Friday 19 June 2015

Fossils on the small screen at Dinosaur Encounter, SeaCity.

As part of the exhibition at SeaCity I was commissioned to create videos to accompany two of the exhibits, the Sandown Academy crocodile which was worked on by Michela Johnson and the nodosaurid which is being worked on by myself and Sarah Strachan. These videos are intended as interpretive aids to help visits understand the fossils and hopefully allow people to see how the bones fit together and give an idea of what the animals looked like in real life.

Still from the croc video showing bone outline highlighted to
aid interpretation of the specimen.

The croc skull itself is still encased in the block of matrix it was found in. This means that from the outside only cross sections of bone can be seen and these can be difficult to interpret to the untrained eye (and often to the trained eye too). The skull has been scanned using the University of Southampton’s CT scanner and 3D data had been extracted. The croc skull video features footage of this CT data and concentrates on how this technique allows us obtain detailed data without even prepping the fossil. In fact, as CT resolution improves over the years it’s entirely possible we won’t need to prep some specimens that might prove difficult to reveal for any number of reasons including matrix that is too hard or too soft. The great thing about the CT data is it translates readily into visuals and thus lends itself to motion graphics; we can highlight certain elements and add labels to aid understanding. 

The crocodile video next to the specimen as part of the display.
Image: Liz Martin.

The Polacanthus video is more focussed on the bones themselves. As I’m working on this specimen for my PhD I already had enough data to attempt a reconstruction for the video, which is played on a screen situated above the display case containing the dinosaur. It has to be stressed this reconstruction was the first I have done of the dinosaur, and was produced primarily for the video and not publication. For the sequences showing the bones of the specimen I used the actual photogrammetry data and this also enabled me to make relatively accurate inferences about the length and height of the animal. I based the missing elements of the skeletal reconstruction on Polacanthus foxii and other nodosaurids. The final muscle and life reconstructions were far more speculative but give a relatively good idea of how the animal looked in life. The neutral pose was chosen deliberately to keep the orientation of the bones as easy to see on screen as possible; unfortunately time did not permit a more dynamic reconstruction, but watch this space . . . 

First reconstruction of the nodosaur currently being studied at
University of Southampton. Video still.


  1. Hey Stu, looking good! I obviously haven't seen the specimen in any detail, but one thing I discovered when working on multiple view skeletals for Edmontonia is that the lateral neck musculature was almost ridiculously wide at the base of the neck (to where the neck cross-section was significantly wider than tall). I can't say for sure whether it's wide-spread in ankylosaurs or not, but it might be something to look into on reconstructions.