Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries

Natural History, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries


Now through January 8, 2006

This groundbreaking exhibition presents the most up-to-date look at how scientists are reinterpreting many of the most persistent and puzzling mysteries of the dinosaurs: what they looked like, how they behaved, and how they moved, as well as the complex and hotly debated theories of why-or even whether-they became extinct.

T. REX WALKS IN PLACE

According to the latest research, Tyrannosaurus rex was not the speed demon depicted in Jurassic Park, and in fact, probably didn't run at all in pursuit of its prey-it walked. So how did this stalker walk? Just like the robotic sixfoot-long scale model of a T. rex skeleton in the exhibition Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries at the American Museum of Natural History.

Based on a fossil in the Museum's collection, the polyurethane model illustrates the walk cycle of these carnivorous beasts. Hall Train Studios in Toronto combined mechanical design with state-of-the-art animation expertise to create the model for the exhibition. A single motor powers a dense array of aluminum and plastic gears, cams, and levers that move vertical supporting rods up, down, and sideways in research-dictated paths. The overall effect is a marvel of paleontological art-the most scientifically accurate model ever built of a dinosaur walking.

The biggest hurdle was re-creating the movement of the animal's feet. A total of 50 mechanical parts were required in each of the animal's littlest toes to make them flex in the subtle, curling pattern scientists have described. From there, the mechanics of the knees (just six gears needed to produce the roll/glide needed here), pelvis, head, and tail movements fell into place more easily.

"Making this model was the most challenging project of my life because it required coaxing machine parts into conveying movements that are organic and fluid," said Hall Train, a designer and animator who specializes in natural history projects. Train's work certainly paid off: the result of his toiling culminates in a surprisingly lifelike simulation of a T. re.x on the move.

ART AND SCIENCE BRING MESOZOIC FOREST TO LIFE

A 700-square-foot diorama of an ancient forest, the biggest and most detailed recreation of a prehistoric environment ever constructed, is the centerpiece of the new exhibition, Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries, at the American Museum of Natural History. …

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