Jumat, 24 Agustus 2012

Prehistoric Mammoths in Films

Prehistoric Mammoths in the Cinema

No prehistoric movie or television series which is set in the Stone Age seems complete without at least one Woolly Mammoth being included. Normally it is the dinosaurs that dominates the movies, but if you are going to write a script about the Ice Age or about early mankind then a Woolly Mammoth seems a prerequisite for film makers. Now that CGI has come to the fore, depicting these large elephants with their long shaggy fur coats is not too much of a problem. Although we have been told by technicians and CGI operators that getting the fur to look realistic on screen is quite a challenge, at least with dinosaurs (feathered ones excepted), the computer experts are not encumbered with these skin features and dinosaurs are to some extent a little easier to re-create for the big screen.

Making Prehistoric Animals Look Realistic

From studies of the exceptionally well-preserved, fossilised Mammoths from Siberia, scientists have a fairly good understanding of how the hair on these creatures looked. The coat consisted of two basic layers, a coarse outer layer of guard hairs and an undercoat that helped insulate these animals from the cold. This is a typical adaptation to cold, harsh environments seen in many mammal species, both extinct and extant (around today).

The degree of hairiness varied with the Mammoth species, Columbian types (Mammuthus columbi) were less hairy than the Woolly types (M. primigenius), perhaps an adaptation to a slightly less harsh climate. It is likely that Mammoths had a spring moult to produce a lighter summer coat.

Their heavy coats were not their only source of insulation, many Mammoth fossils have revealed a fat layer up to 10 cm thick just below the skin surface. This would have provided exceptional insulation, an example of adaptation to colder climates and a food store inside the animal to help it overcome leaner times.

Long Shaggy Coats

The outer guard hairs were up to six times thicker than human hair and in large specimens some of these hairs grew to over a metre in length. This outer coat provided effective water-proofing. The inner coat was made up of thinner, softer and far shorter hairs this coat helped provide insulation and keep out the cold. The coat colour in Mammoths varies with some dark brown whilst others appear almost reddish/orange in colour. We have the frozen carcases of Siberian Mammoths to largely thank for providing us with a Mammoth colour chart. Such information about coat colour is used by film makers and animators to give their models or animated creations a degree of extra realism.

Many of the models of prehistoric animals supplied these days are hand-painted. Each model has tiny variations which is very appropriate given that the structure and format of every Mammoth's coat would have been slightly different - just as the hair on our heads is different from person to person.

Depicting A Herd on Camera

Unfortunately, for film makers, when trying to show a herd of these prehistoric elephants in a scene (these animals just like modern elephants lived in herds), there are a number of obstacles to overcome. Firstly, there is the obvious difficulty of depicting different sized animals in the group. This is further complicated by needing to ensure that the computerised animations used; add subtle variations in colour and hair length to each animal's coat. Without these refinements the Woolly Mammoth scene would not look realistic.

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