Back in March of 2011 I was taking an animation course at VCU in which I could spend the entire semester working on one project. Where some people had to come up with an idea, I had one percolating for some time. Years earlier I had known I wanted to do some kind of animation based on evolution, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. In the meantime I collected a bunch of inspirational images, (which incidentally led me down another path involving old dinosaur documentaries. The youtube page http://www.youtube.com/user/DinosaurTheatre and the blog http://www.dinosaurtheatre.blogspot.com/ go into more detail) and by the time the class rolled around, I had an idea of what I wanted.
I didn’t want this. Most of the time when people think of “evolution” they think of something like the animation above, from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” Or more specifically, this…
I’m sure you’ve seen it before. It’s more or less all over the place. Just like this image!
Although a powerful image that instantly evokes the idea of evolution, it is, in fact, wrong. Not just for the fact that a vast majority of the “ancestors” weren’t actually a part of human family tree, or that they’re shown walking upright, but that they’re shown in a successive line. This “parade of evolution” is something that shows up over and over again; a linear progression or advancement of lifeforms that invariably ends in an upright, close-shaven white guy. All of these notions about evolution are false, of course.
As you can see from Mr. Darwin’s own sketch book, evolution is best depicted as a sort of tree. There is no “end goal” to evolution, and one form of life isn’t necessarily more ‘advanced’ than another. Instead, life evolves in all directions constantly; branching out into multiple forms, as well as truncating with extinction. So the question then becomes: How can I use this idea in my animation?