resuscitating prehistoric creatures with design resuscitating prehistoric creatures with design
jun 29, 2012

resuscitating prehistoric creatures with design

‘proposal for resuscitating prehistoric creatures’ by marguerite humeau installation view in the show ‘politique fiction’ (with enzo mari’s ‘autoprogettazione’), curated by alexandra midal image © felipe ribon

in her multi-year research and design project ‘proposal for resuscitating prehistoric creatures’, french-born, london-based interaction designer marguerite humeau aims to revive the sounds of extinct animals by reconstructing their vocal tracts.

designboom was the first to cover an earlier iteration of the project, ‘back, here below, formidable‘. now humeau has created full-scale working sculptures for three animals: ‘entelodont’ (‘hell pig’), the mammoth imperator, and ‘ambulocetus’ (‘walking whale’). their tracheas are mimicked by a long tube with a specially constructed insert to replicate the larynx. compressed air, calibrated to the proper pressure, is used to stimulated the vocal cords, whose vibration resonates in a large unit designed to serve as the nasal and mouth cavities of the animals.

in ‘proposal for resuscitating prehistoric creatures’, humeau also collaborated with sound artist julien bloit to develop a kind of artificial intelligence system that allows the creatures to ‘evolve’ on their own. ‘the sound’, she explains, ‘becomes the result of an evolutionary process, which will take place during the entire length of the exhibition. back from prehistoric times, [these creatures] are seeking to evolve in our contemporary era.‘

the project is on exhibition through january 6th, 2013, as part of ‘politique fiction‘, hosted by cité due design public institution for design initiatives, in saint-étienne, france.

installation renders, from left to right: ‘hell pig’, ‘walking whale’, mammoth imperator image © ben penna

composed of soft tissue, the vocal chords of animals do not fossilize; only the surrounding bone is preserved. humeau’s extrapolation of the form of the windpipes involved extensive research and collaboration with paleaeontologists,zoologists, veterinarians, engineers, explorers, surgeons, ear and throat specialists, and radiologists.

the process varies for each animal, based on how much data is available and whether the creature has modern relatives. for mammoth imperator, humeau used CT scans from an asian elephant; for ‘walking whale’ those of modern-day dolphins and harbor porpoises; and for ‘hell pig’ those of the wild boar, all in conjunction with available information from the fossil record and additional data.

5-minute interpretive recording, developed in collaboration with julien bloit of association phonotonic

‘walking whale’, installation view in ‘politique fiction’ image © felipe ribon

fossil remnants, ambulocetus natans (‘walking whale’) pakistan, india, 50-48 million years ago

3D reconstruction of the harbor porpoise (phocoena phocoena), a theorized modern descendent of ‘walking whale’ from CT images image courtesy of DR ketten, woods hole oceanographic institution computerized scanning and imaging facility

‘hell pig’, installation view in ‘politique fiction’ image © felipe ribon

‘hell pig’, rendering image © ben penna

fossil remnants, hyaenodontidae (‘terminator pig’) eurasia, africa and north america, 45 million years ago

‘mammoth imperator’, installation view in ‘politique fiction’ image © felipe ribon

‘mammoth imperator’, rendering image © ben penna

fossil remnants, mammuthus imperator (‘mammoth imperator’) north america, 4.9 million – 11,000 years ago

left: asian elephant 3D reconstruction from CT scan (provided by IZW, berlin) right: extracted vocal tract from asian elephant 3D reconstruction above

video trailer of ‘proposal for resuscitating prehistoric creatures’, including interpreted sound footage of the animals audio developed in collaboration with julien bloit of association phonotonic video © ben penna

project info:

designer: marguerite humeau sound design: julien bloit of association – phonotonic, in collaboration with charles goyard artificial intelligence: julien bloit of association – phonotonic mammal sound synthesis program based on a model by andy farnell 3D modeling: hong yeul eom, clifford sage

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