Sunday, 28 February 2016

Depictions of Dodos in BBC's 'Primeval'

The television series 'Primeval' depicts many prehistoric and extinct animals as if they still existed in present times. Airing in 2007, it makes heavy use of computer generated models to depict creatures which no longer exist. The way they depict the anatomy of the Dodo seems to vary a lot even just between these pictures, with the thigh of the above bird being much less defined than the bird in the lowest image. The bird is designed to look very raptor-like, even though it is a Late Holocene era species as opposed to the typical Velociraptor, alive during the Late Cretaceous era. The dodo would perhaps be further evolved away from a dinosaur-like appearance because it's ancestors are pigeons, not dinosaurs; a flightless bird could not evolve from a lizard which had no wings at all, and the Dodo was alive at a time when humans were around, unlike dinosaurs.

Whilst I want to reference the pigeon more in my designs - they are the Dodo's closest living relative, after all - the way 'Primeval' designed their Dodo still has a good amount of anatomical and historical backing, and as such is a good point of reference. I wish for my Dodo to be smoother and friendlier, like a common pigeon, as opposed to reptilian-looking, because it's more approachable and caricature-like.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Tenta-Neck

The first thing I decided to make for this project is a prototype for a neck for my bird - the area which is currently troubling me the most. My first logical stopping point is a model that has a lot of similarities to a biological neck, with a strong spinal column surrounded by elastic 'tendons' and 'ligaments'. The wooden prototype I made for this works fantastically, having a nice spring and jiggle to it, and was a simple case of cutting and sanding wooden blocks and MDF circles to make a basic, repetitive neck.

However, when I scaled this neck up to a full size, things didn't run so smoothly. Whilst the neck was highly flexible and moved very naturally, it wasn't good at taking weight at all, and almost entirely relied on the wearer to support it. Whilst this is fine in a test run of a few minutes, it seems that this could get tiring very quickly - and such, I must find an alternative solution. Whilst it is interesting to have elastic creating tension in the neck, it also puts a lot of pressure on the plates which hold it together. Over time, this may result in snapping. The prototype is made out of foam board and styrofoam; the foam board sounds light, but is actually fairly weighty, and whilst the styrofoam is incredibly light it is susceptible to being pressed into other shapes which would effect the shape and movement of the neck, or even forcing the elastic out of it. It feels like this kind of layout would be very effective for a body part which has to hang and rock freely - an elephant's trunk springs to mind - it doesn't seem to be appropriate for a structure which needs to support itself. It feels like I need a stronger and more industrial neck to place my Dodo's head on top of.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Examining the Dodo

The Dodo was a flightless species of bird which went extinct in 1662 due to hunting. Limited to the small island of Mauritius, the Dodo had no natural predators and such was an approachable and unusually trusting creature. Whilst the general census seems to be that the Dodo became extinct because of it's own stupidity and inability to survive, in reality the Dodo was actually a species wiped out by humans. With it's lack of flight and docile character, the Dodo was an easy target for hunters and after the population had been weakened by a flash flood, humans hunting on the island and the importation of animals which destroyed the bird's nests resulted in its ultimate demise.

Pictured to the right of the figure in the illustration above, the Dodo is stout and round but a fairly large bird, standing at around a metre tall. The amount of meat these birds provided made them an ideal food source, and sadly it seems to be human nature to exhaust resources without considering what will happen when their finite nature materialises. The short documentary below provides a good and reliable insight into the background of the Dodo and why it was wiped out.  

This bird is a really interesting subject because it so recently became extinct; recent enough to have good evidence of the size, shape and colouring of the bird which can be used to create a relatively accurate semblance. The main colours of the bird are depicted differently in different examples, but the contrast between the warm grey and yellow face of the bird below contrast really nicely.

Unit Specifications

"Throughout this unit students will create a body of innovative, creative and sophisticated work.  The student will be expected to demonstrate a critical awareness of the context of their work, a developed understanding of the production process and the ability to translate the needs of performance into innovative and creative objects and environments.

For this self-initiated and self-directed unit the student will be required to prepare and manage their own timetable and project brief, which fully demonstrates their conceptual and technical skills, and knowledge of the professional environment. 

The unit combines research and conceptual development, in-depth independent thought and a professional engagement with practice. The portfolio of work produced is expected to be creative, innovative, professionally constructed and presented, supported by sound research, visual development, and appropriate professional practice information.

