resuscitating prehistoric creatures with design
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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