As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking to make some kind of animation that wasn’t simply linear, but instead represented the true “tree” of life. But in the meantime, I was grabbing anything that looked interesting.
Here you can see Ishu Patel’s “Bead Game” and….
Sheila Graber’s “Evolution”
Both are nice animations that go into varying detail of the course of evolution, as well as ending with man’s mastery of the atom, and perhaps an uncertain future. But again they follow a”linear” representational model of how people think of evolution. I wanted to do something similar, and yet different. But how? At first I was thinking of having animals march through time, set to some kind of music like Ravel’s “Bolero.” Eventually I ran across this, which was pretty much exactly what I was thinking of!
Scene from Bruno Bozzetto’s “Allegro Non Troppo”
Naturally, I had to do something different.
Here are some of my early ideas. I essentially ended up going with a combination of the top left and parts of the right page, coming up with a sort of game. Much like the whispered game “telephone” where one person whispers a message down the line until its very different by the end due to small “mutations” along the way, I would create a game of telephone using visual imagery. I did this by creating a nondescript salamander-like creature to start of us, as you can see here…
From there, I had my various groups make copies. The copies, of course, would not be exact, simulating slight mutations in the offspring of this parent, progenitor species.
Here you can see my creature with some of the variations it spawned. From here I would take these new images and tape them up on a wall so everyone could get a good look. Then, I would give some kind of excuse for their extinction, and eliminate all but a few.
Around this time I also decided that I wanted to include children somehow with the animation, and fortunately I was able to work through various groups and schools to get a wide range of children to participate. One thing I had began to notice again and again was that when a scientist was asked “What was the defining moment that made you want to become a scientist?” they almost invariably answered “When I was a child.” There always seemed to be some kind of event or situation that would stick in their mind as a kid, and would help shape their interests and ambitions late in life. I hoped my little evolution game would have a similar effect on the kids I was working with, because although I wasn’t implicitly explaining evolution or “teaching” them anything, I knew they would internalize it and at least remember it later.
In any case, everyone seemed to take their creature going extinct personally, and would plead for me to leave theirs up. I would, as an unbending force of nature, refuse to acknowledge them. From there we would take the next creature and make copies of that. By now everyone would be fairly comfortable with the game and begin trying to make their creature “the best” (by some metric of their own), and I would mix things up by throwing them a curve ball. At this point I say the world has turned into a desert and once again 98% of the animals die out. Of the few remaining, they must choose the creature they think is best suited for this desert environment. In this way, even being suited to the environment of that generation is no guarantee you’ll succeed into the next, as you can’t fully predict which way I’ll change the environmental factors.
This continues for 6 generations, with each group have 2 generations exclusive to them. The group I used in the final animation had the “ice age” ending, but others included the sea, the mountains, or underground. Next I’ll discuss the actual process of getting the drawings, as well as the wider range of creatures that were produced.