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News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Walking with Dragons

By Mark Carnall, on 21 February 2012

Sometimes* it feels like I have the best job. You may recall my previous musings on whether or not Planet Dinosaur was a documentary or not. This musing did not come from the blue, in fact I have spent more time than most contemplating digital dinosaurs. Today I’m pleased to announce that a book chapter I wrote a loooong time ago has finally been published.

Image of the Grant Museum Quagga skeleton versus a plastic Tyrannosaurus
The full reference is

Carnall, M.A (2012) Walking with Dragons: CGIs in Wildlife Documentaries. In Bentowska-Kafel, A., Denard, H. and Baker, D (eds) Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage, Pages 81-95 ISBN 9780754675839

Getting back to why I think my job is the best job it is because researching and writing this book chapter was a lot of fun. I got to (re)watch a lot of CGI ‘documentaries’ with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in and was fortunate enough to get the paper published in a volume with many fine colleagues all musing about transparency in using visualisations in heritage. By transparency we mean how do you let other people assess what is based on fact and what has been manipulated, stitched over or artistically created.

The abstract begins:
Following the success of Jurassic Park and the Walking With Dinosaurs series, computer generated imagery and other forms of animation (CGI) are increasingly used in wildlife ‘documentaries’ and nature programmes to illustrate extinct animals and to educate. However, these techniques are part science, part illusion and they are used for edutainment, rather than pure education. Unlike academic courses and peer-reviewed journal articles, these documentaries are not accountable to scientists before they air and as such are not subject to close scrutiny. Audiences are very rarely informed about how reliable reconstructions are or if some parts of the reconstructions are based on only one of a series of equally viable hypotheses.

I won’t spoil the rest of the chapter (it was not the butler this time) but if you are interested in virtual dinosaurs, truth and beauty then you can read the rest of the abstract of the chapter here and you can purchase the volume from here.

* If any of my bosses are reading this I mean ALL OF THE TIME but I’m playing it down for dramatic purposes.

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