Master's Research Project
Deciphering Fossils with Ecomorphology
Dave Mazierski (Faculty Supervisor)
Dr. David Evans (Content Advisor and Second voting member, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM))
PhD student Jade Simon (Secondary Content Advisor, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM))
Ecomorphology research compares the relationship between the shape and function in modern birds, and applies these findings to determine the morphology and ecology of dinosaurs. The significance of this is ecomorphology research on bird and theropod feet is that these studies can elucidate theories on the highly debated origin of flight. Ecomorphology research in this field compares bone proportions and the resulting range of motion in dinosaur and bird feet in order to correlate findings with the specimen’s ecological niche. Bones are manually manipulated and measured to determine range of motion, and ecomorphology data is conveyed through complex ecomorph plots and annotated pictures of phalanges. Unfortunately, this makes ecomorphology research difficult to convey.
Deciphering Fossils with Ecomorphology (an animation)
I am developing an animation for the general public to explain what ecomorphology is and why it is significant to deciphering theories on the origin of flight. In the animation, the morphology and ecology of 3 different living bird feet (a raven, heron, and rhea) are compared with the fossil foot of a dinosaur. 3D CT data provided by the ROM is segmented and rigged to provide comparisons via animation.
Below is Version 1 of my animatic, with an early shot test render for comparison.
Below you can view Version 2 of my animation, rendered for approval for my committee.
Production of my MRP involves:
1. CT data cleanup, articulation, and retopology (Zbrush guided retopology) of bones to be rigged in Maya (manual rigging)
2. Development of bird rigs, involving: drawing concepts, sculpting, manual retopology (Quad Draw), and rigging in Maya (using Advanced skeleton 5)
3. Development of 2D assets used for the introduction and ending of the animation
1. CT Data Cleanup
Segmentation and clean up of 3D data of the bones were done in order to remove internal geometry. This is to ensure that the final models were easy to shade and wouldn't slow down Maya during animating. A combination of careful data segmentation and "hole-filling" (booleans and Dynameshing in Zbrush) were done to clean up the models. Details were manually sculpted back in. Joints were articulated by consulting bird skeletons provided by the ROM. Once the CT data were cleaned up, the bones were manually rigged in Maya.
2. Development of bird body rigs
The rhea in the animation was character rigged. It will ultimately be animated with idle movements as well as a run cycle. Development of the rhea body rig included:
1. Researching rhea anatomy
2. Examining video reference to determine what should be rigged
3. Drawing concepts
4. Sculpting high-poly concepts in Zbrush
5. Retopologizing models using Quad Draw in Maya
6. Rigging with Advanced skeleton 5, adding custom rig components, and painting weights
3. Development of 2D assets
As the introduction of my MRP educates the audience on paleontological hypotheses, I wanted to create a style that felt like the audience was looking through a storybook. After working out my composition in a draft shot, I traced all elements by hand, then scanned and rendered them in Photoshop. As I wanted to prioritize shot composition, I made a simple 1920x1080p framer that I could drag around the illustration. Please view the file breakdown below, as well as the final rendered shots for the introduction.
Here you can view the rigs in action.
Below are some lighting tests of the final rigs.