Larger than Life: Communicating the Scale of Prehistoric CG Animals

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This week I created a proposal for my 10-week research block next quarter! I’m excited to finally delve into the Dreadnoughtus project (pending approval). I decided to limit the scope of this research to one topic: Scale. I still have (roughly 60) tons of research to do before I feel comfortable making any qualified statements about Dread’s anatomy, but scale in cinema is a topic I have a working knowledge of. I want my Dreadnoughtus reconstruction to elicit the same cinematic appeal as a good monster movie, but while implicitly educating the audience with thoroughly-researched biomechanics and ecologically plausible sauropod behavior.

Below I’ve copied over the abstract of my paper and linked to a PDF. Please feel free to read and give feedback – this research will go a long way in determining the look and feel of my Master’s thesis, so comments and opinions are welcome!

dreadnoughtus_scale

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Larger than Life – Communicating the Scale of Prehistoric CG Animals

Abstract — Since the earliest days of cinema, toying with the perception of scale has given filmmakers the ability to create spectacular creatures that could never exist in the physical world. With the flexibility of CG visual effects, this trend has persisted in the modern day, and blockbuster movies featuring enormous monsters are just as popular as ever. The trend of scaling creatures to impossible proportions for dramatic effect becomes problematic when filmmakers use this technique on non-fictional creatures. Prehistoric animals in particular have very few scientifically accurate appearances in popular culture, which means that films such as Jurassic Park play an enormous role in determining the public’s view of these animals. When filmmakers arbitrarily adjust the scale of dinosaurs to make them appear more fearsome, it can be detrimental to the widespread perception of prehistoric life on Earth.

For my Digital Media Master’s Thesis, I intend to create an accurate digital reconstruction of Dreadnoughtus schrani, a 77-million year old titanosaur with the largest calculable land mass of any terrestrial animal ever discovered. This animation will target a general audience with the intention of appearing in documentaries. I propose to spend the next quarter researching effective monster cinematography and creating an animatic that successfully conveys the massive scale of Dreadnoughtus while still maintaining scientifically accurate proportions. My goal is to prove that despite the freedom of scale in computer graphics, there are more effective ways to demonstrate massive size than simply making the subject larger than it should be.