Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A bit more about the AMNH Exhibit

Many thanks to Dave Hone for posting the great photos from Steve Cohen of the new AMNH Exhibit. I have been meaning to post about the exhibit over a month now, but April-May is the skeletomuscular course in the medical program at USC, so blogging has been on the back burner.

In any case, as Dave mentioned, I had a role in the new exhibit. In fact, I had a relatively substantial role. As full disclosure, I was a paid consultant on the exhibit (titled "Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs"). I worked with the staff there for a little over a year on the interactive flight simulations, and I did recorded interviews for use in the theater and iPad interactive displays. I also helped rather extensively with the script used for the theater presentation (which is mostly about flight). One thing that neither myself, nor Alex Kellner (the co-curator on the exhibit) were approached about were the promo images. I won't detail any politics on that front now, but some of you may be aware that there some issues that arose on that front. What I can say is that the animation and video folks were not involved in that process, either (and used entirely different models for their reconstructions), nor were the sculptors so far as I am aware. So the promo images seem to be a bit of an isolated entity.

In any case, the exhibit opened on April 5th, 2014. Here is the official website for the exhibit:

They ran a promo video here:

On April 1st there was a media preview event, with a panel composed of myself, Alex Kellner, Mark Norell and Michael Novacek. It was well attended, and yield quite a bit of press for the exhibit. Some of the popular articles can be found at:

As always, there is some variation in the quality of coverage, but overall I thought the writers did a good job of talking up the exhibit while hitting some of the interesting science involved. There will likely be more coming from Scientific American, as well, since I have chatted with them pretty extensively in the weeks following the opening (but more on that when the article(s) hit print).

Some things to look forward to in the exhibit (which stays at the AMNH through early January, at which point it will travel to other museums):

- Excellent specimens. Dave covered this already (see previous post) so I won't belabor it here. They have some awesome stuff, though (including the Dark Wing, which is on display outside Europe for the first time).

- Motion capture interactive animations that allow you to control launch, feeding, and flight in Pteranodon and Jeholopterus. The floating position of the Pteranodon was originally quite bird-like. It was updated using the floating paper by Hone and Henderson at my suggestion. The Pteranodon launch is a water launch and looks pretty wicked. The flight simulation includes basic physics like stall, L:D ratio transitions, and basic rate of climb estimates.

- A full-scale fleshed out reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus northropi hanging from the ceiling just above reach, with a cutaway to show plausible flight muscle attachment. It's a great sculpture. Sadly, it came together just a little too soon to incorporate the updated proportions from my project with David Krentz. They did, however, feature David's 3D digital model on a sign near the sculpture showing how our reconstructions of Quetzalcoatlus have evolved over time.

- An amazing sculpture diorama (full size) of Tupuxuara - the models are by Jason Brougham, who is fantastic at paleo-reconstruction. The pair is shown feeding on fish in a traditional pluck-grab mode. As some know, Mark Witton and I both prefer an alternative ecology for these animals, but the sculptures are still magnificent (and to be fair, their feeding ecology is contentious - they can't just side with me every time). 

If you are in NYC, the exhibit is well worth a visit (the specimens alone make it worthwhile).