I did some reading around Speculative Biology this week and the science behind fictional creatures. There was a great feature in New Scientist (7 May 2016) speculating on animals evolving new adaptations that could survive the rising temperature of the sun in 500 million years.
My creature designs so far are focused on new adaptations of heat-resistance through symbiosis with thermophilic bacteria to better survive in a volcanic environment. From this article, I have new inspiration to try intrinsic adaptations. For example, an animal could evolve an iron-rich shell or a sack of water on its back to act as a bio-shield from intense radiation (Ward, 2016, cited in Ridgway, 2016).
Wayne Douglas Barlowe
Barlowe is a veteran of Speculative Biology. He designs creatures for both scientific and entertainment purposes. Expedition (1990), Barlowe’s fictional account of a 21st-century exploratory space flight to the imaginary planet Darwin IV, features some creatures with striking similarities to Peter Ward’s water sack speculations (cited in Ridgway, 2016).
Wayne Barlowe has also created some inspiring horror creatures that still have a basis in science and believability. His interpretation of the Old One from Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936) is reminiscent of a creature suited to a hydrothermal vent environment. Barlowe’s concept for the vampires from the film Priest (2011) appears to be a more creaturely and bat-like quadruped than a typical anthropomorphised version.
Taking some time to explore more inspiration for speculative heat-resistant adaptations has been beneficial. In order to capture the horror theme Jill and I wish to visualise, I will adapt the real-world creatures in more extreme ways, taking inspiration from astrobiology, palaeontology and the fascinating work of Wayne Douglas Barlowe: https://waynebarlowe.wordpress.com/.
Barlowe, W. D. and Summers, I. (1979) Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Barlowe, W. D. (1990) Expedition. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Lovecraft, H. P. (1936) ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, Astounding Stories, (February-April 1936).
Priest (2011) Directed by Scott Stewart [Film]. Culver City, CA: Screen Gems.
Ridgway, A. (2016) ‘Swansong Earth’, New Scientist, (7 May 2016), pp. 28-32
In the lead up to Halloween, I’ve been thinking more deeply about horror and fantasy themes in film and how to integrate them with science.
Science of Science Fiction Film Series at UAMN
I had the pleasure of attending a Science in Science Fiction two-night event at our campus museum. We watched two classic science fiction films and enjoyed lectures by visiting film scholar Michael Lee (University of Oklahoma). He presented on the history and cultural context of the films and a microbiologist and entomologist presented on the fascinating science behind the respective films.
The first night my screenwriting professor Len Kamerling took our class on a field trip to experience the “House of Dracula” (1945). It was very illuminating to get a film history lesson on studio production of monster movies and the transition from the scares of the supernatural to science fiction during World War II. Additionally, the lecture included the film’s portrayal of scientific cures for vampirism, shapeshifting (werewolf), and physical deformity. UAF microbiologist Mary Beth Leigh presented on infection, rabies, fungi, and penicillin.
The second night featured “The Deadly Mantis”, 1957. The lecture on film history included the themes of the Cold War era and the history behind the military footage and recruitment techniques in the film. I felt bad for the mantis in the end because there was no attempt to preserve or study it. Just kill it. Kill it with fire! Poor mantis.
UAMN Insect Curator Derek Sikes lectured on the insects and paleontology represented in the film, mantis biology and gigantism in insects including modern species as well as those in the geologic record. I thoroughly enjoyed this approach of combined science and film analysis with opportunity for discussion and questions after the films. I am sure we can draw some inspiration from the event.
In addition to textural studies, Rose and I have started to discuss ways to integrate satellite imagery into creature design. I work with RADAR data and am interested in change detection in large-scale landscape features, such as volcanoes, drainage patterns, sea ice movement, fire burn scars. I think it would be interesting to utilize this spaceborne perspective in our designs. Or possibly looking at patterns in nature that occur at multiple scales. Here is an example digital elevation model (ArcticDEM) of my study area in Kamchatka, Russia.