Thesis Ideation: Approaching Reconstructions

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"Futalognkosaurus" reconstruction by Scott Hartman, http://skeletaldrawings.com

“Futalognkosaurus” reconstruction by Scott Hartman, http://skeletaldrawings.com

If I do end up tackling a Dreadnoughtus reconstruction for my thesis, there are many different factors of both production and research that I’ll have to consider.

I’m lucky that Dr. Lacovara is giving me a tentative greenlight to work with Dreadnoughtus, because the size and completeness of this specimen is all but unparalleled.  If I ever want to do an impressive paleoart project, it would be with Dread. Its fossils have already been scanned (in part by myself, in part by other students), which means that I already have a lot of data to work with when trying to construct a physically plausible skeletal and muscle system. Hopefully this “head start” will circumvent any complications with the scope of this project. Other paleo art projects have been done before by DIGM MS students, but none of the previous reconstructions come close to the size of Dreadnoughtus.

In addition to the scan data, Kristyn Voegle of the Paleontology department is doing some very impressive biomechanics research with Dreadnoughtus. She has already identified the muscle attachment points on its skeleton, and although her research will most likely be unpublished by the time I’m working on my thesis she has agreed to let me use her data for the reconstruction. This will be useful when it comes time for me to figure out a solution for muscles.

Zeroing in on the scope of this project will prove to be another challenge. I would love to reconstruct the entire dinosaur, and I believe that I will be able to do so, especially with Emma Fowler’s help.  I’m very comfortable with my skills in animation and photorealistic rendering, but considering the importance of Dreadnoughtus I’d like to work with someone in the lab to prevent any inaccuracies with my work. Conversely, Emma has been closely working with Dread for years and has also taken several animation classes, but she would likely benefit from my experience in advanced computer graphics techniques. Ideally we will come up with different research goals and theses, but since she is an undergraduate I don’t foresee many problems arising from our collaboration. There’s more than enough dinosaur to go around (about 65 tons of it!).

Some of the more distinctive characteristics of Dreadnoughtus to consider:

  • Dreadnoughtus had a “weaponized tail,” evidenced by the thick, paddle-like shape of its caudal chevrons. This would have allowed for an insane amount of muscle attachment points, driving its tail swing with unparalleled force.  Weaponized dino tail sounds awesome.
  • Dreadnoughtus died in a flooding incident when two rivers simultaneously converged, forming a quicksand-like terrain that buried it alive. Some Creationist groups are using this event as evidence of Noah’s “Great Flood,” when in actuality it was an ordinary natural disaster. Perhaps something to explore?
  • If I plan on modeling the entirety of Dreadnoughtus’s skeleton, I will likely have to reference other closely-related animals, due to some incomplete parts of the skeleton. Futalognkosaurus might be a good starting point (since the cervical series is partially articulated)
  • Jennifer Hall, a paleoartist at Carnegie, created a static Dreadnoughtus reconstruction which will serve as a huge source of inspiration. Details that I love: battle scars, birds and moss on its back, overall terrain, peg teeth.

Overall, there’s a lot to think about. I’m probably jumping way ahead of myself… but isn’t that what I do best? I’ll post again after I meet with Dr. Lacovara!