Thesis Ideation: Meeting with Dr. Lacovara, 12/7

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Yesterday I had a meeting with Dr. Lacovara and Emma Fowler, during which we discussed our thoughts and hopes for the Dreadnoughtus reconstruction. We talked a bit about the audience, narrative, and purpose of the animation, and traded reference videos and shot ideas. I was excited to learn that Dr. Lacovara has been contacted by several different filmmakers looking to pitch a Dreadnoughtus documentary to The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the BBC, and David Attenborough. Any animation that I create for my thesis will be viewed by a wide audience, thanks to the fact that Dreadnoughtus is already an internationally recognized name connected to Drexel.

I still need to formulate a specific thesis statement and research question, but Dr. Lacovara raised some very interesting points during our meeting. He expressed frustration that sauropod dinosaurs are often interpreted as sluggish, dopey and bovine — easy prey for any passing predator.  He proposed that a creature as massive and powerful as Dreadnoughtus would likely be very intimidating to theropod predators, especially considering the fossil evidence indicating that Dread’s tail was used as a weapon. Due to the unusual completeness of the fossil holotype, we can estimate with relative certainty that Dreadnoughtus was 65 tons of muscle-bound long-neck.

Lacovara suggested I instead consider the African bull elephant, a herbivore that is nonetheless deadly and incredibly territorial. Hippos also fit into this category, and are notoriously dangerous. A cow may be funny, but an angry bull is fiercome. Giraffes are objectively absurd looking, but even they exhibit impressive territorial behavior.

Dinosaurs are often portrayed in the media for the spectacle and awe-factor of the human spectators, and this often accounts in biased depictions of animal behavior. The spotlight is on the Tyrannosaurus rex, or the Deinonychus, who is known by many only as the incorrectly-named Velociraptor from Jurassic Park. The new trailers for Jurassic World don’t even include scientific discoveries from the past ten years, instead perpetuating the fallacies of un-feathered raptors and Mosasaurs labeled as “sea dinosaurs.”This goes to show that science is often put on the back-burner for spectacle when it comes to paleontology in the main stream. Even series that have historically been excellent at portraying accurate reptiles, like Walking with Dinosaurs, fell victim to this trend with their newest movie, featuring talking-dinosaurs with horribly anachronistic dialogue.

With all that in mind, Dr. Lacovara presented his vision of an animation, and Emma and I built on it. These are very rough beats of a very ambitious project, but it’s a solid starting point for whittling down:

  • An Orcoraptor (~6ft theropod) is stalking through a wooded forest, hunting for some small prey.
  • It darts and catches a small mammal, and begins to chew it.
  • THUD. The earth shakes. The orcoraptor looks up from its prey.
  • The quaking grows closer. Turns to its side– and darts away as an enormous, clawed foot smashes into the ground where it stood.
  • CRASH!! A young Dreadnoughtus crashes out of the forest into a clearing. The orcoraptor runs over to the side.
  • Another Dreadnoughtus stomps forward. This one is older, and covered with moss, battle scars, and dense textures.
  • The two Dreadnoughtus fight each other, whipping with their massive tails.
    • I still need to do a lot more research into the choreography of their movements and how exactly a Dreadnoughtus fight would pan out — but I’d imagine it would involve a lot of tail-smacking.
    • During this scene, we use the orcoraptor as a perspective of scale, since it’s roughly 6 feet tall.
  • Eventually, one of the two wins, and a dreadnoughtus crashes into the ground. Still need to find a way to wrap it up.

This animation would be very ambitious, but I’ll hopefully be working with Emma Fowler, who has some animation experience. She helped articulate the 3D scans of Dread’s fossils and would be extremely helpful when creating the dinosaur reconstruction. I think with enough planning, this could be a very doable thesis project that could yield some very interesting results. I’m excited to move forward!