art in science
Re: Neandertal merkins:
Some reconstructions of our cousins are really hairy, and others (like the one in your post today) are not so hairy. How do we know where Neanderthals had hair and thick it was? I dimly recall a study(s) of human male facial hair patterns featuring gray/white/dark color contrasts with the implication that these influenced fitness by intimidating other males and signaling one’s fitness to females. Aren’t hair patterns genetically determined? Could genomics answer this question?
I think we have a good chance of figuring this out with genetic information. At the moment, we can't predict hairiness in people from their genes. The missing information is about gene-phenotype associations. Once we have a good notion for how follicle action is controlled, we will be able to make some guesses.
I was consulting with an artist about this question earlier this week. As you probably imagine, they really want to make the best possible reconstructions. I think now that we know the Neandertals didn't become extinct without issue, there is a tendency to want to make them basically within the range of humans for body hair. I'm not sure we need to believe that, but I would treat it as the null hypothesis, I guess.
Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week author Matt Wedel has two recent posts about the artistic reconstruction of sauropods. The one about head anatomy is especially perceptive.
I think these are dynamite, because they show that you can avoid “shrink-wrapped dinosaur syndrome” (SWDS) and still make an anatomically detailed, realistic-looking life restoration. SWDS is what I call the common convention in paleo-art of simply draping the skeleton–and especially the skull–in Spandex and calling that a life restoration. I think it’s a popular technique because you can show off the skeleton inside the animal and thereby demonstrate that you’ve done your homework (especially to an audience that already knows the skeletons*). It gives artists an easy way to add detail to their critters; if you actually slab on realistic soft tissues and lose most of those skeletal and cranial landmarks, you have to come up with something else to make your animals look detailed and visually interesting. And by now it’s been going strong for several decades, so people expect it.
Yes, hominin reconstructions are also subject to shrink-wrapped syndrome. I'm less critical of that than the "thousand-mile stare" pose that many reconstructions are given. There's more emotion in the Lincoln Memorial.
Wedel's earlier post, "Pimp my pod" discusses the idea of "too big for camouflage".
Glendon Mellow of the Flying Trilobite ruminates on the purposes of scientific art in a guest post at Scientific American: "Scientific accuracy in art". Out of the post, I really like his twist on "different ways of knowing":
I think a "Way of Knowing" is putting the (painterly, Impressionistic) cart before the (fully-3D-rendered, proper lighting and gamma) horse. The purpose, the path, the roadway of science-art is a Way of Exploring.
The reference to Different Ways of Knowing is one of the most irksome elements of the #AAAfail controversy. Mellow's post is completely unrelated, but I like this alternate way of putting together the construction of knowledge.
The Guardian is running an interview with Pauline Fowler, whose company Animated Extras has been involved in many film and television projects where apes and hominins are part of the cast. It's an interesting interview, and I like to get this behind the scenes look at the artistic and technical process. As many may know, I'm one of the most irascible critics of the results, but I very much appreciate the challenges of realism in portraying ancient hominins.
I asked Fowler how she would go about animating an Ardipithecus ramidus, who lived 4.4m years ago. The 45% complete fossil, known as "Ardi" was discovered in Ethiopia by Tim White's team in 1992 just 75km from the location of the famous "Lucy" fossil. "Well Ardi was short, stood about three and half to four feet tall. She had long arms. If you are going to make suits you need small people and arm extensions. Children are hard to work with so you need adult midgets, not dwarfs, you need average human proportions, but smaller. But finding enough midgets who can act is tough. You could blue screen Ardi and put in the environment later or have it as a CGI construct. There's several ways you could animate Ardi. But the colour of Ardi, her hair and size and shape of the soft tissue is informed guesswork, soft tissue doesn't usually fossilise. I always liaise with an expert and we find a realistic compromise."
Not so different from R2D2, really.
A LIFE magazine photo-essay brings 15 previously unpublished pictures of Lascaux by Ralph Morse, who was the first professional photographer to enter the site: "Inside Lascaux: Rare, Unpublished."
"LIFE re-opened its Paris bureau after the second World War ended, in the same offices we rented before the war" Morse recalls. "One day we get a message from New York about some cave that people have been talking about. We do a little research, and find out that even though the cave was discovered a few years before, no one's ever photographed the paintings. In fact, hardly anyone has ever been down there, except some guys who climb around in caves for fun. We know that the first thing we need is a generator to power our lights, but getting a generator anywhere after the war was almost impossible. We had to have people in London ship one over. Once it arrived, we were ready to go."
This is starting to seem like "cave art" week around here, but there have just been a lot of interesting links.
(via Savage Minds)
A new film to debut at the Toronto Film Festival is a 90-minute 3-D exploration of Chauvet Cave, directed by Werner Herzog. The LA Times reports on the film: "Is Werner Herzog's new 3-D documentary a huge forward leap or total folly?"
For Herzog, 3-D was the perfect tool to capture the drawings, since after all, the cave that held the drawings was akin to a modern-day theater or gallery where primitive people could view, by torchlight, this mysterious new form of art. "Once you see the cave with your own eyes, you realize it had to be filmed in 3-D," Herzog says. "I've never used the process in the 58 films I made before and I have no plans to do it ever again, but it was important to capture the intentions of the painters. Once you saw the crazy niches and bulges and rock pendants in the walls, it was obvious it had to be in 3-D."
I really hope it comes to Madison. I think this is a great use for 3-D. Truly some aspects of the cave art depend on the actual 3-dimensional form of the underlying rock. Ninety minutes is a long tour, and I hope that the film uses the time to explore the place -- not jam it with speculative narration.
This is a great story about "portion sizes" increasing over the centuries in "Last Supper" paintings, but I haven't been able to get the paper yet.
The Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the millennium and scrutinised the size of the feast.
They found the main courses, bread and plates put before Jesus and his disciples have progressively grown by up to two-thirds.
This, they say, is art imitating life.
I wonder, though, how much of the "bread size grew by 23%" and "plate size increased by 66%" might be technological rather than merely food preference-caused. They introduced different plate production and bread production methods over time (not sure if all the breads are unleavened, either).
Nature has Martin Kemp review an art exhibition by Walton Ford ("Monkey business"), of interest because of the fine watercolor depictions of animals -- reminiscent of 19th century illustration -- in anthropomorphic contexts. I'm pointing to it because I like the art, which has been described as "Audubon on Viagra". PBS has a nice online profile of Ford.