Sunday, December 22, 2013

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D: A Personal Movie Review from a Non-Movie-Critic Paleontologist

So last night I saw “Walking with Dinosaurs 3D” in theaters.

One word: Phenomenal.

This was, by far, one of THE most gorgeous animated animal movies I have ever seen (especially in terms of dinosaurs). The animation was incredible. The amount of intricate detail that was put into creating each animal was unreal. And what’s even more amazing is the amount of variation they put into creating each individual of a species while still making it recognizable as that species, so they can tell one individual (or character) from another. Even the fluid movements of each animal were realistic and the combination of that with the visual appeal of beautiful real-life landscapes worked perfectly. Hands down.

I also thought they did a good job introducing most of the dinosaurs, with a little snippet on each taxon that showed up (a few being Pachyrhinosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Edmontosaurus, an ankylosaur of some sort, Troodon, and Alexornis—oh, and a pterosaur), although, I wish they would have spent more time talking about each one like they did with Gorgosaurus. He got a little more informative attention for some reason. (And did anyone notice they didn't introduce Parksosaurus at all?? Poor guy. I like Parksosaurus!) I will make a note to say, however, that it did feel slightly awkward because I could never tell if I was watching a movie or a documentary. It was sort of this weird purgatory between the two and it made me a little uncomfortable, but once you get past that feeling, it is REALLY an enjoyable movie.

Now, I’m not going to go too much into the details of the story, because it is pretty much more or less the same storyline you always see in a dinosaur movie (which, let’s be honest, what else do they really have to work with?). Cool looking plant-eating dinosaurs (in this case, the AWESOME Pachyrhinosaurus [perfect choice, by the way]) are migrating from one place to another from season to season. They, of course, keep running into carnivores along the way that the herbivores can’t actually communicate with for whatever untold reason. Also, the main character, Patchi the Pachyrhinosaurus, starts off a small, dinky runt and apparently turns out to beat out the bully and become the biggest badass dinosaur that ever walked the face of the earth.

That said, I mainly want to get into the discussion of the fact that there were voiceovers:

Sorry to most of my paleontologist colleagues out there, but I LIKED the voices.

Not to say it wasn’t annoying from time to time and some of the dialogue was pretty much the cheesiest thing ever. BUT, nevertheless, it was good that they put it in. Why? Because that is how movies work! If you’re going to have a movie that is an hour and a half long, dialogue helps keep the attention span. Not only for kids. For EVERYONE. If someone doesn’t pay attention for even a couple minutes to a certain interaction two dinosaurs have with each other that is important to the story line… that’s it. The rest of the story is gone. Dialogue helps that keep moving to keep you on track.

Let me put it this way. How many of us loved Land Before Time as a child? (And I’m talking about the original; not the crappy 50 other ones that were made.) I know I loved it as a kid. And guess what? That stuff was nowhere NEAR accurate, and yet it made me love dinosaurs that much more! And they talked. A LOT. It’s a kid’s movie. Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is pretty much just a prettier, more accurate version of Land Before Time (with a debatably less fun storyline). Name me one GOOD animal movie that was at least an hour and a half that didn’t have dialogue in it and we’ll talk. (Oh, and it can’t have any humans in it talking either. OR written dialogue, like in a silent movie, because guess what? THAT’S STILL DIALOGUE.)

Now, some people complain that their mouths weren’t moving and they were somehow telepathically talking. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s much better than them having lips and talking, like in Disney’s Dinosaur from years ago. Dinosaurs don’t have lips. We all know this. (SCIENCE!) So, again, just to make the movie run along better, dialogue helps it keep going. (Also, Homeward Bound was fantastic, and they were talking telepathically. So it's okay!) Now, maybe they could have had a narrator talking, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. I know I laughed quite a few times and the people around me laughed as well throughout. It was funny! (Again, in a cheesy way, but still… THAT’S OKAY!)

So, to sum up: GO SEE IT. Paleontologists and non-paleontologists alike. It’s a great and fun movie for all ages. And to a lot of my colleagues out there who don’t like the dialogue, it’s just for fun. It’s a movie. It has nothing to do with the fact that they underestimate how smart kids are in understanding a storyline with no dialogue. It is just a matter of attention span. It’s human nature to zone out from time to time. Words help keep you in check in most long stories. They didn’t just make this movie for us paleontologists to be pleased with. They made it for everyone. And pretty much everyone I talked to who is not a paleontologist and who IS a movie lover agrees with how it was done. So just embrace it and have fun with it! After all, this movie is going to influence so many more kids to get into the field and into science in general!

Because, let's face it…What better way is there to get kids interested in science at a really young age than exposing them to DINOSAURS?!

Peace out. I need to get back to writing my dissertation now. Hah!
~ Ali

Friday, December 20, 2013

Predentaries: A Poem

Sooooo, just a on a whim (and from a couple requests) I have written a little poem about the ornithischian predentary bone.

