Robotic Lizards Star in British 3D Documentary
Dave Clark’s passion for studying animal communication using technology-advanced visual displays has taken him many places, from the Alma College-owned bog just a few miles from campus to the Caribbean for Spring Term and, most recently, to the Galapagos Islands.
During the summer of 2012, Clark was invited to work as the visiting scientist on site with British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough on a 3D documentary. The production, The Galapagos 3D, includes a segment featuring Clark’s research using robotic lizards to test questions about lizard signaling and communication.
From left: Dave Clark, Sir David Attenborough, in Ecuador.
He spent several days in the Galapagos with the film crew.
“For a biologist to work along side David Attenborough is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Clark, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology at Alma College. “He was very gracious and extremely knowledgeable. The filming took almost 10 hours to get the 1-to-2-minute clip they will use in the film.”
For the video shoot, Clark operated by remote a robotic lava lizard that behaves and acts as naturally as a real Galapagos lizard. During the filming, Attenborough observed the responses of the real lizards to the robot’s courting behavior.
The film crew mounts a 3D IMAX camera on a trolley in the jungle for the shooting of the documentary.
The final production will be shown in the United Kingdom on Sky TV and in IMAX theaters in the United States. The television station NatGeo will likely run it later in a 2D version. The show also will be released on DVD as part of the IMAX theatrical release.
Clark and his student assistants are testing signal recognition by different species of lava lizards.
“We’ve found that some lava lizards are very discerning and only respond to their own species,” he says. “Others are not discerning and act out to displays by any species. Attenborough said he was impressed with the robots, that they looked great.”
The Lava Lizard is a small ground lizard unique to the Galapagos Islands.
Clark engages students in his research as often as possible. Because the Galapagos National Park System encourages collaboration, Clark pairs his students with students from Ecuador. They document radio telemetry movements, measure body mass, record animal color patterns, and more.
Posted: Mon, January 7th, 2013 at 9:29AM