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Sheffield 99 Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Walking like a dinosaur
skull
The BBC goes back in time
By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington

The making of a landmark new BBC TV series, Walking with Dinosaurs, has given palaeontologists a remarkable new view of how the extinct creatures roamed the Earth.

Festival of Science
Dr David Norman, Director of Cambridge University's Sedgwick Museum, said: "We have gained unexpected insights of long extinct animals. Having to make the animal go through a realistic step cycle makes all the difference in understanding how it works."

Until now, said Dr Norman, palaeontologists have reconstructed skeletons. This knowledge was used to construct the animatronic models used in the BBC series, which will be shown in October.

But when the dinosaur's movements were tested, they were not entirely life-like and so subtle twists and changes had to be made to the feet and ankles, fingers and wrists.

The making of the programmes also used computerised animation software, similar to that used in the making of Jurassic Park.

Sagging bodies

"I had no idea how useful the commercial software would be," said Dr Norman, who was speaking at the British Association's Festival of Science in Sheffield, UK. "I'm now pretty jealous of the workstations the animators use."

The computer animation helped create finishing touches to the realism of the creatures, from fluttering trailing edges on the wings of flying reptiles, to dinosaur bodies sagging and skin wrinkling as the creatures move.

dog
The series uses powerful computer software
The series, narrated by Kenneth Branagh and costing 6 million, was described as a "Wildlife on One" for dinosaurs by Dr Norman, referring to another breakthrough BBC series on living wildlife.

Also at the festival, Professor Kevin Padian, described how not all dinosaurs are extinct. Birds are now being seen as the descendants of the dinosaurs, not reptiles, he said. This realisation enables palaeontologists to work backwards through time to try to understand better how birds evolved.

He believes that feathers did not originally evolve for flight. They certainly would have provided some insulation, possibly to keep eggs warm, he said. But as the colour of the first feathers is not known, it cannot be ruled out that they were used for camouflage, display or species recognition purposes.


Here are some of the images taken from the series.





 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Video
Watch the opening sequence of the first episode
Audio
BBC Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh reports on the difference in theories on how dinosaurs would have lived
See also:

06 May 99 | Science/Nature
18 May 99 | Science/Nature
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