The student is expected to develop and display an understanding of the profession in which they wish to work and to take responsibility for their own direction of study. They can choose to work individually, collaboratively or on a commission basis. This work can revolve around one specific career pathway or encompass a range of skills from the separate core specialisms of the overall course. 

The work may involve live projects or commissions but equally projects that students have devised themselves. In preparation for working in the industry, a summative presentation portfolio must be submitted as a classic or digital portfolio, industry business cards and other promotional materials."

 Learning Outcomes

Knowledge of:
Professional performance contexts.

Understanding through application of: 
The advanced synthesis of research, conceptual development and critical investigation.

Understanding through application of:
Project development and critical reflection.

Technical and applied skills through: Appropriate advanced imaginative and creative making practices.

Technical and applied skills through: Professional project portfolio that communicates to prospective clients.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Brief

The aim of this project is to create a puppet of an extinct species - the Dodo - to highlight the importance of conservation and being considerate to other creatures on the planet. It is intended to be a roaming puppet most suitable for festivals, street events and other events with a large amount of both space and people. The puppeteer will use the puppet as a platform to invite people into discussion and reading leaflets about ethics and conservation, particularly relating to the food industry. The puppet will be created in such a way that it is playful and positive, whilst carrying a message with considerable moral weight. The puppet is to be articulated enough to have a good sense of liveliness to it and to create a strong illusion of life.
The story of the Dodo named 'Beef' is that he was engineered from a DNA sample from the long-lost extinct species and genetically modified to be as large as possible to be an easy source of meat. However, a visiting scientist - our Sophie - saw how wrong the situation was and stole him from the laboratory late at night. She now rides him through cities and fields spreading the message of compassion and conservation. This is a palatable way of encouraging young people to consider the morality of meat and the lives of the animals we choose to eat, with the aim of reducing pollution from animal agriculture and preventing vulnerable species like Tuna from being wiped out from overfishing.

The puppet will be covered in soft-touch textiles like fur to create a creature which is as pleasant to touch as it is to watch it performing. All of the materials used in making the puppet will be man-made as opposed to made from animal hides or bird's feathers, as it would be oxymoronic to be spreading the word about ethics whilst wearing an unethically-made puppet. Synthetic materials such as Mongolian faux fur will be used to create the illusion of soft, 'downy' feathers on the young Dodo.
 The puppeteer will wear the puppet on a harness which connects to the inside of the bird through a fake 'saddle', and will wear a pair of false legs which sit over the connection between the puppeteer and the puppet and give the illusion that the puppeteer, is, in fact, riding the Dodo. The puppeteer's real legs will sit inside of the feet of the bird, allowing the puppeteer to be in full control of all aspects of the puppet's movement.

The primary materials for the construction of the body of this puppet are a strong but lightweight PVC frame, and upholstery foam which covers this frame and gives a smooth roundness to the puppet's body, whilst still being durable, light and flexible. This will aid in the transport of the puppet as it will be able to be laid on its side in tight spaces. The feet of the puppet will be made out of carved upholstery foam with a lightweight sandal inner and a sturdy EVA foam sole. The head of the puppet will be initially sculpted out of water based clay in two halves on an MDF template, to then be vacuum formed and assembled. This head will have a hingeing jaw which is operated with a simple PVC spring on the inside of the head and a straightforward 'reins' control. The upper jaw of the head will be operated through the use of rigid 'reins' made from aluminium tube bent into a curve to give the appearance of a soft piece of fabric, when it in fact manipulates the head of the puppet from the pivot point at the top of the neck. The head will be connected to the neck with a thick cable tie that means it can be removed if necessary for transport or maintenance over time.

The foam shell of the body will be connected to the PVC frame through use of EVA foam 'pucks' which sit either side of the holes in the upholstery foam to stop it from warping and squashing under the pressure of the attachment. Cable ties will be used to secure the foam as a lightweight, strong and if required removable form of attachment. Glue would not be suitable for this process as the shell only directly contacts a small amount of the PVC frame, so the bond would be under a lot of pressure and would eventually cause the foam to rip. The wings of the puppet will be made out of one inch thick upholstery foam with EVA foam 'spines' which allow them to flap well, and they will be connected directly to the PVC frame of the puppet to ensure they remain stable and durable. The tail will be made out of half inch upholstery foam panels shaped into a ball which will also be connected to the PVC frame to allow 'wiggle'.