Friday, February 24, 2012

Thoracosaurus thesis

As the former "ruler lady" for the Georgetown University Graduate School, I am particularly pleased to bring this story to your attention. Evan Boucher (photo here) has done some groundbreaking work in pursuit of his master's degree in Digital Media at Philadelphia's Drexel University. Working with fossils discovered by his mentor Dr. Ken Lacovara and team in New Jersey in late 2004, Boucher fleshed out a 65-million-year-old giant crocodile and animated it for his thesis (watch the complete video here, scroll down). The digital reconstruction of Thoracosaurus neocesariensis was based on the spinal cord, a partial femur and humerus, pieces of the brain case, some teeth, and a few armored plates from the back. He studied the extinct animal's behavior and movement, and used his Drexel education and expertise in digital media to bring it back to life on a computer screen, a process he documented on his blog. “I spent a lot of time in the Academy’s lab learning about this stuff. And there were entire weeks where I was doing nothing but reading papers on crocodiles. There is definitely a lot of science involved.” His resulting 5-minute animation reconstitutes the skeleton (2nd image), the musculature (3rd image), and finally its outward appearance (1st image), and showcases his take on how the animal hunted and moved on land and in water. In addition to the master's degree, the work earned Boucher the John J. Lanzendorf Prize for the National Geographic Digital Modeling and Animation Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. He was thrilled: “In paleontology, this award is a really big deal. It’s the top honor you can get for paleo-art. I was ecstatic. I felt like I was on top of the world.” And so was Dr. Lacovara: “Evan’s work transcends the boundaries between science, art, and technology. He really stands as an example of what we hope to achieve with the Academy of Natural Sciences affiliation. The world needs more Evans and I’ll be watching his career with great pride.”
Boucher's M.S. was awarded last June. After he graduated, did he go to Disney World? Nope, Dreamworks!

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