I am SO sorry about the next minute of your life that you are about to lose:

A poem by Ali Nabavizadeh

The predentary bone is one to ponder;
Unique, peculiar, and full of wonder.
It sat in front of many a dinosaur jaw;
In hopes that plants are what it saw.

They came triangular, round, or square;
And no other jawbone could compare.
For it was on its own, all lonesome and sad;
Thinking of the counterpart it never had.

I cannot stress enough, however;
That this tiny bone did much to sever;
The innocent plant life that grew around.
It would chop it up before making a sound.

Stegosaurus and those duck-billed creatures;
Are only a few who shared this feature.
Ankylosaurus was also among them
And that Triceratops, with three horns; a gem.

Heterodontosaurids—they started it out,
(Or at least that’s what phylogenies seem to talk about).
Who knows, though? It’s hard to tell these days;
Because us paleontologists cant agree on what trees go—and what stays.

The function of this peculiar bone;
Has long been thought to be nipping plants on its own.
I’m willing to bet my life, however;
That this bone did much more than just sever.

It sat in the middle, proud and bold;
With two dentary bones on either side that rolled;
Around their long axes as the animal chewed;
While rotating around each predentary joint—‘Yum, food’.

The predentary bone would stay just still;
As the other bones would show off their skill;
Chewing the plants on both sides of the jaw;
While Mr. Predentary grabbed more food to gnaw.

So you see, my friends, predentaries worked wonders;
Although researching their function gives me mental blunders.
It is safe to say that, though it does have some class;
The predentary bone is just a pain in my ass.

~ Ali

Sunday, November 10, 2013

SVP 2013 in L.A.!

SVP is one of my favorite times (if not THE favorite time) of the year. It’s a time when I get to be reunited with all the people who love paleozoology and comparative anatomy as much as I do, if not more so. That doesn’t happen very often for me, considering I live in Baltimore, where there are very few people interested in talking about dinosaurs and such (outside of, you know, everyone asking me questions about it, of course). I always love seeing all of my old colleagues and friends as well as meeting many more new ones. And the absolute best part of it, for me, is getting to see what type of research everyone has been up to within the past year as well as being able to get my own stuff out there and hearing everyone’s feedback on it. It’s exhilarating and rewarding at the same time.

Triceratops at L.A. County Museum

That’s the reason the world of paleontology never ceases to amaze me. There are always so many new ideas and things to see and learn; things we would never really even expect. I can’t tell you how many new species have been discovered or even how many new things we have learned about species already existing in the literature (I mean, look at Deinocheirus… WOW!) It blows my mind. It makes me truly happy that I decided to stay in this field as an undergraduate and into my graduate years. I never would have experienced any of this if I hadn’t. (And on top of everything, paleontologists KNOW how to party. But we’ll leave that as an aside.) ;)

Stegosaurus and Allosaurus at L.A. County Museum

I’ll just talk about the first day a bit, to keep this as brief as possible. (And also because it was mostly ornithischians and this is an ornithischian blog!) The first days’ morning talks were all about ontogeny, or life history and growth, in dinosaurs. It’s fascinating to me how things like histology are being used more and more to assess how these animals grew and adapted to life as they grew. Histology can teach us many things, both in extant and extinct creatures, and it is nice to see more and more people looking into it. 

Corythosaurus at L.A. County Museum

The first afternoon talks (at least the ones I went to) were all about ornithischian dinosaurs. I started off the session with my talk on ornithischian jaw mechanics and was glad to get it out of the way right from the start! I got some really good feedback on it, so I’m really glad I got to get it all out there. The rest of the talks were mostly about new taxa, phylogeny (basal Ornithischia, Ankylosauria, etc.), morphometrics (e.g., ceratopsian skulls), taphonomy (e.g., pachycephalosaur domes), and function in ankylosaurs (e.g., tail club function) and marginocephalians (e.g., the existence of nasal turbinates in pachycephalosaurs). Quite honestly, this is always my favorite day of talks given the subject matter; but, of course, I’m biased. (Ornithischia, FTW!) I was a little upset that there weren’t any ornithopod talks, but there were some good posters on the subject. Posters are always fantastic, because you get the rare opportunity to talk to people one-on-one about their research. In some ways I think it's a lot better than talks, but each has their pros and cons. That evening, everyone was invited to the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, which I had never been to before. Needless to say, I was wandering around like a little kid looking at dinosaurs for a while… :)

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus at L.A. County Museum.

On the following days, there were talks about sauropods, theropods, and dinosaurs in general. Lots of neat stuff on phylogeny (e.g., Diplodocidae and Coelurosauria), brain endocasts (e.g., Troodon), functional morphology (e.g., myological implications in arm reduction in theropods), and many other new taxa (and new material in Deinocheirus. Again. WOW.) I also did go to a bunch of non-dinosaurian talks as well, such as some on mammalian and reptilian functional morphology, especially (for instance, jaw stuff). Last but not least, there was a series of talks on bird origins and the origins of flight, which is always fascinating to watch (…and I am SO glad I’m not involved with that stuff.) Haha!
Struthiomimus at L.A. County Museum

The other events during SVP are always a lot of fun as well. On the second night there are the student roundtables (where students are advised on different issues regarding grad school and paleontology as a whole). 

