Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jurassic Fight Club Part Three: If I were in charge...

A small Hypsilophodont and some poorly researched cycads or tree ferns or whatever. Time to do more work on paleobotany.

So in an imaginary world where I was in charge of dinosaur programming, what would Jurassic Fight Club be like?

The shows would start with the paleontologists. After selecting a fossil fight (and I'm amazed that they didn't use the battlin' Protoceratops and Velociraptor), two paleontologists or small teams of paleontologists would study the data and come up with a hypothetical scenario that incorporates the actual evidence and a brief animated segment would be produced illustrating each of those scenarios.

And the paleontologists would be consulted regarding the reconstructions of the animals as well -- each team would generate their animation from scratch, including all digital models.

The scientists and artists involved would explain the reasons why they made their choices -- and they'd also explain why some of their conclusions are more likely than others. No speculation would be presented as fact. (I'm looking at you, 'Dinosaur' George!)

Each group would then review and critique the other's effort and sections from this could be intercut with the interviews previously made so as to provide a sense of give-and-take. "This is what I was thinking." "This is why he was wrong/why I wish I'd thought of it."

After that the two two teams would collaborate on a third version that would hopefully be more rigorous and/or creative than the first two. The goal here would be to show something about the nature of science and speculation, to show that science is a collaborative and ongoing effort, and to highlight the extremely speculative nature of dinosaur reconstruction. It is not a science -- it's an art form that interacts with science and that's something that a lot of people don't understand.

Oh, and something I forgot to bring up earlier. What I've enjoyed the most about Jurassic Fight Club has been the animation... which has been very, very spotty. I have seen some of the best and worst dinosaur animation ever in this thing.

And the trouble is that the best stuff is good for visual reasons rather than scientific ones. They're animated using a look that duplicates the effects of filmed/taped footage which adds considerably to their realism -- but a lot of the time there are details that seem just plain wrong. Giving theropods big overlapping scales, for instance, or showing them literally bounding. There's also some inconsistancy in setting the animals into the scene -- sometimes their imposition is painfully obvious.

And there are moments when the animation is bad. The Camarasaurs from the episode set in the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry were embarassing.

But every so often something on the screen seems to be alive and the animation seems as if something real were being photographed. A lot of the reconstructions are quite pleasing to behold and that's enough to keep me watching.

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