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Tyrannosaurs Timelapse: Articulation of a Dinosaur

By: Stuart Humphreys, Category: At The Museum, Date: 07 Nov 2013

A row of huge timber boxes from Canada, sitting at the back of our cavernous Gallery One, was the first sign that the beginning was nigh.

With a level of anticipation we started undoing the crates and peering inside like excited children at Christmas. These crates contained pieces of a replica of one of the biggest Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever discovered.

The bones of this beast looked massive, that’s for sure, but not only that, the idea of having to put this together seemed pretty daunting to me. Our Preparators Elliot Cole and Michael Smith, however, both assured me it would be fine. They had done this many times before over the last decade. In fact, between them they have articulated literally dozens of dinosaurs from the fairly small to the ridiculously massive – think Mamenchisaurus jingyanensis whose neck alone is 9m long.

There are certain challenges with capturing a time lapse of such a huge creature being articulated. Firstly, choosing a viewpoint for the camera that will give enough detail of the construction, as well as showing the completed skeleton.

Therefore we must visualise the height, length and width of the finished animal before we start. If we don’t give ourselves enough space we may end up with the head or half the body out of frame, which would not be a great result.

Other things to consider are:

  • The camera should be out of the way, for the safety aspect, and also it's best not to move it during the construction as this gives the film better continuity.
  • Will the angle be descriptive enough? i.e. Can the viewer see what is happening for most of the time?
  • Before shooting, work out the time delay between each frame (i.e. 10 sec) – this saves confusion when the action begins. It can also give you an idea of how much image storage you’ll need.

This articulation took the best part of two days. Most of the time I was on site, primarily to monitor the camera, but I was also able to helped out when needed. I used a heavy tripod just in case there were any knocks – keep in mind that there is a lot of traffic and movement during this type of assignment, which is why it’s interesting, but it does create challenges. 

Naturally you must start with plenty of image storage facility in your camera and back up batteries if required. I recorded the sound scape separately and put it all together in post-production.

The aim of this time lapse of a Tyrannosaurs being articulated is to both entertain and educate, I certainly hope this little film fulfils its brief.