as the other, with minor bias for things like hardedge detection. I particularly enjoyed Neffra Matthews historical overview, which opened my eyes a good deal – including the work of Berlin architect Albrecht Meydenbauer as author of the term and process of photogrammetry. Then the first applications to documentation of track sites and fossils. Fantastic!
It got better though – because all 4 contributed to a hands-on workshop in photogrammetry. Don’t be surprised if a lot of  Chirotherium tracks start popping up soon. It was great to witness such experienced and opinionated specialists accepting the potential validity of partially contradictory approaches. To sum it up: make sure you get overlap in crisp photos (66%), no matter whether you shot from the hip machine-gun style or in deliberate, planned passes. Get an overview photo so that the software can place details. Don’t move your scale bars from photo to photo. If shooting through glass, place the lense right on the glass. Peter had a great metaphor of mentally imagining the scene, but I’ve misplaced my note on it.

Matteo Belvedere

More of a personal note, as I’m a closet fan of all things Carboniferous. Photogrammetry. Cool stuff!

David Marty

Tragicomic in one sense, as the exploration of these massive track sets are being financed by the same Autobahn construction that shall consume them. Simultaneous rejoice at what’s being done with digital collection methods and dejection at the thought that the actual fossils are then destroyed.

Times up for today, the other talks were great too. I missed the later ones because of the workshop. Feel free to add notes or corrections in the notes. This is all kind of rushed…

DigitalFossil2012; was it worth it?


Here the left-out Vivian and Peter ponder whether Heinrich has properly earned his ceremonial closing beer. Conclusion? He deserves kegs!

A fantastic 3-day event, with open debate about the goals and methods of digital toolsets – sometimes in contradiction to one another, always in a constructive spirit and sometimes mind-opening. More in the coming days…