CGI, scientific studies bring dinosaurs closer

by Akira Kato

Kyodo

Advances in computer graphics and scientific studies have made dinosaurs attractive not just to small boys but also women and girls.

“It seems nowadays that one of every five children interested in dinosaurs is a girl,” said a representative for the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, where a special exhibition of dinosaur fossils is under way.

The number of visitors to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, a leading research center, has increased year on year for 12th months in a row since November 2012. In the first 11 months of 2013, 570,000 people visited the leading dinosaur museum in the nation, up 31 percent from a year earlier.

“Young couples visiting here are noticeably increasing,” said Toshihiro Senshu, an attendant at the prefectural museum.

As another example of the increased public popularity of dinosaurs, On-Art, a Tokyo-based company that has eight walking dinosaur models, received three times more orders for the use of them for “Dino-A-Live” events in 2013 than in 2011.

The models are made of cutting-edge materials, such as those for aircraft, and are operated by people inside. On-Art has kept improving them in a bid to make them “look more real,” said company President Kazuya Kanemaru.

The company’s events are “family-oriented because they have both entertainment and educational factors,” he added.

Neil Nightingale, British director of “Walking with Dinosaurs,” a 3-D movie known for realistic movements of dinosaurs, attributes the work to advances in computer graphics and academic research.

Noting that it would have been impossible to produce such a movie 10 years ago, Nightingale said advanced screen technology and scientific studies have opened new creative doors.

Makoto Manabe, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Nature and Science and a leading expert on dinosaurs, said the discovery of new fossils combined with advances in computer technology combined have enabled studies on dinosaurs to advance greatly in recent years.

Computer technology is now able to simulate how dinosaurs moved and the speed they did so based on their weight and muscle mass as envisioned from discovered fossils, Manabe said.

“As simulations are repeated based on newly discovered fossils, new images are created,” he added. “There are very good synergy effects.”

Dinosaurs are no longer seen as savage, fighting animals covered by armorlike scales, with new findings showing that some raised their young in groups, while others were covered in feathers.

“We can now feel close to dinosaurs because their warm mode of life can be vividly visualized,” Manabe said.