This night, incidentally, fell right onto the same night as Halloween; so, of course, LOTS of people were dressed up. It was awesome.

I dressed as a starving PhD candidate with a trench coat, cup, and a sign that read “PhD Candidate. Please help. GOD BLESS”. So, more or less, I dressed as myself. :) It was good fun. 

And I have to say my favorite part was probably the enormous pterosaur that was walking around.

On the third night there was a silent and live auction, where there was a TON of goodies and books and things being auctioned off. The live auction is always my favorite part because you get to watch people battle it out for really high priced items (as I did for an oviraptorsaur mug. I lost. Haha.)

On the final night, there was a very lovely banquet, with SVP President Cathy Forster as the emcee. 

We saw lots of fun dinosaur and paleontologist movie clips throughout, partly because of Stephen Spielberg getting the Joseph T. Gregory Award for his service to the field (new generation paleontologists being influenced by Jurassic Park, his money donations for research, etc.). 

There was a lovely tribute to those we had lost in the past year. Included among them was Dr. Farish Jenkins, Dr. Wann Langston, and, of personal influence to me, my good friend Dr. Derek Main and my esteemed mentor from my undergraduate years, Dr. Larry Martin. Larry was and is the reason I am where I am today in the field of paleontology. I owe a great deal to him and will, like all of his other students, do everything I can to carry on his legacy proudly and with dedication.

My table at the banquet with fellow students of Larry Martin's from my years at KU.

After the banquet was, of course, the after party. Music, dancing, drinks, and an all around good time. You could tell we were having a good time especially since pretty much everyone was dancing and singing along to “I am a Paleontologist” by They Might Be Giants when it came on. 

It was fantastic and because of all of this, it is safe to say that I am excited for next year’s round of SVP fun and shenanigans. Until next year!

~ Ali

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Heterodontosaurus Fun

Hey guys!

I've finally been able to get cracking on these illustrations! Here is my latest in Heterodontosaurus illustration. Heterodontosaurus (and kin) was a small plant-eating dinosaur positioned at the base of the family tree of Ornithischia, the group of plant-eating dinosaurs I research for my dissertation. I have a bunch of lateral views of the skull/head created with both pen and ink and graphite/Photoshop. It is proving to be a lot of fun (and addicting)! The Photoshop painting is fun, but I feel that the pen and ink gives it an extra bit of detail as far as the individual elements. Both are great, though!

As I showed in my previous post, I started off with initial sketches of a Heterodontosaurus skull including sutures of the visible bones in lateral view. From top down, it is the skull, the lateral view of the jaw, and the medial view of the jaw.

Then I decided to transfer it to pen and ink! This is a really fun process and it is cool figuring out what lines to use where. It could be better, but I kind of like its simplicity here.

Here I combined the skull and lower jaw to make a whole skull that I could add jaw musculature onto later!

Next is the Photoshop painting of that illustration. I was able to experiment creating form with color and highlights. Very cool!

Finally, I leave you with a quick Photoshop painting I did of a Heterodontosaurus head in life because, hey, why not?

I will post more soon!

~ Ali

Monday, July 22, 2013

Heterodontosaurus Illustration Project Commences...

Just started working on my heterodontosaurid chapter's illustrations.

First did some sketches reconstructing from photos of specimens and previous reconstructions...

Then decided to try my hand at painting it in Photoshop. SO MUCH FUN! This one still has some work to be done on it, but it's coming along I think...

More to come soon!

~ Ali

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Blog!

Hello and welcome to my new blog dedicated to my scientific illustrations! I will be posting illustrations as I do them for my dissertation work as well as just for fun (yes, that includes non-ornithischians). For this first post I will just post illustrations I've done in the past. Hope you like it! I would love some feedback...

The first five illustrations are from my upcoming book chapter in "The Hadrosaurs", edited by Dr. David Evans and Dr. David Eberth. They will also be included in my dissertation:

Parasaurolophus skull with arrows showing pleurokinetic jaw mechanism.

Generic hadrosauroid predentary in different views.

Kritosaurus predentary-dentary articulation.

Jaw joint articulation in generic hadrosaur.

Rostral view of hadrosaur (minus premaxilla and predentary) showing mediolateral rotation of dentaries proposed in the book chapter.

The following are random illustrations I've done just for fun (some of which might go into my dissertation. We'll see...)
Caiman -- Pen and Ink (first sketched in aquarium)

Pteranodon skull - Pen and Ink

Styracosaurus skull - Pen and Ink

Camarasaurus - Photoshop painting - Emaciated apparently (sorry, was experimenting with shading in Photoshop. It's fun! I got carried away...Sue me.) :P

Stegosaurus - Photoshop painting

Asian elephant skull - Pen and Ink

Gomphotherium skull - Pen and Ink

Moeritherium skull - Pen and Ink

Feedback would be awesome! Thanks everyone! More to come soon...

~ Ali