Monday, October 5, 2009


Hey class,

As promised, here are pictures from the interactive science museum in Bristol, England. It was a lot of fun!These guys are Wallace and Gromet. Wallace, the chap in the green sweeter vest, is an inventor and Gromet is his smart dog (Gromet is usually getting Wallace out of trouble). They star in my all-time favorite series of short films. These films are claymation movies. There was an entire exhibit at the museum about claymation, featuring Wallace and Gromet.

What are the principles behind claymation? Claymation is a form of “stop motion animation”. Like cartoons, the film consists of separate frames. In each frame, the image changes slightly. When these frames are played together rapidly, it looks like the scene is playing out and characters are moving in front of our eyes. For claymation, a frame is taken of the model. Then, the artist rearranges the model just a little. Each time the film is stopped to make a change to the model and record a new frame, this is called a “stop.” If there is too much change between stops, the film will look choppy when played back. By making small changes between stops, the model will move smoothly, like a person. As you can imagine, this takes a very long time. Typically, there are 24 frames (or stops) required for one second of film playback. How many stops are required for a 30-minute movie?

A 30-minute movie needs 43,200 stops! Sometimes claymation animators do “doubles”, meaning they film the same frame twice, cutting in half their number f stops. How many doubled stops are required for a 30-minute movie?

That’s right, you need 21,600 stops. That’s still a lot of work.

A similar concept is on display in the picture above. Here, multiple clay figurines are shown to illustrate a character doing a cartwheel. Fourteen models are used to illustrate this simple action. If you spin the wheel and focus on one of the mirrors, you see the models spinning by fast enough that it looks like a single character doing a cartwheel.

How does claymation work? Some clay models can be very simple; just a pieces of clay that were shaped into a figure. Others can be quite complicated, like this one. First, the claymation artist builds a wire skeleton (called an armature) for the model. This skeleton must be flexible enough to do any of the movements that are necessary for the film.

Then, clay is formed around the armature in the shape that the artist wants, in order to “flesh out” the puppet.

Finally, skin (or in this case fur) is added to give the character texture and a detailed look.

That's it for now. I have a lot of pictures to post later this week from the London and Paris Museums of Natural History.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Hi guys,

The conference is over and it was a blast. I saw a lot of good talks and there is some great research going on. I also looked at the fossils on display in the University of Bristol Geology Department. I took pictures and posted them below (some of them are on their sides and I haven't been able to fix that).

This is a horseshoe crab from rocks in the Upper Jurassic Period, about 162 to 151 million years ago. Horseshoe crabs first appeared in the Devonian Period, 400 million years ago. Species of horseshoe crabs are around today and haven’t changed much, as we can see from this ancestor!

This is Eryops, an amphibian found in rock formations from the Lower Permian Period, about 295 million years old. Eryops is important because it is an example of an amphibian making the transition from a completely aquatic lifestyle to spending time on land.

This is one of my favorite early amphibians, Diplocaulus. It lived in North America during the Permian period from 299 to 251 million years ago. The weird skull may have helped it swim or defend itself from predators.

Does this look familiar? This is the front left leg of a sauropod (the long-neck dinosaurs) called Camarasaurus. It lived from in North America from 155 to 145 million years ago in the late Jurassic Period. They grew to about 60 feet in length! We have our own sauropod (Apatosaurus) on display at the UW Geological Museum.

Here’s another creature that we have on display at the UW Geological Museum. This is Ichthyosaurus, a marine reptile that lived during the early Jurassic period, from 199 to 189 million years ago. It lived in the ocean that covered Europe at that time. The casted specimen on display at our museum has two skeletons: a mother that is giving birth to its baby!

How would you like to run into this big cat? This is Smilodon, also known as the saber-toothed cat (like Diego from “Ice Age”). Smilodon lived in North and South America during the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, from 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago.

That’s it for today. I’ll have more pictures to post in the next few days!

Friday, September 25, 2009

First day of the conference

Hi guys, 

I’ve been to two days of talks so far. The first day had some really exciting lectures. I also gave my talk on the first day. I talked about how I used stable isotopes (like the mammoth researchers) to figure out the diets of 2,000-year-old elk. I analyzed the teeth of these elk, which were found in an archaeological midden in southeast Wyoming, not too far from Laramie. A midden is an old trash heap used by ancient people. The elk teeth in the midden were the remaining parts of the elk that these people hunted. I was able to show that most of the elk were from the same area (southeast Wyoming), but one elk spent it’s early years pretty far away in a place that was warmer and lower in elevation. This different environment allowed this particular elk to have a different diet: it was eating a lot of grass, while the other elk were mostly eating soft browse (leaves, for example). The one grazing elk must have later migrated into to southeast Wyoming.

Well, that’s it for today. I’ll post again over the weekend with more news about the conference as well as pictures from some of the museums I’ve visited. Have a good weekend!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Made it to England!

Hi guys. Well, I made it to Bristol safe and sound (and pretty tired). My flight for England left Denver on Sunday, September 20th, at 3:45 p.m. I arrived in Bristol, England at 4:50 p.m. on September 21st. I had 3 connections and the time between them added up to about 5 hours. I was in the air for approximately 11 hours. So, why did I arrive in England more than 24 hours later than my departure time in Denver?

That’s it for me, tonight (hint: check out the posting time for this blog). I have to rest up for my conference.